According to Amon: Mind the platform

The way TMCs and travel managers are adopting new language points to major changes ahead

I was both surprised and confused recently to receive a press release from CWT, formerly known as Carlson Wagonlit Travel, proclaiming itself as, and I quote directly, a “B2B4E travel management platform”. Surprised, because I thought CWT was the world’s second-largest travel management company. Confused, because I have spent every working day of the last 27 years focusing on business travel, yet I had little idea what a B2B4E travel management platform might be.

Fortunately, a few paragraphs later, the press release explained “B2B4E” stands for business to business for employees. But what did that mean? I went online and discovered it is a phrase coined by CWT itself. Although I still don’t understand, since it’s surely what any TMC claims to do, it seems to be the idea that CWT helps other businesses’ employees. However, it’s worth deconstructing CWT’s new self-definition because it offers important pointers to where travel management might be heading.

My first reaction is that any label confusing not only to the person in the street, but potentially to the sector it operates in, may need a little more work. But putting this concern and my innate fuddy-duddiness aside, here’s something even more curious. The E in B2B4E stands for “employees”, yet CWT’s new label also replaces the word “company” with “platform”. “Company” means a collection of people, whereas “platform” connotes some kind of high-tech online service.

What CWT is doing reflects the beginning of dramatic changes for travel managers

So, the great paradox is, while CWT is drawing attention to its clients’ people, it is at the same time branding itself as a technology rather than a service provided by its own people. Weird, or what?

Let’s think more about the switch to this increasingly used word: “platform”. I haven’t asked CWT why the change, but I can think of at least one good reason. In fact, I can think of 236 million – US$236 million is the extraordinary amount of money raised by TripActions, only the most eye-poppingly resourced of a rash of recent heavily funded start-ups (TravelPerk is another) in corporate travel. TripActions calls itself a “one-stop travel platform”, and it’s essentially a hybrid of a TMC and an online booking tool, claiming to be much more traveller-friendly than what has come before. Is CWT repositioning itself to look more like this new breed of disruptors instead of a traditional TMC?

Evolving roles
I believe what CWT is doing reflects the beginning of dramatic changes for travel managers as well as TMCs. Here’s another new label for you. Meet Nadine Fauser from the travel team of German engineering and electronics giant Bosch. Her job title, unlike any I have heard before, is director and product owner, digitisation, strategy, innovation – travel management.

That’s quite an untidy melange of words, but Fauser’s explanation of her work when she spoke at the Business Travel Show back in February was compelling. She and her colleagues believe they previously spent too much time putting process before traveller. Now they have conceived a vision of a perfect trip and are building what they too call a “platform” of mobile tools to make that trip reality. The platform is intended to give travellers services they really want and eliminate as much admin as possible.

Fauser’s job includes selecting and integrating the tools which make up this platform. It’s her view that procurement’s dominance of travel management, which has persisted for roughly 20 years, is over. “I am a travel manager responsible for strategy and integration,” she said. “I am wondering why when we talk about travel management, are we still talking about buyers? In future everybody must be a technology specialist. Buying will be one puzzle piece but the whole thing is much more.”

The lesson I take from both CWT and Bosch, albeit expressed differently, is that the absolute number one priority of travel management has become managing technology to help travellers. Do you agree and, if so, are you ready for that change?

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