We interviewed Simon Muir, a procurement professional, about his insights into business travel management and key learnings from his experience.
Simon Muir is a procurement professional who spent a large part of his career working for a range of publishing companies, most recently Pearson plc. In 2015 he joined the London headquartered international law firm, Ince & Co to establish a procurement function and support a wider business transformation programme. In all of his roles, business travel management has been a part of his portfolio of responsibilities. He now works as an interim procurement specialist and lives in South London. As a Crystal Palace season ticket holder, he cites Roy Hodgson as his current management role model!
1. Could you give us a brief overview of your experience in business travel management?
I was responsible for the global travel programme at a FTSE 100 multinational publishing business, and most recently established a global travel programme as part of a green field site procurement implementation at an international law firm. For the latter role, I was responsible for creating a consistent policy globally and replacing local TMC firms with a single TMC to manage this policy.
2. What have been some of the highlights for you?
It’s often the small things that I remember most. It might be the senior PA or travel booker who praises the time saved by a well-implemented online booking tool. Or it could be the senior partner who is given the service they need by the TMC, when client demands require rapid changes to itineraries. To get this type of positive feedback requires real teamwork and collaboration between suppliers and the client organisation.
3. What changes have you noticed during your time in the industry?
The levels of perceived risk and the need to take account of traveller security have changed significantly in the past 20 years given the global security environment. Companies need to be able to ensure that they know where their travellers are in a much more stringent way than before.
4. What did you find were the main differences between the requirements of a large plc, and that of a law firm?
Many of the challenges remain the same, mainly because human nature varies little from one industry to another. In both cases the need to constantly educate and communicate with your traveller community on the reasons for the existence of a well-structured travel programme is key. The key difference in the law world is that the traveller’s time is, quite literally, money. There tends to be a stronger emphasis on the need for friction free service delivery with minimal input from the traveller. Whereas in a plc., there is an acceptance that travellers should take ownership of many aspects of their own booking procedures rather than paying fees for a “white glove” service from the TMC.
5. How do you best communicate and make sure travellers listen?
In a plc., where you have tens of 1000s of employees globally, it had to be mass electronic communication – usually email followed up with an online survey. It was not a highly personalised process. However, in a more medium-sized business, you were able to launch a more personalised approach and could even speak to key influencers face-to-face. This made it easier to effect change.
6. How have you seen technology impact the travel programmes you’ve worked on – any specific applications?
Technology has, of course, impacted the industry massively. I would highlight two areas:
- Lowered barriers to entry enabling start-ups to challenge the conventional TMC/GDS based service delivery model.
- Demand-based pricing and the commodification of air and hotel services.
These factors will continue to challenge the industries major players as they attempt to maintain margins and market share.
7. You’ve talked before about nudging travellers to the compliance sweet spot”. Could you expand on this in relation to the challenges you have faced with policy compliance?
It is the nature of the travel programme beast that compliance will always remain a challenge. My own view is that in modern flexible corporate culture, a simple “follow the rules, or else” based approach won’t work. The onus is on the travel manager, working with the TMC and other related suppliers to “nudge” travellers to compliance by getting the policy, technology and implementation right:
- Policy: No-one will read a 10-page opus that includes details on the maximum spend on a breakfast in Romania. Keep it simple and concise.
- Technology: Needs to be as close to an Amazon shopping experience as possible, and positively incentivise use by eliminating nasties such as post-trip expense claim bureaucracy
- Implementation: educate, communicate and promote use, with an emphasis on the positive benefits.
8. How did Uber for Business help you improve your business travel management?
Implementing Uber represents a perfect illustration of the “compliance sweet spot”. Policy was limited to two words: “reasonable use”. The fact that users could access through an app, which in many cases was already on their phones, meant the technology was embraced rather than imposed on the user. Whilst the implementation was publicised through conventional communication, most of the uptake resulted from a viral word-of-mouth.
“For the travel manager or procurement professional, Uber for Business makes a famously ungovernable area of spend both manageable and cost effective.”
Simon Muir, Procurement Professional
9. Looking forward, which topics do you think will be top of the agenda for those in the business travel management industry?
Security and duty of care won’t go away, but the tension between the conventional GDS/TMC model and the challenges from new market entrants and alternative service delivery models, enabled by technology will only grow. Data security, post-GDPR, will also be one to watch.
10. Anything in particular you’re excited to see develop further?
Yes, but the most interesting developments are ones you don’t see coming, so I’ll get back to you on that!
Uber for Business enables companies to manage affordable rides for employees or guests through a central dashboard that keeps track of Uber trips and fares. Features include: account management to enable employee access and monitor trip activity; easy expensing and notes; custom ride policies; customizable trip reports. Learn more and sign up here.