By Nigel Meyer, Director Group Technology & Data Services for travel management company; Hogg Robinson Group

For any multinational company today, travel is both a critical part of everyday business and a controllable expense. With the National Business Travel Association projecting business travel spend exceeding $986 billion by 2013, this is no small cost. In order to manage it, advanced technology infrastructure has been developed, capable of tracking and processing a large number of travel transactions around the world at any one moment.

Now, as the technology has improved and business travel has become more complex, travel managers are inundated with information and data about every aspect of a trip — from booking behaviour and airline fares to hotel services and car hire costs.

Not so long ago, travel buyers were restricted to rudimentary reporting systems based on delayed paper data delivered by post. Only basic cost information was available and it varied from market to market.

With ever shifting priorities and deadlines, the average business traveller can end up having to change their booking many times, varying their interchanges and connections and consequently demanding a great deal of flexibility in their bookings. In addition to this, the growing trend of ‘unbundling’ of costs on flights and in hotels means that the full end to end analysis of a business traveller’s trip cost has more elements to it than ever before.

In order to maximise efficiencies in travel budgets, data needs to be collated, consolidated and analysed. A good travel management company (TMC) will gather this information and present it in an easy-to-use online interface. The introduction of online tools in a web interface means that all the travel and expenses information a travel, finance or procurement professional might need is there for them at the click of button. Far from negotiating the postal system, the technology means that this data can be delivered almost in real-time.

At HRG, we provide a tracking device that monitors travel policy compliance — making sure staff book within their company guidelines - and creates tailored reports to detail complete travel spend. Our capacity to save and analyse the vast quantities of data given to us by our clients and supplier partners has become easier as technology has become more advanced and less expensive. So the data is available, but what do you do with it? We advise using it to improve efficiency and reduce travel costs. As data has great power to deliver cost savings to corporations.

A travel data reporting tool should be a user-friendly interface. Corporates are recognising the importance of reporting in advance of booking travel, as well as after. Pre-trip information can be used to challenge why employees are travelling and to identify patterns of behaviour such as whether some travellers wait until the last minute to book or are prone to changing their reservations.

Bespoke software supplied by a TMC should act as a one-stop-shop for anyone analysing travel spend in a large company. We have the capability to export data and run reports using a company’s own in-house software, specifically Microsoft platforms that people use on a day to day basis. The best reporting services very clearly show spend comparisons, trip durations, and can easily be converted into PowerPoint for internal presentations and reports.

This provision of high quality data and reporting on travel related expense is now being used effectively by large corporations to negotiate better supplier deals. HRG feeds information into our team of consultants who specialise in delivering cost savings to clients. They look at everything from benchmarking with sector competitors to levels of compliance according to individual corporate policy.

One travel manager who works with us for a client in the banking and financial sector, recently told me that the impact of data on their travel programme has been exceptional over the past couple of years. The customised, cutting-edge technology they have adopted continues to generate significant savings for them.

We were briefed to deliver maximum savings and we clearly identified that we needs to ensure the people who ultimately owned the cost of travel were better informed of its costs before people actually travelled. We introduced our pre-trip reporting. The results have been significant. The client is seeing savings in air alone of some 14%.

Data technology is continuing to evolve. I see TMCs bringing pre- and post-trip data sources closer. This will be a single product providing a dynamic reflection of the data. Thanks to improved technology and standards, our reporting will be able to give our clients an exact picture of reality at any given point in time.

SMEs can also benefit from data reporting. They use our data reporting to track spend and often coincide monitoring with internal analyses of their own. This gives them a complete look at their spend and travel patterns.

Ultimately I believe it is important to understand the long term financial benefits of investing in and using better data information management — supporting decision making and helping companies maximise their travel spend.