Connecting The Dots

In July, Steve Singh had the honor of speaking at GBTA 2014 . This was his twenty-minute speech to a global audience of business travel professionals. Watch it at GBTA's site: http://www.gbta.org/convention/2014/GeneralInfo/Pages/VideoPlaylist.aspx. (Steve Singh begins speaking at 11:30.)

Good afternoon, everyone.  How are you all doing? I am going to take 20 minutes of your time. Thank you for giving me that. I have a view on the future of our industry and I would like to share it with you. That view doesn’t come from what’s best for Concur. It comes from a simple question:what should the world look like?

Throughout my life— that question, more than any other —has been at the heart of how I look at anything, independent of my needs, independent of what’s best for me. If I were not here, what should it look like? To truly answer the question requires 2 things:objectivity and a willingness to embrace the brilliance of others.

For me, the answer to that question, as it relates to corporate travel, is informed with every interaction I have with each of you. It’s informed by my customers. And it’s informed by the trends that I see in the $75 billion of annual T&E spend across the customers we serve.

But it’s shaped by that simple question:  what should the world look like?

The vision around The Perfect Trip comes from that question. The Perfect Trip may have started with Concur, but it has been borrowed, built upon and advanced by leaders across our industry and I love that. The Perfect Trip is a vision that is galvanizing. It’s a north star. And it’s a vision that everyone can advance and everyone owns—whether you are a business traveler, a corporate customer, technology company, TMC, airline, hotelier, or car rental provider, including whether you are a company that is reinventing ground transportation or ushering in the sharing economy. Literally anyone, anywhere in the world can add to the greater good. And here’s what is cool: you know when the vision is right is when our customers  embrace and advance it more than anyone else.

Some of you have heard me talk about The Perfect Trip before and I know I sound a little obsessed.I am. Here’s why:  the innovation of singular companies can often be inspiring, but it is nothing compared to the innovation of communities. The iPhone is beautiful, but it is the community of partners that surround it that makes it indispensable. It is the platform that gives it harmony and richness.

When we think about corporate travel, we should all be able to contribute to and build upon the collective efforts of the community to bring about The Perfect Trip. And as you add your ingredient, your value, you have an opportunity to benefit— as you should— all while advancing our industry and giving everyone else the opportunity to benefit.

 

For me, The Perfect Trip is encapsulated in three simple ideas:

1)    It should be CONNECTED across suppliers and systems that talk to one another automatically and in real time.All of the suppliers and systems I touch should be aware of who I am, who I work for, what my preferences are and in what context, for obvious reasons. This is so I can get company discounts, so my company knows where I am and so my expense report can be filed automatically.

2)    It should be EFFORTLESS.When my United flight lands, I should be asked if I want Über to pick me up and take me to the hotel.In fact, while I am walking to the car, I should be checked into the W Hotel that I am staying at and have my room key sent automatically to my smartphone or smartcard.

3)    And The Perfect Trip should be TRANSPARENT. I want to have all the choices and experiences that I prefer or that my company prefers and not those that are preferenced for me. And in return, I should be able to easily share my choices with my company to make sure we are on the same page and so that they can keep me safe in case of emergency.

That’s what our customers want. Because that’s the way the world should be.

 

 

To deliver on The Perfect Trip requires all of us. It will require an open platform and it relies on the ingenuity of others, which are very safe bets. But I know this. With or without us, it’s going to happen, because that’s the way the world should be and it won’t stand still waiting for us. In fact, right now, at this very moment, we’re experiencing a historic transformation in our industry. And like all changes, it brings opportunity and risk. We have a choice to be the writers of that history, not just observers or bystanders. For me, that choice is easy.We should write that history and we have that choice because of the trust that our customers place in us and the trust that we put in each other.

When I look out at this audience, I am humbled and fortunate to call many of you my friends. As one global industry, we collectively represent each other. Our customer’s experience is based on our collective efforts.

And that’s why today, I want to showcase and dedicate much of my time here with you, sharing not just my voice or that of my company– but the voices of those in the industry who are taking the vision of The Perfect Trip to new heights for the benefit of our mutual customers. To be clear, that is how we succeed and that is fundamentally why we exist. And that is where I’d like to start:  with our customer talking about what matters most to them.

Kathleen is an incredible Travel Management Executive. She has a compelling vision and clearly outlines her goals and needs for herself, for her colleagues, for her company and her customers. Whether you are talking about world-class duty of care which, by the way, can only be delivered with a full picture of every element of the trip or fully managing travel spend no matter where travel was purchased. She has to solve these problems in a way that allows each associate to focus on what matters most:  their job. These are very real needs that, today, are not fully realized.

But, together as an industry, we can meet those needs. We can deliver a business travel experience that is connected, effortless and transparent.We can do for business travel what Amazon has done for the shopping experience, what Apple has done for how we consume music and what we expect of our phone.

Last year, I had the honor of introducing Hillary Clinton, who, among many other things of note, wrote a book called “It Takes a Village“. Well, for what we’re trying to deliver, it takes an industry. It’s truly bigger than any ‘one’ of us.

It’s no longer about “the application”, whether you are talking about an OBT or mobile version of it. Our customers don’t use a “single system”; their employees don’t use a “single application”. They rely on a range of applications and services and they expect those applications and services to connect to one another effortlessly.

Frankly, United’s mobile app does a better job of giving you the full range of United options than anyone else.And it should.It’s their product, it’s their company. The same is true for Alaska or Lufthansa or Starwood or IHG. The concept of “It takes an industry” is even easier to understand when you think about meeting the needs of a global market that is demanding to be even more connected.

What if you need local content for India or China or Brazil or Russia? ClearTrip and Make My Trip do a better job in India than anyone else in this room. CTrip does a better job in China than anyone in this room. Good luck getting access to a broad range of hotels in Brazil if you are not working with some of the leading technology providers in Brazil.

No single application, no single company can do this alone. It takes a community working together on an open platform. The Perfect Trip can’t become a reality unless there is a way for everyone to work together and benefit from the work of everyone else. Last year on this stage I said that, “We want to create an open platform and an ecosystem that has so much inherent value, that businesses across our industry can benefit and that they’ll want to collaborate.” That’s exactly what we’ve been doing and will continue to do.

I’m honored to stand here one year later, and be accountable to my partners, to tell you how new global partnerships are adding value in ways that were previously impossible. One of the most rewarding things I get to do in my job is to meet with leaders across the industry. These are compelling people and it’s inspiring to see how they think and what’s important to them.

I’d like to share some of those perspectives with you.

Avis, one of our first partners, has helped to push the boundaries of how we think about a platform and how it can add even more value for our mutual customers. That’s not surprising given its understated, but visionary CEO, Ron Nelson.

Ron and his team are not only delivering value for customers today through deep technology integration between our companies, but I love where they are taking the ZipCar technology. With time, it will radically change the way we think about ground transportation.

We’re honored to partner with Avis and share Ron’s priority, that, “What’s really relevant is the customer’s vision.” The level of integration we have done, and are doing with Avis, wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago.

This is the value of a connected platform:  it brings visibility into a previously invisible area of corporate spend. And it fosters innovation that makes life easier for the traveler and the company.

Nowhere is that more relevant than in the area of hospitality. Just two months ago, we announced a partnership with Starwood. Today, we’re excited to announce that Starwood is ‘live’ on TripLink. You get your corporate rate no matter where you book. Your itinerary is automatically updated and your expense report is automatically filed.

In partnership with Starwood, IHG and Marriot, we’re shining a light on one of our customers’ biggest problems: capturing an estimated 50% of the hotel bookings that happen outside of corporate travel systems.

But that’s not where the innovation stops.In fact, it should never stop.Once you link your accounts, all the future innovations that either party brings becomes available to you. That’s the new norm. Starwood’s CEO, Frits van Paasschen says it beautifully, ‘Today’s luxury is tomorrow’s expectation.”

Yes, TripLink solves today’s problem:  invisible spend. It enables the delivery of duty of care. But there is something far more important happening here. Frits wants to deliver a personalized experience for his customers. He wants his customers to feel like they are staying in their “second” home. A personalized experience is not the sole domain of Amazon and Apple. And, it’s just one of the many examples of “today’s luxury becoming tomorrow’s expectation.” We can deliver on tomorrow’s expectation – by working together across an open platform.

We recently partnered with United Airlines.The drivers behind that partnership were the same as every other one. We work with partners to solve a real customer problem, drive even greater innovation to make business travel easier and reach customers no matter how they want to be reached.

You know that $75 billion of travel spend I mentioned? Roughly 30% of travelers book their flights directly with the airline, outside of their companies’ travel programs. Our customers told us that’s a huge problem:if they can’t see it, they can’t manage it. United, being the customer-centric company that it is, said, “Great. Let’s solve the problem.” This partnership lets United empower travelers while supporting their company’s compliance needs and providing visibility to the travel manager. That’s the value of an open, connected platform.

Every great company drives innovation that serves their customer. United Airlines is acknowledging what we all know to be true:  more and more, people are asking to interact directly with their suppliers, but remain connected to their corporate systems. As Jeff Smisek said yesterday, we want to serve our customers in whatever way they want to be served.

The amazing thing about an open platform is not just enabling the incredible innovation we can all point to and say, “That would be great to do.” It’s the capacity to embrace innovation when our world changes. Let me share a few examples.

More than 20% of that $75 billion I referenced earlier is spent at hotels. And over the past 12 months, we saw a substantive trend emerging:  business travelers are looking for more variety and choice in where they stay. Over the past year, we saw a 25X increase in the number of people using AirBnB to meet their travel needs. Not surprisingly, customers have been asking us to help manage that spend and give them visibility. Now, with AirBnB becoming a platform partner, business travelers can book new types of lodging that aren’t available anywhere else.

Their bookings will be in compliance with corporate policy and enable duty of care. Of course, all of that booking information flows seamlessly into the itinerary and into the expense report.

When we work together we can respond to customer needs at the drop of a dime. That’s what happens when you embrace the brilliance of others.

How many of you have taken Über before? This is a company that is transforming the concept of ground transportation. I love the fact that I can grab my iPhone and order an Über.I tell the driver where I want to go and that’s it. When I arrive, I simply get out of the car. It’s automatically paid for and now, automatically expensed with full receipt and map details.

Even as Über continues to grow at enviable rates in the consumer space, they are looking to become the default choice in the business travel community with products like UberX. In partnership with Concur, they want to help customers gain greater visibility into ground transportation spend and help them manage that spend.

Our friends at American Express are also partnering with us and Über to enable American Express Corporate Card Clients in the U.S. to automatically enroll their employees to capture Über receipts within Concur and have immediate visibility into the spend.

That’s the value of an open platform. Everyone gets to leverage the work of the rest of the community. We are seeing, in real time, the consumerization of business travel – all while being enterprise ready.

As I see the sessions, listen to the conversations taking place, one thing stands out. We all know that the transformation is underway. Hey, if Kevin Spacey, who is clearly an incredible actor, is able to see that it’s happening, than I think it’s a good indication that that the time is “now”. We have an incredible opportunity to work together to drive our industry forward.

And, nowhere is that opportunity greater than for the TMC.

I love that last line:“when we’re doing right by the customer, we all win.”

Last year I announced preferred partnerships with TMC industry leaders including Adelman, Altour, and Gant. Today, I’m pleased to say we’re working with 18 TMC’s globally, true innovators who are the next generation of Travel Management Companies, the next generation of global leaders.

In fact, just last month, we signed our first TripLink deal through a TMC partner. Think about that: a TMC selling open booking. Why would they do that? Simple. It was right for the customer. That’s leadership.

We love sharing our partners stories with our customers.

As I have gotten to know each of these leaders that you just heard from, there was an amazing common thread:  their maniacal focus on their product and their customer. We never talked about business models or supply chains. They want to deliver unique products and they want to be the best in the world. That’s how we will bring about The Perfect Trip.

There are 25K customers that we have the privilege to serve. Each quarter, 1500 new customers join them. The Perfect Trip is their vision.

I’ll leave you with a quick personal story. The other night I was having dinner with my Dad. Like all fathers, he wants to share his experiences and wisdom with his children. He asked me what I was working on. I told him about you and GBTA. He recounted how he used to use paper tickets that were delivered by his travel agent. I stopped working and listened to his story. I thought about how I use my smartphone as my boarding pass. It’s amazing how far we have come in one generation.

But where we are going is even more amazing. As my son enters the workplace, I can picture that trip experience. I can imagine him carrying an identity card that is automatically scanned as he walks onto the plane—his boarding pass, his identity, his loyalty program all taken into account with a simple scan.

Let’s go create that future. Together. Because that’s the way the world should work. Thank you. It’s been an absolute honor to speak with you today.

 

Loading next article