Carol Randall: What to consider in TMC implementations
Handling the incumbent, OBTs and RFPs are part of changing TMC provider
The effort and time and cost of changing TMC provider should never be under-estimated. Implementation of a new TMC partner can be an extremely fruitful and effective conduit to deliver positive change, but needs to be planned and managed thoroughly to reap all potential rewards.
Travel touches many areas within a corporate organisation, which means it is likely to be a high impact change management exercise and we all know that with change comes resistance.
Implementation of a new supplier also means de-implementation of an incumbent so there are two change management processes to deliver. Add to that the fact that travel is a highly emotive category and you have a relatively high risk exercise.
As with everything related to travel management, the devil is always in the detail. A missed or unconsidered small item can potentially have a high impact to a corporation’s end-users and internal customers. Knowing all that, here are some practical pointers to help deliver success.
Successful TMC implementation is reliant upon several key dependencies
These include but are not limited to
- Selection of the right TMC partner for your organisation, sourced through a requirements-led RFP process
- Clear pricing agreement – including both standard chargeable fees and a full list of per-use ancillary charges
- Clear, workable contractual terms
- Well-defined travel policy rules
- Sufficient time
- Adequate resource
- Management buy-in and support
- Effective stakeholder management and communications
- Functional support to actively work on the corporate side – including IT, HR, Procurement, comms etc.
- Detailed project plan – clearly stating timelines, dependencies and responsibilities
Time for change all-round?
Changing TMC usually occurs because of past issues or areas of discontent with the incumbent supplier. Naturally, implementing a new TMC provides the ideal opportunity to make the necessary corrective changes and improvements. The RFP process and new contract should therefore have imposed clear KPIs and subsequent consequences for instances of under-performance, to ensure these issues of the past are not repeated with the new supplier.
It is likely, however, that not all past issues were accountable to the previous TMC and travel buyers can make improvements to make travel management more effective. For example, it could be the ideal time to make changes to the booking process, implement an online booking tool, improve travel reporting, change the payment method, make changes to the travel policy etc.
It is extremely important to factor in sufficient planning, time and resource in conjunction with the TMC implementation schedule timeframe to allow for these important types of change management items. It can be highly challenging for the success of the TMC implementation when concurrently changing internal corporate processes and policies.
A note of caution. If the travel policy is changed at the same time as transitioning TMC, there is a distinct possibility that the new TMC will be ‘blamed’ for enforcing these new policy rules, especially if they are more restrictive than the policy guidelines of the past. It is extremely important to support the new TMC by clearly communicating to the end-users/stakeholders that the change of policy is an internal decision and not something enforced by the new service provider.
Another important consideration for any implementation process is online booking, whether an online booking tool (OBT) is being implemented for the first time, a tool is being changed, or perhaps retained and needs to be re-implemented in conjunction with the new TMC.
The amount of effort and planning required is dependent on whether a re-seller or corporate direct agreement is in place. Under each TMC’s OBT reseller agreement, the OBT settings are configured to the TMC’s own internal processes/back office systems and the generic needs of their widespread client base. Therefore, a move from one TMC to another, even with the same OBT, will result in differences to the user experience which need to be identified and communicated.
Direct OBT agreements give you autonomy from the TMC so the configuration and design of the tool is more at the behest of the corporate client. However, there are still likely to be differences in the actual deliverables between TMCs.
Big bang or phased approach?
For multi-national programmes, I recommend that the ‘big bang’ approach, when all countries go-live on the same day, is only done when absolutely necessary. It is better to manage multiple market implementations across an agreed and manageable phased time plan. This is dependent upon the agreement of both the incoming and outgoing TMCs, and potential flexibility in the notice period of the previous contract.
I have recently been involved in a successful global implementation programme which covered 70 countries and 29 online booking deployments over a time period of nine months. To have attempted a ‘big bang’ go-live date for all these markets would have compromised the success of the new travel programme to unacceptable levels.
Planning and preparation are absolutely critical.
TMCs are highly experienced in running successful implementation projects. They have the specialist project management skills, resources and proven experience. Generally, the success level or failure of each implementation is mostly likely to be dependent upon the corporate.
Within a general 12-week implementation project timeline, the TMC has an established checklist of tasks which need to be completed in each of the weeks. It is most usually the client that creates delays and misses target deadlines but there is usually some level of contingency time built into the TMC’s project plans.
Managing the outgoing TMC
When implementing a new TMC service, there can be the worry that the incumbent agency will not full cooperate in the transition process. I would say that at least nine times out of 10 the outgoing supplier behaves with true professionalism and integrity. There is an adage about how they may be losing the business, but they will want the opportunity to win it back in the future. So many will exit the relationship with a positive attitude and a good reference. The world of travel is a small environment and word quickly spreads when an incumbent TMC behaves with a lack of professionalism.
The risk of TMC sub-standard performance during de-implementation should be mitigated by having a clear exit plan contained within the TMC’s contract. In addition to this, final balance payments/final cost reconciliation at the end of the contract usually means that the TMC has ‘skin in the game’ to ensure a professional transition to a new supplier.
Many buyers ask if TMCs can implement in a shorter timeframe to mitigate the risk of the incumbent agency ‘pulling the plug’. The answer is generally the same; yes of course but the success level will be affected, compromises will prevail and not all tasks will be thoroughly completed. In addition, there will be more work to do after ‘go live’, which can be significantly harder when trying to make changes in a live and working ‘business as usual’ environment.
It is also critical to agree the amount of support the outgoing TMC will provide to travellers/bookers after the go-live of the new TMC. There will undoubtedly be tickets issued for travel that has not yet taken place. In the case of refunds/changes/cancellations for these trips it is usual they are managed by the TMC who issued them in the first place so it is best for the outgoing TMC to agree to support all changes/cancellations until the last ticket is flown. Some outgoing TMCs put a fixed time period on this support period which is highly undesirable and should be avoided whenever possible. This is a clear example of a requirement which should be included in the exit agreement of any TMC contract.
Consider contracts before going to RFP
Changing TMC can be a daunting task. I have known of a number RFP processes where the effort to change was a major factor in the decision-making process, with the outcome being to remain with the incumbent agency.
Implementation is what it is and the effort and implications should be considered before even embarking on an RFP process. The best implementation outcomes are those in which there is full engagement from all parties involved. So, my advice to any travel manager who is about to select and implement a new travel management TMC partner is to be ready, prepared and make those changes happen.
This article was first published on Business Travel iQ.