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When American Express Global Business Travel, the world’s biggest travel management company by transaction volume, acquired serious competitor HRG last year, some wondered how the process of integrating the company would fare.
American Express Global Business Travel was still in the process of integrating technology company KDS into its platform, and sources inside KDS indicated at the time that the process was extremely challenging.
A year later, though, the integration of HRG seems to have moved more quickly than expected, despite both companies offering a variety of similar tools to clients.
“HRG was a very formidable competitor for us that was really doing a great job in the marketplace,” said David Thompson, chief information and technology officer of American Express Global Business Travel. “We’ve learned the things they were doing and were able to move very rapidly in our integration. We’ve been able in a short time to connect the HRG trip record to our global trip record, and by doing that we are able to populate all GBT products for HRG customers. Many of our folks are surprised at how fast we’re able to move.”
As the industry leader, American Express Global Business Travel has worked to not just increase its scale in the marketplace, which was already substantial, but integrate a variety of booking tools and platforms so they hook up to the company’s central trip record and can be serviced no matter where something is booked.
Mobile isn’t enough, Thompson said, as the company’s omni-channel approach can reach travelers wherever they want to book and receive service if something goes wrong on a trip.
“KDS is an asset that has allowed us to have our own GBT-owned booking tools,” said Thompson. “It’s a new shopping experience for us and we’ve just deployed a new interface and design of that platform… the online booking tool capability of KDS has really become powerful for us. We also have the Neo expense platform that we are now launching in North America. The development team and intellectual property we’ve added there have really added additional resources [to our organization].”
The company has also introduced its own tools to rebook hotels and airfares, in addition to benchmarking travel policies and spend against industry competitors. Usually, travel management companies use third-party providers and startups to enable travel managers with these tools if they want them.
The rationale from building their own solutions is to better leverage the substantial amount of data inside the company from both the travel management and traveler perspectives. In the case of benchmarking travel programs against similar companies, greater insight into competitive policies can become a hook to better retain workers.
“We were able to show how their program compares against other tech companies and their program,” said Thompson. “They were kind of struggling because they were having difficulty hiring and retaining folks in the tech industry. That’s super critical. We found that we could show them that their travel program was not as competitive as some others. They had moved to an all coach travel policy unless you’re one of the top six people in the company. And we showed what the competition had, and were able to help them achieve premium economy, and in some cases, business class for the same cost of what their program was running for.”
Thompson stopped short of talking about big data and personalization as the next wave, preferring to characterize the efforts of American Express Global Business Travel as simply providing a more cohesive experience to managers and travelers regardless of which tools in the ecosystem they use.
“I try to stay away from buzzwords where we can; in the end, we’re servicing our clients and that’s what they pay us to do,” said Thompson. “So we need to know our client, we need to know the traveler. We need to know the products and the content we’re offering, and what we actually book them on. Bringing all that together with your integration and core platforms is where I’m focused.”