By Megan Hjermstad Navigant International this month introduced a Web-based reporting platform that enables corporate travel managers to easily access accurate, up-to-date travel information and manipulate it in a variety of ways.
The tool, ReportFlyr 2.0, which was developed by Navigant during the past year, is generally seen by technology experts as advancing current industry reporting capabilities by using analytic reporting software developed by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Brio Technology. Navigant, the fourth largest corporate agency in the United States, has adapted the Brio One technology—typically used by companies to generate internal reports—in one of its first applications for external reporting purposes.
Navigant in November tested the new platform with a few beta clients in its Rocky Mountain region. The company now is rolling out the system company-wide, replacing the Hi-Mark system, and expects to have it fully integrated by the end of March.
The solution is being introduced at a time when travel managers are being further pressed by management to cut travel costs in the face of a softening economy. “This will help our travel managers to know more about their spending patterns and be able to get that information very quickly, especially as the economy slows down and there`s great pressure to do something about their travel spend,” said Thom Nulty, president and COO of Navigant. “ReportFlyr`s ability to generate complex custom reports using drill-down capabilities greatly increases my control over corporate travel expenses,” said Donna Hudspeth, travel manager for Dallas-based CompuCom, a leading digital infrastructure solutions company, which was one of Navigant`s primary beta test sites. “It also allows me to focus on developing new ways to reduce travel costs, which ultimately creates a positive impact on CompuCom`s bottomline.”
ReportFlyr 2.0 has three layers to meet the needs of travel managers at every level: InfoFlyr, which offers desktop delivery via e-mail of dozens of standardized reports; DataFlyr, which provides standardized Web-based reporting for users who want to receive data in formatted reports within any standard Web browser; and the top layer, PivotFlyr, which allows on-demand analysis of travel data by using pivot tables, charts and drill-down capabilities. Pre-trip information is loaded into the system every night, so users can access travel information at the beginning of the day after ticketing. Users can download a plug in to any standard Web browser, log in and work on- or offline using its import and export capabilities.
The ability to provide daily updated data via the Web, while relatively new, is not unique to Navigant. Many super-regional and mega agencies have developed similar Internet-based reporting tools. American Express, which introduced e-reporting in 1999, now has extended to its entire client base the ability to access travel reports through its Portfolio/Web suite of Web-based reporting products. Rosenbluth International has its own Web-based reporting product, [email protected], with query capabilities. Maritz Travel Co. a year ago took its Northstar reporting product, which also has sophisticated query and drill-down capabilities, to the Web.
But according to industry consultants and travel managers who have seen and tested Navigant`s product, the top layer of Navigant`s platform is superior, in terms of the agility and ease of its ad-hoc reporting. The tool is extremely user-friendly and allows users to easily create charts and tables within the program. “I don`t think the others are as easy to manipulate or offer as much flexibility,” said Ralph Brown, president of Illinois-based R.D. Brown Co.
Bob Langsfeld, principal of Nevada-based Corporate Solutions Group, agreed that the system is an improvement over existing solutions. “It is a next generation reporting system in the travel industry,” said Langsfeld. “It is definitely something we lacked in the industry.” Whether Navigant can maintain the leading edge remains to be seen. “They`ve pushed the envelope,” said Langsfeld. “But this is a world of catch-up. It doesn`t make Navigant a better agency, but allows them to provide more service.”
That enhanced service may be a strong selling point for Navigant. Rose Alvies, travel manager of ING Americas, which has its North America headquarters in Atlanta, last fall went out to bid on travel agency services for all of North America. ING, which has an $18 million annual air spend, awarded the contract to Navigant, in part, due to the ReportFlyr product. “They showed it to us during the bid process and we were impressed,” said Alvies. “To get the reports live, electronically, up-to-date, and be able to go into the system and massage the report was very important to us.” Navigant has been training its account managers on how to use the program and, in line with its decentralized approach, has introduced regional reporting specialists. “Report specialists are out close to the customer so if there is custom work somebody wants, we are going to have people close to them,” said Nulty.
Having a decentralized account management team, sales team, operations team and reporting team is part of Navigant`s strategy to maintain a regional focus while gaining mega status. Navigant has acquired 36 companies since 1997, though it recently has slowed its acquisition pace to focus on its existing operations. “We`ve covered most of the major business markets already and we have solid operations in those. Now we`re taking a look at what we call tuck-ins, in some of those markets where we might acquire an agency that would work well with the operation we already have in place,” said Nulty. The emphasis will remain on the domestic side, Nulty said, despite Navigant`s most recent acquisition of Global Travel Solutions in Canada, which moved it into the number-four position in Canada in terms of agency size, matching its U.S. position.
According to Neville Teagarden, CIO of Navigant, the key to the success of its M&A strategy is striking the right balance between continuing to acquire and competing as an institution. In order to compete as one institution, Navigant has been working to bring all its locations onto its common back-office accounting platform, GlobalMax. ReportFlyr relies on that system for consolidated information that is cleansed to ensure consistency and then is stored in a data warehouse. The redundant server system has load-balancing capabilities so there is no single point of failure.
“There was a phase at the end of 1999, after a handful of acquisitions, when only 20 percent of our agencies were flowing through the system,” said Teagarden. “We kicked in a very structured 16-week process in which we analyzed the back-office process and went through the change-management process with each agency.”
Currently, 90 percent of tickets flow automatically through the common system and, following a significant conversion at the end of February, 97 percent of tickets will come through it.
“It says a lot that Navigant has been able to bring it together,” said Brown. “They have taken a giant step in getting everyone on the same page.”