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COVER STORY

Managed Travel & Procurement Solutions September 2007

Second Thoughts When to replace a 747 with a viewing screen.

T&E Control Refined Fresh tactics for managing escalating T&E costs. Reaching Out Widening demand is forcing rates up in extended stay.


INDUSTRY PROFILE

Meeting Intelligence and — ‘It’s A 10’ In a perfect world, people would register early for the meetings they plan to attend. They’d make all their arrangements at once: register for the event itself, select the sessions they’ll be attending, book a hotel room and their incoming and return flights. Everything would run smoothly. And when it was all over, the meeting manager would have a tidy collection of data to effectively run the event. They would also be prepared for negotiating better values for the next event. In a perfect world, those who plan to attend wouldn’t change their minds about any of their choices. And they wouldn’t have their arrangements changed for them because a seminar was discovered to be overbooked or the selected hotel room was not available after all. And there would be someone at the airport and/or the hotel to greet them when they arrived. Bad news: it’s not a perfect world. But it’s getting better.

Business Travel Executive SEPTEMBER 2007

Start Here

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For many, the improvement has begun with SignUp4’s Event Management System (EMS). A Fortune 500 home improvement retail chain’s human resources department, with more than 1,700 stores throughout North America, holds four national hiring seminars each quarter. Individual time slots often filled up quickly. Initially, the department used EMS to smooth out the scheduling for the appointments, automatically routing potential hiring prospects to other slots as sessions filled. But planners quickly realized that the flexibility of the EMS system made it an ideal solution for many departments throughout the compa-

ny. Now, the individual events are running more smoothly, but more importantly, valuable data is being aggregated across the company to use for future planning and negotiation. At one of the top 10 commercial banks in the US, local meetings were being planned locally — and often manually. With 2,500 locations in the Midwest and western states, that’s a lot of meetings — and with manual processes, a lot of potential for error. Without standardization, data collection was difficult, not always complete, and often incompatible. The bank’s aggressive acquisition strategy was exacerbating the problem: more than 30 planners and managers scattered across the country were organizing more meetings — and losing more data in the process. SignUp4’s standardized platform made collecting all that data swift, sure and simple. Another client managing a global association of real estate professionals, provides leadership and training events for thousands of members from around the world. Events are so large that several hotels are needed to accommodate all the attendees. At one time, it was all done manually via telephone, mail and fax. Attendees would register for the event and then contact the hotel of their choice to book a room. Sometimes that second step wasn’t taken right away. Other times, they booked at hotels not on the meeting plan,

leaving planners with unfilled room blocks and an attrition headache. Using SignUp4 has allowed the association’s members to register for events and reserve hotel rooms all from the same site; what’s more, if an interruption prevents them from taking that second step, planners will get a report identifying the incomplete reservations. Remedial follow-up brings things back into balance.

Corralling PNR Data Last June, SignUp4 unveiled its Travel Management System (TMS), a companion to EMS that integrates directly to the GDS and automatically matches PNR records to attendee registrations. Now meeting managers are able to generate reports that will tell them, in real time, which attendees have yet to make travel arrangements, which are booking outside policy, when specific attendees will need to be met at the airport, travel costs on a per meeting basis, and integrated reporting of all of the meeting participant’s data. TMS does not require that attendees’ travel arrangements be made directly with the GDS. Arrangements made via an agency or self-booking tool are also gathered into TMS for reporting. “The travel component collects data but doesn’t do the booking,” explains John Broaddus, vice president of sales. “We’ve given planners an entry into the booking tool. We don’t change those processes but collect the registration data on the back end directly match it to the travel data.” “It doesn’t matter how it’s booked as long as it’s booked through a corporate booking method,” he adds. With global distribution systems undergoing a lot of change themselves right now, GDS integration is an admirable ambition. But moving targets


The ERP of Meetings SignUp4’s systems are accretive, each layering on a new spectrum of data to give a complete description of what’s happening as a meeting is planned and executed. Not only are users getting more data than they’ve had before, they are getting better data. Throughout these processes, automation eliminates much of the opportunity for error that comes from users’ earlier manual processes. And the reports are delivered on-demand, in real time, when they are their most powerful. The Event Management System (EMS) is the core product, released in 2000 and consistently updated with additional features and functionality. The system is powerful enough to handle the most complex registration requirements, yet requires only a basic understanding of common office software applications like Microsoft Word and Excel. Users say an entire meeting registration site can be developed in less than an hour. As attendees register all their choices and information, the system begins collecting data. Layer number two is applied courtesy of the Travel Management System’s (TMS) GDS connections. That PNR data — particularly for hotel and air travel — is automatically collected and matched with the registration data gathered by EMS. PNR integration accomplishes several things for a planner including:

(1) automatically matching flight itineraries with registration records (2) the ability to run up-to-date and accurate manifest reports (3) a window into who is complying with corporate travel policy Next, all the data that’s been gathered in separate buckets — about the registrants from EMS, about their itinerary from the PNR — is rolled up to SignUp4’s Spend Management System (SMS). SMS is the backbone of SignUp4’s Strategic Meetings Management Solution. SMS combines meeting consolidation, workflow, policy, budgeting, contract and vendor management, and a robust reporting and business intelligence center. Data from EMS and TMS, combined with data from SMS, allows the organization to track and report on virtually every piece of informatinon generated in the meeting workflow. The result: planners are able to see and manage all the financial and workflow aspects of the meeting, including budgeting, vendor and contract management, and real time tracking of spend. Taken together, the three SignUp4 systems create a Strategic Meetings Management Suite — “an ERP of meetings,” in Broaddus’ words. “Data about every single aspect that touches the meeting and appears on the back end is delivered via an easy to use interface. It allows you to ask any question ‘on the fly.’ “

Building A Reputation “EMS and TMS go hand-in hand while SMS can act as a stand alone application or in conjunction with the other two modules. Of course we’d like customers to buy them all at once,” says Broaddus, “but the reality is that EMS usually comes first, followed by TMS, and then when they are ready, SMS.” “The strategic meetings management market is still ’crossing the chasm’ so to speak,” he continues. “A lot of companies are just beginning to implement or think about implementing, an SMM program.” He predicts that the power behind SMM will make meeting management — and managers — more important to their corporations. Developing a successful strategic meetings management policy will help strengthen their programs and build their reputations. Its reports will show them first where they can increase their efficiency, then provide the documentation to show upper management just how efficient they are.

Since 1999, SignUp4 has proven itself with many companies. Frequently there is increased use of the EMS system through several more departments than originally expected. The features of SignUp4 enable planners to keep pace with the demands of rapid growth. Customers have the ability to manage multiple events with thousands of attendees at a time at destinations around the world. If those examples are history, consider a more recent implementation — one that will touch even more corporate users. Lauren Ewing, director of meetings at Expedia Corporate Travel, is still getting familiar with all the potential she’s been handed with the SignUp4 Suite. “One of the reasons we selected SignUp4 is because of their open-minded approach to business needs, responsiveness, and the people and systems available to us for ramp-up and training,” she says. “It’s given us the ability to provide a superior attendee and meeting management tool to our customers.” In that context, the system’s flexibility has been especially important, Ewing continues. “Our customers have a choice in how they work with us: in a self-service mode or we are able to manage tasks for them. SignUp4 has reduced the time spent by our team in building registration sites and has improved our reporting offering 100 percent! We don’t need to run and then send reports on demand; our customers can view their own whenever they wish via the link we provide. “We are able to build in other features and functionality that improve our internal business management as well,” she adds, “It’s a 10,” Ewing concludes. If it’s a 10 — “100 percent” — already, the next step must be the proverbial “one hundred and ten percent.” And the developers at SignUp4 are ready. According to Broaddus, the ability to do trend analysis and forecasting is close to emerging from the pipeline. It will look at things like the best time to book a flight — or schedule a meeting — in a specific destination. “Not just the obvious things, like the choice between going to Florida in August vs. February,” he says, “but about finding the best value.” BTE Contact: www.SignUp4.com 404-237-8945 1-866-SIGNUP4 (US only)

Business Travel Executive SEPTEMBER 2007

aren’t slowing SignUp4’s development program. SignUp4 began with Worldspan, in part because both companies are based in Atlanta. After completing the gathering, storage and reporting of the PNR data that powers TMS, the next integration project, Sabre, took just a little longer — six weeks. He expects the process to maintain speed, if not accelerate, as it goes on to the other GDSs. Travelport’s recent acquisition of Worldspan will probably step up integration with the Travelport-owned Galileo platform. Worldspan has made several announcements over recent weeks, chronicling its expansion into the global market further developing TMS’s utility in the international meetings market. Integration with Amadeus — “coming very soon” — will give it more muscle in the European and South American markets. Even now, the hot global markets are no stranger to SignUp4: “We already have users in 12 countries and counting, including Europe and China” says Broaddus.

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BTE: SignUp4 Company Profile  

Article in Business Travel Executive magazine about SignUp4

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