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Autodesk’s mature travel programme is the envy of many of its peers. Gillian Upton profiles the successes it has achieved in the EMEA region over almost a decade

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Nine years ago Autodesk, a company making 3D design software for the car, construction and animation industries, shook up their travel programme across Europe and it hasn’t looked back since.

Autodesk’s travellers are accountants, designers and sales people travelling to clinch deals to sell their cutting edge design software to software houses, design firms, car manufacturers, governments and media firms. The way they book travel today is smart and efficient.

The company’s EMEA Travel Manager, Dirk Woehr, based in Germany, says: “When I meet other travel managers I can be proud of Autodesk’s programme. I think we have a very solid travel programme, using one online booking tool and one travel management company globally.

“Years ago it was all about training travellers on new systems and processes but today it’s more about service and looking over the expenses and getting them to do them on time so we can reduce late payment charges from our card provider.”

Nine years ago however, it was a very different story at Autodesk, with 11 separate TMC agreements across EMEA, 11 different TMC account managers, 11 reporting systems, 11 different agency transaction fees and minimal spend in each country. It meant that Autodesk was not being recognised for its regional purchasing power as there was minimal spend in each of its markets.

Read on to find out how this fragmented set-up changed significantly, with Autodesk accruing wide-ranging benefits.

STEP 1: Autodesk’s first step was to consolidate its collection of TMCs across Europe, and it appointed Chambers Travel Management in 2005 as a single agency for travellers to book through. Chambers, part of the GlobalStar network, established the EuroCentre, a multilingual team to service travellers from each of the European countries Autodesk operated in.

“They work very well for us; we have a special toll-free telephone number for each country and that goes straight to the right team, and in the right language, be it Dutch, Russian or Hungarian,” explains Woehr.

“Travellers think they’re talking to a native speaker in their own country. And the staff haven’t changed so much over the years, which is good for relationship building.”

The consolidation process reduced average ticket price by eight per cent, improved compliance, fulfilled a finance mandate to centralise airline payments and increased employee satisfaction metrics for good/ excellent from 48 per cent (average) with the former travel management company to 86 per cent with Chambers.

Autodesk has also benefitted from the virtual IATA licences Chambers set up, in terms of accessing better local fares, eradicating currency exchange fees from sterling to Euro, and local billing which has made it easier to claim back local VAT.

STEP 2: The company already had a mandated travel programme, created in the company’s US head office in San Francisco by Director of Global Travel, Bruce Finch. Big on duty of care as well as cost reduction, Europe had to be brought into line and policy dictates booking through one online booking tool (Concur) and one agency (Chambers).

Pre-trip approval is in place and the travel policy states lowest logical fare in economy class for all flights. “We have no European airline contracts anymore,” says Woehr, “but we do help frequent travellers with bonus point programmes so they can get upgrades occasionally.”

The company's Lufthansa deal was dropped because it didn’t fit in with Autodesk’s city pairs, but it does have an agreement with British Airways, Air France and SAS to accrue points for travellers. Autodesk Europe can also benefit from the company’s global contract with United.

The bulk of Autodesk’s intra-European flights are only three or four hours long so economy class is not a hardship for travellers. Its travellers seldom fly to Africa and long haul journeys typically take them to either the company headquarters in the United States, San Francisco, or to the Middle East and various Asia-Pacific destinations, such as Singapore. Woehr believes that the company has saved an enormous 51 per cent on the 4.5 million full-fare air tickets bought year-on-year, which used to cost US$8.7million.

STEP 3: The adoption rate of its online booking tool is now at 67 per cent, which Woehr is happy with. “Europeans have a different affinity to online booking tools,” he says. “Ten years ago, Concur was not a commonly known OBT for the European market so we really had to convince our travellers to use it, especially at the beginning.

“We made it easier to use by focussing only on booking EMEA destinations,” says Woehr. For offline bookings, employees copy and paste the itinerary from Concur and email it to Chambers and they propose two or three options.

Having tackled the biggest markets first, this year Autodesk is adding to those 22 countries by implementing its online tool in Israel, Turkey and Romania and later in the year, the UAE, South Africa, Portugal, Greece and Hungary.

Woehr is fully aware that for the implementation to go smoothly he needs to be there in person. “You need to do the training and explain your vision of what you want to achieve for the company, especially the duty of care,” he says.

“We use chat rooms and online courses then we go back three months later to do a follow-up,” Woehr adds.

One sticking point is Russia in terms of getting the tool working and issuing corporate cards. “It’s a technical glitch with the online booking tool and once sorted it will be seamless between travel and expenses via a central billing card,” says Woehr.

STEP 4: One of the last projects was to reduce cost by introducing telepresence. Autodesk has 22 rooms globally (including seven in the EMEA region) and is building three or four more.

“It was a huge investment for the company,” says Woehr, “and I know that when we encouraged people to switch to virtual meetings in 2009/10 some 20 to 30 per cent of our overall travel went virtual.”

STEP 5: Alongside this is a plan to centralise meeting planning, integral to which is the implementation of StarCite into Concur by the first quarter of 2015 in Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Switzerland.

Key managers are using it across Europe in a pilot project currently but in the US, as adoption has increased, Woehr says that by capturing all the information and centralising it through one source, it has already saved the company US$1million.

Woehr also knows that once they can leverage buying power across all hotels in the region – transient and M&E – and trigger group airline fares, that the savings potential will be even greater.

“Currently we are fighting to get deposits back because the wrong hotel contracts have been signed,” he explains.

STEP 6: Looking to the future, Autodesk has proposed a push for more advance booking and is also looking to incorporate sustainability into its managed travel programme.

A Sustainability Department has been created which gathers together company-wide emissions on travel, rail and hotels and issues annual reports.

A special CO2 reduction is in effect with car rental partner Hertz and is booked via Chambers. The special hybrid car programme is available in key US markets and has helped Autodesk to drive down CO2 usage by doubledigits. The company just recently won the GBTA/ ICARUS Sustainability Award with Hertz for this innovative programme.

Woehr is working on a modal shift from air and car to rail on domestic journeys of over 500km, and to implement more rail cards/passes. “With Deutsche Bahn in Germany and SNCF in France we can get a 50 per cent discount by using these passes which will have a huge impact,” he says.

So far, around 15 of Autodesk’s 100 travellers based in Germany are using the DB Pass. DB provides monthly reports highlighting spend and savings of CO2 emissions.

Autodesk's smart moves over recent years have brought huge benefits and there are clearly more in the pipeline.