“This industry has been obsessed with the transaction,” Andrew Jordan says. Jordan is Chief Product & Technology Officer at corporate travel management firm Carlson Wagonlit Travel. His job title is typical of the latest wave of CIOs that have become oriented towards the customer, technology and the product.
Carlson Wagonlit provides a wide range of business travel, meeting and event management services and claims to fill over 260 Boeing 787s with travellers every day, who stay in 100,000 hotel rooms, attending 105 corporate events they organise. The Paris headquartered business can trace its history back to rail sleeping cars, the clue is in the name. Just as sleeper rail cars have, largely, been surpassed by the invention of flight, so too has Carlson Wagonlit changed track and the organisation now has a heavy focus on technology, visit the organisation’s About Us pages and there’s Jordan hosting a video and a series of articles about travel management data.
And data dominates our conversation in a global restaurant chain below the Carlson Wagonlit offices in London’s Canary Wharf. Carlson Wagonlit is amongst a plethora of organisations that have realised they own and create a mass of information; and since Jordan arrived and began hiring data focused leaders, they have realised the value in that data.
Jordan joined in Carlson Wagonlit in 2016 and immediately set about opening up the silos across the organisation and hiring data experts to his team. In a short space of time they have refocused the business and launched a series of services that provide their corporate customers with insight into their travel usage and enable those organisations to optimise travel more, provide their staff with an improved experience and reduce costs.
To handle the data that 260 Boeing airliners of travellers creates Carlson Wagonlit has been an early adopter of artificial intelligence (AI).
“The AI can tell you the failure rate to book a flight on time, that creates a URL to a dashboard that can be sent out to the traveller,” Jordan says of how Carlson Wagonlit has taken the science of AI and created a customer centric product. As a result the corporate traveller is well informed, which for their organisation could increase productivity if they know to remain in an office or meeting for longer, or even use the time for some meaningful relaxation so when they return to headquarters and remain productive. As every CIO knows, travel can do as much harm to productivity as it can benefit.
“Teams don’t have to learn Tableau or work on dashboards that run over millions and millions of lines it is just like using Google,” he says of how he and Eric Tyree, Chief Data Scientist of Carlson Wagonlit have put the data at the fingertips of their colleagues. Tyree told the Horizon CIO Podcast recently that the aim was “data driven technologies to help ourselves and our clients to execute change very quickly.”
“Tyree talks about it as ‘anyone can do data science’. The difference between knowledge and actionable insight is what we are trying to get to,” Jordan says.
Jordan sees the move towards being a trusted provider of knowledge and insight as a central pillar to the overall business transformation of Carlson Wagonlit. As with all major business transformations, the most significant demand is the culture of the organisation, away from being transaction led, a belief system that has relied on being at the forefront of prices, volumes and rates of corporate travel and towards the less well defined world of partnerships and relationships.
In the podcast Tyree talks about blanket bans on first class travel, despite there often being times when it can be more cost effective. The data scientist and Jordan also talk of organisations not realising that travel demands can lower productivity or create staff loss.
Jordan says: “They never ask ‘what is the problem of the travel? Why is proximity so important for people doing business?’
Jordan and Carlson Wagonlit are now working to “equip that traveller with everything they need to make the best use of their time.” The benefit to the Carlson Wagonlit business is twofold, not only is it providing its customers with workers who ‘make the best use of their time’ it is developing a rich data set of extreme value. Jordan says the insight it is developing will be on a parr with LinkedIn.
“You could connect people with a common goal, or help connect people that know each other that happen to be in the same city at the same time,” Jordan says; adding that the personalisation will turn the travel management company into “the Netflix” of their sector, where the end user is comfortable with the knowledge Carlson Wagonlit has of them, because in return, their journey, stay, working and personal life all benefit from a tailored experience.
Jordan admits the challenge is that: “changing a travel management company is harder than financial services”. In a broad career, Jordan has led technology in financial services and the media.
The data focus is changing the operations of the business as well as the customer experience. Using data means Carlson Wagonlit is moving from a sales led organisation that then delivers a process to a consulting organisation. Jordan explains, previously if a client needed some bespoke reporting there would be a charge per reporting engagement. Moving to a consultancy business model requires a more relationship focused approach. Jordan describes the data science group as a one time sale that then leads to a longer term relationship. A further benefit is that organisations don’t have to be travel management customers. “We can help you knock your data into shape,” he says.
“A lot of travel management companies think of data as a rear view mirror,” Jordan says of how data has been used in the past. So the cultural change Jordan and Carlson Wagonlit are pursuing is to use data as a simulator and to create predictive analytics. For example Jordan talks of using data from a transatlantic airline and looking at not only the price, but the seats and the connections. All of that existing information can be used to simulate a host of scenarios that will impact a Carlson Wagonlit traveller and therefore when a journey is impacted, perhaps fog leads to a connection being missed, the richness of data and the predictive analytics approach of Carlson Wagonlit will allow them to ensure their traveller is provided with information on alternative travel options or even a room for the night.
In early 2017 Carlson Wagonlit announced CWT 3.0 a new strategy to bring consumer grade services to travel management. The group wide strategy has enabled Jordan and his team to deliver their data science vision. Elsewhere in the business it has allowed significant diversification. RoomIt, launched in early 2018 brings together hotel availability information from not only Carlson Wagonlit, but also aggregators booking.com and Expedia. CTO Jack Staehler joined and RoomIt has quickly grown its presence in the minds of the business traveller, with the term being used as a verb in much the same way as Google.
Jordan says RoomIt is an example of Carlson Wagonlit being aware of the changing nature of corporate travel. “booking.com is the second most valuable travel business in the world,” he says of its potential to be a disruptor.
At the back end of the organisation Carlson Wagonlit has developed a travellers CRM to create that rich data set that will drive personalisation. Jordan says this is allowing them to understand if a traveller regularly changes their seat on a flight for example.
To become a digital business though requires a cultural change and Jordan says much of his first two years with Carlson Wagonlit have been focused on the cultural piece. The leadership team have become far more approachable and in touch with the organisation. Tools such as the implementation of collaboration platform Jive act as a catalyst for increasing that communication between all parts of the organisation. That in turn has changed the operations of the organisation. “70% of our meetings are now virtual. It makes people behave differently.” DropBox has been widely adopted.
“We have a CEO who is hell bent on transforming the business and he is very passionate about it,” Jordan says of Kurt Ekert. “He wants us to shift what a travel management company does.”
Carlson Wagonlit has partnered with Plug and Play Ventures, the Silicon Valley incubator. “We have a residency there and we take our customers to visit it to help them,” Jordan is passionate about keeping in touch with the start up community and invests a great deal of his time in bringing them into the Carlson Wagonlit fold.
Prior to joining Carlson Wagonlit Jordan spent just under four years with NBC Universal as effectively CIO for the rest of the world that wasn’t the USA. During that time the media giant began its transition to a digital media world. Jordan moved to NBC Universal from four years with Thomson Reuters where he had been CIO and CTO for major financial services arms within the Anglo-Canadian information services provider. The tall CTPO can also count data leaders DunnHumby, who recently hired David Jack as CTO and Citi Group as previous employers.