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“The focus is on the overall process, not just the price”

Thorsten Eicke and Albert Eduard Küng (Siemens) on the Travel 4.0 system

The system is called Travel 4.0. And it’s set to catapult travellers at Siemens into the era of digitalisation. What’s more, its initiators Thorsten Eicke and Albert Eduard Küng have shifted the focus onto the travellers, breaking with Travel Management’s dominating principle of prioritising pricing. We asked them to tell us all about it.

Mr Eicke, Siemens has 377,000 employees, over half of whom travel regularly. What can they expect from your new travel programme?

Thorsten Eicke, Vice President Global Category Mobility Services: We’re no longer focusing just on the price, but also on the traveller. By doing this we hope not only to relieve our employees of the stresses and strains usually associated with travel, but also to positively influence their behaviour. Naturally we will continue to ensure that business is supported with the best conditions.

You’re talking about leakage?

Correct. However, the key thing is that price is no longer the main thing for us.

So you‘re talking about nothing less than a paradigm shift. What role does digitalisation play in this?

Siemens is a pioneer of digitalisation in many areas of business. In Mobility Services we call it Travel 4.0. We are therefore driving forward digitalisation and making it come alive for our employees. We are enabling them to grasp what is happening and showing them where the added value for travellers is. 

Give an example.

Our direct connect contract with Lufthansa. This contract, which links Siemens and Lufthansa with each other directly, is unique. We’re also cooperating strategically with Emirates, Etihad and others. We didn’t just decide to do this because of prices. The keyword was "global distribution systems". We asked ourselves: What else will this allow us to do? 


Since August 2017, all Siemens employees have been able to use the lounges of some airlines, even if they are only flying economy class. They also have the right to priority boarding and can use the fast lane. With some partners, it’s even enough to show a Siemens pass as a form of ID. The pass is fitted with a chip that a traveller can use to identify him or herself as an employee in a fully electronic process. Feedback received to date on this kind of customer care has been very good; it increases productivity.

What other added value does Travel 4.0 offer Siemens employees when travelling?

Our end-to-end strategy combines booking and travel costs. We gained the service provider SAP/Concur for this project, which we have called E2E Travel@Siemens. The solution offers many new digitalisation opportunities. There’s an app to provide support with your entire business trip. You can also keep a record of restaurant receipts and automatically enter credit card details. Your travel cost report will therefore write itself. We harmonised our policy structure for this approach. The reason for this was that in the past we had different travel booking and travel cost billing pages in the respective countries.

So you’re rolling out the app worldwide?

We’ve set it up as a global project, and the pilot has been running since autumn 2017. To be able to promote it successfully, we firstly need standardised processes, end-to-end processes that extend from the world of travel to the world of expenses. The "world of travel" encompasses all processes from the point at which we say: I’d like to go on a journey. After that, everything takes place that leads to the reimbursement of costs to the employee. 

But surely Travel Management isn’t single-handedly responsible for such a project?

We’re doing it jointly with Human Resources. E2E Travel@Siemens is a lighthouse project that can work only with the special involvement of stakeholders.

"Employees know best when they need to go where. That means they also have the right to a say in decisions."

During last year’s Corporate Lodging Forum in Berlin, you said that this change of consciousness involved moving away from „dictating to travellers to a certain extent“. The keyword was „ownership culture“.

Albert Eduard Küng, Head of Global Travel Management: Digitalisation is simply a vehicle for us. Empowerment, i.e. the traveller’s ability to decide certain things for him or herself, is actually a fundamental requirement for this approach. In future, travellers will be able to say what is important to them and will then be guided through the system. That means we’ll be relieving them of the complexity that has been involved in processes up to now. Employees won’t even need to obtain prior approval from their line managers any more. We’ve completely done away with pre-trip approvals. We’re convinced that employees want to do the right thing; we just need to make it easy for them to do the right thing.
The programme has already gone live in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil, and our staff are enthusiastic about it. They’re telling us how much simpler and quicker the process is now. After the first half of 2018 this will be followed by the USA and Canada, then Germany. 

Isn’t it actually impossible to implement a single solution for so many different countries with their respective legal peculiarities?

Eicke: We’re always guided by the legal provisions in the country concerned, and our suppliers help us with this. We have to ask ourselves the fundamental question: Where do we have extras that we can trim off? We need to take a bold and decisive approach on this point, so that we can actually standardise the process throughout.

At the Corporate Lodging Forum, you said that individual travellers could be given more personal responsibility for their decisions once their operating expenses have been reduced. What exactly did you mean by that?

Küng: The traveller knows very well what the best thing to do is. We simply need to design the system intelligently so that it integrates all options, like virtual conferences as an alternative to travelling, for example. 
Eicke: Employees see the whole market. They know best when they need to go where. That means they also have the right to have a say in deciding what is suitable. It’s also important to us to include shared economy services in future. Line managers will be involved only if a decision will cost significantly more and certain overall parameters will be exceeded. 
At the end of the day, however, the employee always has a sense of what is right when it comes to the "whether" and "how" of the task that he or she has to perform. We are simply giving employees a basis for making sensible decisions in their business environment. In the USA, where the new policy has been implemented since summer 2017, the average price has even gone down slightly. That’s exactly what we want to achieve. Streamlining is perceived as added value.

At all levels?

Küng: Sixty per cent of all bookings in China are already made using mobile systems.
Eicke: That’s why virtual payment is also a big topic for us.
Küng: Ultimately, travel guidelines have to be convincing. Employees have to think: "I'm being taken seriously; I understand it." Our goal is to no longer regard travel as a separate subject, but instead as a means to an end. So we have to get our employees to understand what we want. 

In March it became public knowledge that HRS will in future take over all business processes relating to Siemens’ global hotel programme. What do you expect from this new global cooperation?

Küng: This step is the logical continuation of our digitalisation strategy: streamlined, innovative processes with complete transparency on all devices, including the HRS app.

Mr Eicke, Mr Küng, thank you for the interview.