Egencia® customer spotlight: Ann Dery, Director, Global Travel and Meetings
Some of the best perspectives on Egencia's suite of product offerings and application to business or corporate travel come from those who use it or instruct others to utilise it frequently. In this interview series, we profile Egencia customers from around the world and ask their thoughts on what our product team should keep in mind while problem-solving for them, and where the future of the industry lies.
Here’s a preview of what our Travel Manager of the Year for 2021, Ann Dery, answers about travel solutions and travel technology and her own experience working with a travel management company such as Egencia by American Express Global Business Travel:
- How did you first come to work with Egencia’s products?
- What inspired you to get into this business, and what have been some of the most interesting aspects of being in this industry?
- What's the biggest challenge that your team is facing right now?
- As a member of the Egencia Connect Advisory Board, what do you think is the most important thing for Egencia's product team to keep in mind when problem-solving for customers today?
- What's currently the most helpful feature of Egencia’s product for your team?
- If you could add one feature to Egencia’s product right now, what would it be?
- You recently had the honour of being named BTN’s ‘Travel Manager of the Year’. How has that impacted your goals and direction for 2022?
- What's one prediction that you have about the future of business travel?
How did you first come to work with Egencia’s products?
I joined S&P Global back in 2017. I was actually one of the first category managers that they brought on board in our newly formed global procurement function. One of my first tasks was to figure out a way to fix all the customer service issues with their travel programme on a global scale based on my experience (I’d already been in the industry for almost 20 years).
I presented the idea to the operating committee that we should globalise the programme. That it really was a prime candidate for working with a single supplier—which, at that time seemed like a shocking concept to management, but we went through a very rigorous sourcing exercise.
It was interesting because we initially invited a slew of agencies to join the sourcing process, but only two [including] Egencia were willing to go forwards with the sourcing, because they [agencies] didn't believe that we were ready to transform the programme into a programme that was set for maturity, innovation and a single supplier. So that's how we ended up with Egencia. We felt at the time  that Egencia’s culture, and the fact that it was a more technology-driven system, was really in sync with what we were doing in the finance organisation and S&P.
What inspired you to get into this business, and what have been some of the most interesting aspects of being in this industry?
I think I’ve had a very different trajectory in the travel industry to most of my peers. I was a pre-law major and living abroad for a period of time in the 90s, and I became an ESL teacher to executives that were being relocated from France to United States. When I came back to the States, I joined DRS Technologies. It was the first company that I worked for when I returned and worked as a corporate paralegal.
At some point in time, they decided to globalise their travel programme and the legal department was kind of in a low. So, I asked the CFO if there was anything that I could do to help them with this project, because I had really good project management skills. I knew how to read contracts and I’d worked on a lot of stakeholder engagement during my work in the legal department. At that point, the CFO said, ‘We really appreciate you volunteering, but we've got this; we've got it handled.’ Three weeks later, she came over to me and said, ‘We’re struggling to get this programme off the ground and we really need someone who's dedicated to working with the new agency and [who’s] also worked on all the communications. Didn’t you volunteer to run the programme?’ I told her not really, because I worked in the legal department, but I was very willing to pitch in. And that's how it all started.
Within three months, the CFO was so impressed with the way that the project had finally come together and how it was moving forwards that she went to the general counsel behind my back and said, ‘We really need someone who can do project coordination and who's interested in this new concept of travel. So we want her to come and work in the finance department.’ And that was really the beginning of this amazing career that I’ve had, and it's consistently been an exciting industry to work in.
What's the biggest challenge that your team is facing right now?
We’re actually on the cusp of a very large merger, so our biggest challenge right now is figuring out our resources and our bandwidth. We’ll have so many huge flagship energy projects to take on as soon as the merger closes, and they’re all related to the travel function.
Like most companies, our travel function has also been gliding through the pandemic. So, I did work on a number of major travel projects—like our ‘return to business travel’ concept, the first phase (which was at the height of the pandemic) and then the second phase. We then started becoming more accustomed to travelling in this new normal.
As a member of Egencia's Connect Advisory Board (CAB), what do you think is the most important thing for Egencia's product team to keep in mind when problem-solving for customers today?
I do think that leveraging all the expertise within the CAB is very important for your project team. I think there are members with programmes at all different levels—whether they're a strategic client of yours or a small- to medium-sized client.
I think we should also participate in workshop sessions where we meet with the product team and speak about our struggles with trying to manage our programmes. Each share some commonalities, but they're also very different—especially if you have a global programme like mine where we have different needs and different regions.
What's currently the most helpful feature of Egencia’s product for your team?
There are a lot of internal meetings on the books already and I think it's really going to be about making sure that our travellers have all the information that they need to ensure a safe and healthy journey. That’s why I think that features like the Travel Advisor tool are really coming in handy for us. We've been promoting that because a lot of travellers are coming to our department and asking us if we know the entry restrictions or covid restrictions for particular destinations.
If you could add one feature to Egencia’s product right now, what would it be?
I think some of our biggest struggles are things like trying to manage your airline programme and having better tools to manage your airline contract performance. Having that built into your online booking tool could give that agility to address market share commitments when you have a global programme. I also think that leveraging the expertise within the CAB is important for you.
Then, additional tools that make the system more agile when it comes to sustainability messaging. There have been many enhancements during pandemic, but I think there's room for additional growth in this area. And I hope that we can actually start testing some of that in the future.
You recently had the honour of being named BTN’s Travel Manager of the Year. How has that impacted your goals and direction for 2022?
It's an incredible honour to be recognised for your work by your peers in the industry. I feel more empowered to bring forward the various transformative and innovative ideas that I’ve had for both the travel and internal meetings categories that I manage. I think winning that award, or winning any sort of major award in an industry, gives you that much more credibility with your peers and executive management. It also shows everyone that you have a different type of expertise within the industry and that you can be a trusted thought leader within your own organisation.
So I’m hoping that it will enable many major projects to be taken on by the travel team and that they'll be well funded. So, we can look forward to really transforming the programme as we start coming out of this pandemic.
What's one prediction that you have about the future of business travel?
I think my biggest prediction for the future is about the innovation that's going to enter our industry. There have been so many wonderful start-ups that gained traction during the pandemic, so I think it's going to be a wonderful advantage to the buyers in the industry. This will enable us to better manage our programmes to offer a very different traveller experience in the future.
I think that there's going to be a lot more standardisation when it comes to the data around sustainability, and I think there's a lot of effort going on right now, especially in the air industry. I’m hoping that permeates the hotel category as well, because that’s a big challenge for all of us. I think it's really about innovation and about taking a new look at how we do things. We're all ready to embrace change, and the concept of embracing constant change is something that will permeate our industry going forward.