Julia Manuilova, Millennium: “The future of the business travel belongs to those who are the most responsive to changes”
Can you remember the famous phrase from the “Terminator” – “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle”? Nowadays we have the impression that the situation will be exactly like this in the near future - a machine or a chat-bot will throw you out of your job and... However, experts advise everyone not to panic or to suspect a microchip of subversive activities - human qualities will long be in demand, and the main thing is to use them properly. We have talked to Julia Manuilova, CEO Millennium about the potential of the human capital in the digital transformation era, the future of online services in the B2C and B2B segments, as well as about the ways to avoid the “marketing trap” when choosing an OBT.
- Julia, you will speak about the potential of the human capital in Russia and its role in the digital transformation at ACTE Forum Moscow. We will not reveal all the details, but in general, could you say, what role a human will play in the robotized future of the business travel?
Due to the press, we often fall into the illusion that digital technologies are a revolution that can turn the whole world over in the twinkle of an eye. It is not so. The technology itself does not cause revolutions, it should pass two stages: a cultural and an institutional one, when different institutions emerge, like shared consumption, mass customization, uberization, work with big data, work with digital clones etc. Each of these institutions will lead to new requirements to the human capital.
According to the survey held by The Global Human Capital Report, Russia is the 16th in the world human capital index. In fact, it is a good position, if we take into consideration, that Russia is 64th in the Gross Domestic Product per capita rank, according to WMF.
How people will feel, and, in particular, experts working in business travel, will depend on various factors. One of them is the human individuality. This strongest human feature, if we can say so, will oppose digitalization and artificial intelligence.
I will not dwell on this topic, because I would like to present my ideas in a more detailed way during my speech at the Forum on March 26. Come, and I hope together we will answer some questions about people's opportunities in the digital world, that are interesting for many of us, I am sure.
- A lot has been said about OBTs in the past few years: agents, independent companies, as well as marketplaces with a variety of facilities for the customer and the agency. What will have the right to exist in the future, in your opinion?
One of the development trends both in business travel and in business in general is personification. In my opinion, it does not matter what type an OBT belongs to: an agent, an independent company or a marketplace. If the product meets the requirements of its target audience, it has the right to exist. Nowadays we see the emergence of new B2B solutions in the market, which were present only in the B2C market before. Besides, some financial organizations have launched their own OBTs for cross-sales and are trying to run their own business. As the result, many businesses develop their own platform solutions. It means a certain degree of independence and an opportunity to influence the development of your own product.
If we return to personification, of course, product contents should meet market requirements and the latest technologies to the maximum. For example, we have been promoting the concept of the “single seamless business travel planning process” for a long time, and our platform Millennium fully meets all the requirements.
Apart from standard options like travel services, authorization process, digitalized 3D prices and the travel policy, we offer cost cutting due to the full automation of all the business travel operations: automatic compilation of business trip assignment letters, creation and confirmation of business trip expense reports, calculation of travelling allowance, etc. What is important, full integration with SAP, Concur, 1C, Galaktika, Boss Kadrovik, etc. ensures a decrease in office staff engagement and guarantees satisfaction of the staff who are released from paper work. Besides, integration is possible according to a fully customized scenario, and not only an upload from an OBT to 1C.
- What new things can appear in the OBT market or, on the contrary, will cease to exist?
If we were working in the В2С segment, my answer would be obvious. Multifunctional platform solutions and good niche services that provide customized services would be going strong.
As for the В2В market and business travel in particular, I would be cautious about making forecasts. The corporate market is quite inert, and any changes in any corporation are introduced slowly. This is especially true for the transition to digital solutions. Apart from the intention itself, you also need knowledge in this case. This refers not only to the knowledge of the business processes, but also to the minimal technical understanding of the issue.
The combination of factors such as the slow pace of the “corporate machine”, the decreasing profitability of business travel and specific customer requirements like payment grace period will not facilitate the rapid emergence of anything fundamentally new.
By the way, I will hold one of the round tables at the Forum on March 26, where I will give a step-by-step instruction, what a travel manager should know to efficiently communicate with the representatives of the IT department during OBT integration, and how to manage digital projects.
- How do you think a corporate customer can keep away from the “marketing trap” of providers’ promises as he chooses an OBT?
Everything depends on the goal set for the travel manager and the internal corporate policy regarding digital transformation in the company. If the corporation is aimed at large scale changes and wants to automate the entire business travel process to the maximum, it is necessary to take into consideration the providers’ professional experience and knowledge, first of all. In fact, you need an expert consultant capable of understanding all your internal systems and processes, providing expertise, and helping to draw up an integration plan.
Will the intuition help? I believe so. The most important competitive advantage of a human is emotional intelligence, and it is necessary to use it. We know how to make non-algorithmic decisions, and this is our strong point!
- The competition is extremely tough in business travel at the moment. What will help the company to be at its best and to keep customers?
In my opinion, there are two timeless factors that are the basis of any business. These are human relationships and a considerable competitive advantage. You can even compare it to Yin and Yang. Yin symbolizes wisdom, intuition, emotions. It can be compared to relationship. Yang is clarity, clearness, logic. These concepts are close to the competitive advantage.
Of course, depending on the development period of the mankind and the world economy, each of these concepts relies on major trends of its epoch. Human relationship between the provider and the customer is when you are trusted and your product is considered necessary.
Significant competitive advantage is the availability of a technologically advanced IT product, the professionalism of managers, the speed of decision-making, as usual, and, of course, price terms comparable to those already present in the market.
If you remove the IT concept, the rest is probably the basis of any prosperous business of any epoch. But here I would name one more factor affecting competitiveness - adaptability to modern conditions. As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest species that survive, but the ones most responsive to changes”.
In my opinion, the notion of changes, at present, means the business`s ability to produce such a product or a service that can provide customers with a contact with modern digital trends.
- How has the business travel industry changed in 19 years of your work? What problems have been solved, and what is still to be done?
The industry has changed dramatically! But I must say that the whole world has changed very much. In fact, the industry follows the same trends as other businesses in the modern world. I will not enumerate all the changes, but the main thing, in my opinion, is the penetration of digital technologies into every working procedure. And, of course, as for me, I am extremely inspired and proud of our Millennium platform. I really have no idea, how one can launch business nowadays without having an asset like your own OBT.
We have been engaged in our own IT development in the field of business travel for more than 15 years, and, of course, the experience we have gained helps us to look ahead with confidence. We will update our mobile application Millennium business travel (IOS, Android) and complement it with technical innovations. So, for example, in the laptop version we are already using the OCR optical text recognition technology and in the near future we will add it to the mobile application.
As for unaddressed problems, oddly enough, the amount of work with people is still huge. It is very important for us to foster talented people and to create excellent conditions for their professional growth and development. We encourage good ideas, and we have bonus payments for innovations in every department. And what`s interesting is that the main part of useful advice is related to our IT-products. Apart from the OBT, we have developed our own ERP system in which all the back-office operations have been robotized.
- What is new in the service range of Millennium?
Innovations appear at incredible speed in Millennium. Earlier this year we launched a new MICE on-line section that will allow customers to place group orders on their own through their personal account.
It doesn't matter whether you have 10, 500 or 2000 people. The customer adds services to the basket himself, gives his confirmation and controls each step. Assignment of employees to certain rooms, seating at flights - all this is available online. Our automated STREAM service will show the list of all the employees with sitting arrangement on board and voucher allocation in the online mode.
For those who like to print letters in case of the loss of boarding passes we offer a top level solution – a digital boarding pass.
Another long-awaited option is the opportunity to sign documents with an electronic digital signature (EDS).
- Which of the real cases do you remember and why?
I am very pleased to say, that not only are we as suppliers proud of the projects implemented, but our customers also consider our work thankworthy. Two years ago we implemented a three-lateral integration project with Rockwool. Taking into account the scale of changes made, the administrative manager of the company Ekaterina Pomogayeva was nominated for the award “Administrative Project Management 2019” in the category “Best process optimization project”. Our project took the first place, and this victory meant both for us and for Ekaterina the recognition of the professional community. We are very proud of this success! This year two of our customer projects will compete in the category “IT-project of the year 2020” according to the award of the professional community of IT-directors and leaders of digital transformation.
- It is great news. We wish you further growth and many victories!
Interviewed by Olga Dedova