EF Education First’s mission is opening the world through education, with programs focusing on language, academics, and cultural exchange. The company has more than 40,000 staff and teachers operating out of 500 schools and offices in more than 50 countries. Frequent travel is the norm at EF, which has its own travel agency with ticketing offices across the world supporting staff around the clock. Established as a small entrepreneurial start-up in 1965, it ascribes its 50 years of growth to an ethos summed up as “for profit, for good” and an entrepreneurial culture “where new ideas are heard, creative risks are taken and ownership is encouraged.” EF is now the world's leading international education company.
Such a dynamic, growing company, with a young, highly mobile workforce has the challenges that many other companies would recognize when it comes to travel management and the processes related to expense management. Before working with KDS, EF was using the Amadeus e-travel booking tool in Europe, the US, central and south America, but with no self-booking tool at all in Asia. A consistent user experience, policy enforcement and approval workflow wasn’t possible.
Johanna Wigg, travel manager for Europe, at EF since 2012, led a process to improve online booking adoption levels and streamline the approval process by deploying a new travel system worldwide. The top priority was to find a global solution which could drive a consistent workflow, but which would still be configurable at country level to accommodate the different requirements of EF’s territories. She also wanted the solution to offer seamless linking with the expense system.
Having evaluated, among others, Concur, Sabre and the incumbent Amadeus, Wigg chose to work with KDS. Not only was EF impressed by the KDS Neo door-to-door travel booking solutions, Wigg liked the similarity in culture, outlook and approach between the two organizations. Like EF, Wigg saw that KDS is also “innovative and fast-growing.”
For EF, the KDS Neo door-to-door approach to travel booking was new. The traveler fills out a simple form about where they are trying to get to and quickly gets back a complete bookable door-to-door itinerary, including ground transportation and predicted expenses for the trip. The KDS Neo door-to-door approach was very much aligned with the kind of user experience EF employees expected. Also, as KDS Neo is available on mobile devices as well as via the web on PC, it fit very well with a workforce which is not usually desk-bound. According to Wigg, the door-to-door approach was something she simply “hadn’t seen with other suppliers.”
Wigg led the supplier selection process, working closely with the finance and legal departments. The decision to move ahead with KDS and start the project was signed off by the group treasurer.
As well as implementing some best practice recommendations based on KDS’s long experience of self-booking tool deployments, KDS consultants also worked with EF to customize Neo with unique content relevant to EF’s travelers including travel guidelines, personal information, special deals and messages. To further increase user loyalty it was internally rebranded as “EFly” and made available via the corporate intranet without the need for a separate log-on process.
The roll-out started in Europe in October 2014, kicking off the change management with a series of office presentations. The US, central and south America quickly followed, enabling their users in November 2014. After those deployments went smoothly, EF rolled out in Asia in May 2015, with Canada following in October 2015.
According to Wigg, user feedback is very positive. “Users love how easy the tool is to use, and how accessible it is on their mobile,” she said. “Staff are no longer restricted by our travel office opening times or to gaining networked PC access; they can book trips any time, from wherever they are.”
Greater convenience for staff has seen the online adoption rate improve dramatically. There is less interaction with their travel agency for simple requests, which is reducing costs. And further savings are achieved thanks to KDS highlighting preferred suppliers in trip plans, such as airlines with whom EF has procured discounts.
Also bringing benefits from day one has been the new approval system and user profile synchronization which allows preferences to be managed online using KDS Neo, then synchronized back to the GDS (Amadeus). As a result of these process changes Wigg has been able to report huge time and efficiency savings both for managers and travelers.
Additionally, the deployment of KDS Neo has helped to reinforce EF’s internal positioning as innovative and responsive to users’ needs. The travel team, led by Wigg, has been able to give the company a tool which not only functions well but also meets their youthful workforce’s expectations for ease of use and mobile accessibility. “They are absolutely pleased” with the new tool.
A further benefit, says Wigg, is one of client service and responsiveness. Should a customer require urgent on-site language assistance, then EF can include in its response plan, a check on whether it has staff with the right skill sets already traveling in the region. It could then ask whether they’d like to assist.
Following the Canadian roll-out Wigg plans a review process to formally evaluate the success of the project. Future plans include integrating an automated expense module to streamline further the user experience and approval process.