State to automate travel info
State to automate travel info
System will make ticket and hotel data available to offices around world
By William Jackson
The State Department has acquired a departmentwide license for OAG Worldwide's Official Traveler information system.
Official Traveler is an automated travel system developed for government use by OAG Worldwide of Oak Brook, Ill., a subsidiary of Reed Elsevier PLC. In addition to schedules for 800 airlines worldwide and information about 73,000 hotels, Official Traveler has access to General Services Administration airline contracts, travel per-diem rates and hotels' government rates.
Making the information available to users at embassies and other offices around the world will save on travel expenses, said Ed Brennan, chief of State's Travel and Transportation Management Division.
The OAG Official Traveler leased by the State Department shows hotels that fit per-diem restrictions.
'The average traveler going to Djakarta doesn't realize there is a deal there that will keep him within the per diem,' Brennan said.
The travel system used at State provides only information, although Brennan said he would like to automate travel reservations.
'Down the road, I intend to have OAG hooked into our finance and travel systems, so it becomes a paperless environment,' he said.Wait to integrate
The integration probably is several years away, however. Curt Reilly, vice president and publisher of OAG's government business unit, called State's deployment of Official Traveler a first step.
OAG, an acronym for the original Official Airline Guides, has been keeping track of air schedules for more than 70 years, publishing manager Nancy Fleming said.
'We're the clearinghouse for all airlines,' she said.
The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that airlines submit schedules to OAG, which distributes the information for corporate and government use.
The government is a major market for OAG products.
In May, OAG introduced a government travel Web site, HotelsAtPerDiem.com
, which has a searchable list of hotels whose rates are at or below the federal per diem for their areas. Although OAG maintains the site at www.policyworks.gov/travel
, GSA provides the hotel information.
OAG in August licensed automated booking tools from XTRA On-Line Corp. of Dallas to let government travelers do online booking. Users of the OAG Official Traveler Travel Solutions Network enter a destination and time of arrival, and the system puts together an itinerary based on government policy, user preferences and travel time. The traveler can accept or modify the itinerary and automatically route it for approval.
But online booking is impractical for many State locations because of the lack of reliable Internet connections or any connections at all.
The Official Traveler information will save State enough to make it worthwhile, Brennan said.
'Some of the embassies already had OAG,' he said. 'We pulled it all together under an enterprise license. We were spending a fairly similar amount for the limited editions.'
Brennan said he hopes the system will encourage users to do their own bookings, cutting out travel agency fees, although that is not required.
'There's a little devil behind the curtain that says, 'If you can take this step, you can take the next,' ' he said.
Official Traveler is available in many formats, including client-server, an Internet version hosted by OAG, an intranet version hosted by the agency and standalone on CD-ROM.
State uses a mixture of all the formats at its far-flung outposts, Reilly said. OAG provides local training around the world to State employees for whom English is a second language and who are unfamiliar with computer technology.