Trade commission manages travel online

Trade commission manages travel online

BY DIPKA BHAMBHANI | GCN STAFF

The International Trade Commission has moved a step closer to paperless travel management with a system that went online in April.

Under a five-year contract worth up to $150,000, ITC workers will book their own travel arrangements with PC or handheld browsers. The application service provider, Zegato Solutions Inc. of Lanham, Md., even pays the travelers' credit card bills daily.

'All of our employees will have access to this online booking tool. They will have access anytime, anywhere,' said Queen E. Cox, ITC's travel and transportation management officer. Zegato is providing free training for commission employees.

The travel system resides in a secure data center and uses Oracle8i and Microsoft SQL Server database management systems. It takes the place of a travel system operated by Aldmyr Systems Inc. of Lanham, from which Zegato spun off in January.

One-card shopping

ITC already had streamlined some aspects of its travel arrangements. It signed on with the General Services Administration's SmartPay program in 1998. SmartPay provides federal travelers with a single card to pay for commercial goods and services as well as travel and fleet expenses.

GSA's SmartPay contracts, effective through November 2003, have five one-year renewal options. Contractors Citibank, Bank One, Mellon Bank, Bank of America and U.S. Bank manage the accounts and send agencies consolidated bills each month [GCN, May 3, 1999, Page 36].

GSA recently reported, however, that some agencies have been 60 or more days delinquent in paying back more than $25 million charged to their travel accounts.

'Under SmartPay, [ITC] had a travel agent,' said Tony Marshall, vice president of Zegato, 'but they had no travel automation. They had to pick up a phone and call the travel agent.'

Now ITC travelers make their own reservations using Zegato software and the SmartPay cards. Reservations go automatically to ITC's authorization official for approval within the Zegato software. The software also is installed in Citibank's accounting departments to consolidate the bills, which Zegato pays daily for ITC travelers.


Travel facts for fiscal 2000

' Number of transactions: 36 million

' What all agencies spent on travel: $4.75 billion

' Number of SmartPay cardholders: 2.54 million

' Average travel charge per cardholder: $1,870

At the end of each trip, Zegato sends the commission a detailed electronic statement.

'There's really no paper,' Cox said. 'It's completely automated, and I will be paid within 36 hours.'

Any expense of more than $75 requires a receipt, which must be turned in to a central office for filing.

Employees who prefer booking through a travel agent can still do so. The data the agency receives will be completely automated nonetheless.

Citibank acts as ITC's creditor through the Zegato software and permits split-pay disbursement. ITC travelers 'could say that they want $200 to go toward their credit card,' Cox said. 'It reduces delinquency, and they have no reason not to pay their bill.'

Because the software links to three leading commercial reservation systems'Worldspan, Sabre and Apollo'travelers can choose their own carriers. The Zegato software tells them whether there is a more efficient or less costly way to plan a trip.

Approving officials can review the budgets of each traveler as well as the cost options for travel.

An ITC traveler logs on to www.zegato.com with a name and password to draw up an itinerary, book a hotel and rent a car. Travel agent fees range from $25 to $100 per transaction. Zegato adds a fee of $20 to $25 per transaction for domestic and international travel.

If ITC users make the same 682 trips this year that they made last year, Marshall said, the commission would save more than 50 percent'$51,150'in transaction costs.

Travel expenses have been increasing, Cox said. In fiscal 1999, ITC spent $390,058 on travel. Last year, it was $431,440. As of March, costs for this fiscal year were $143,475.

Cox said she hopes to save money as well as labor with the automated travel system. 'We'll be able to increase our rebates, we've reduced our workload and we've reduced staff,' she said.

The rebates result from Zegato's daily payments to creditors on behalf of travelers. 'What you would receive in a rebate could offset the transaction fee,' Cox said.

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