NDTA’s Passenger Travel Services Committee: Forward Focused

Apr 1, 2018 | Defense Transportation Journal

By Sharon Lo, Managing Editor, DTJ & NDTAGram

During the 2018 GovTravels Meeting, Ms. Tina Grace, Senior Director, Marketing – Public Sector at Concur Technologies, was installed as the new Chairperson of NDTA’s Passenger Travel Services Committee (PTSC). To find out what we can expect to see for the Committee under its new leadership, we sat down with Ms. Grace for a chat. Here’s what she had to say:

My goal is to reinvigorate the Committee. To bring together the right people—a mixture of new experts and current committee members—to redefine what this committee is capable of doing to assist government in making smart technology and best practices use in travel and travel spend management.

The Committee has elements that are very effective and working well, and the government likes the topics that they have tackled. But I want to explore how to increase our reputation as a resource for government. A resource to get help understanding challenges, perform market research or seek advice for growing their managed travel programs. Everybody knows the PTSC exists, but it doesn’t quite have that traction as the advocate and partner to government that I think it could.

Along with that I want to expand our reach. All of the challenges that DTMO [the Defense Travel Management Office] struggles with are challenges that GSA [the General Services Administration] struggles with, that state and local governments struggle with, that government contractors and even education space within the public sector side struggle with—they all have policy and compliance issues, fluid programs where rapid responses are essential, and they all have to figure out how to deal with disruptive technologies that can have major impacts on their managed travel programs.

There’s so much commonality across the travel space, but because NDTA is predominantly a defense transportation organization, the Committee’s relationship was primarily with DTMO until GovTravels was launched. But even with GovTravels, our main focus has still been on DTMO and not bringing in other audiences in to serve, to get their expertise and to understand challenges that impact them.

Committee membership is comprised of the supplier channels—the car rental companies, hotels, and airlines. But we also have a government contracting base that is interested in regulations that change or are fluid within government. As a partner to government, they have a vested interest to make sure they are following all rules, regulations and policy requirements.

In some instances we have pockets of these member categories, but don’t utilize them to gain a complete picture for the Committee. For example, we have technology providers, but don’t really talk about technology issues affecting the government. As we move forward, we need to leverage and grow some of our smaller populations.

When I think about the PTSC, I wonder if that name really resonates. We should consider whether renaming ourselves the GovTravels Committee or the Government Travel Committee would help to broaden our scope to better address the commonality of needs across all government travel and spend management programs.

Once we have the right name, the question becomes how to give it life so it has its own brand people recognize as a voice and an industry expert to help advise, provide insights, education, and a forum for government to meet with industry and find ways to tackle the challenges that are in front of them. To accomplish that, we need to decide if we have the right structures in place, if we are talking to the complete audiences we should be talking to, how to bring additional expertise into the Committee, and how to rebrand it to get it started on that journey.

One of the first action items in our revitalization will be to take a step back to look at the overall charter of the Committee to decide collectively what top three missions we want to accomplish in order to be that industry advocate for government. After that, we can look at whether we have all the structured subcommittees in place to execute our missions or, if we have gaps, let’s talk about filling the gaps.

We will also turn our attention to the existing subcommittees. I want to ensure all subcommittees have a charter that connects to the broader PTSC charter so we are all working towards the same goals. This also entails having clear action items of what’s getting accomplished every year within the Committee and subcommittees. In short, we need to have a defined pathway we are marching towards.

It’s easy to get into a room and have conversations about policy, technology and services, to talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and what the future might hold. But, we need to put forth good, actionable plans with timelines and where we can do some quality assurance checks that say whether or not we are meeting our objectives and mission. I want us to get to a point that, if we polled the government, they would say that we are the leading industry advocates for them in government travel.

We will be meeting soon with DTMO and GSA to kick off our work on revitalizing the Committee. Following that meeting, I plan to schedule another meeting with the subcommittee chairs. The goal of these meetings is to determine what should be in our charter, where have we been placing our efforts, what the value of the Committee is, and whether or not our value has shifted. It’s not only helpful, but should be mandatory for any committee to do a pulse check every few years that asks ‘are we a committee to be a committee or are we a committee that is effectively driving advocacy, change and partnership with government?’

This all may entail us standing up new subcommittees, and it may mean we find several subcommittees are extremely valuable and are doing great work. But that begs the question—are they getting enough visibility from us so everyone recognizes the value they are providing? Most people probably can’t tell me what the subcommittees have accomplished in the past year to 18 months. We are doing ourselves a disservice by not documenting and extolling the virtues of what these subcommittees are doing to help government. We need to get the right communications plans from the subcommittees to challenge and communicate that they are doing some pretty great things to move the needle for government.

The landscape as a whole for managed travel programs, regardless of it being a commercial entity or government entity, is changing greatly. It feels like it changes every couple of months as new technologies are released that challenge policy; user behaviors change drastically because they want to use the latest technology; and data analytics is no longer an area that is simply nice to have. Decision making has to be data-driven—and government is no exception to that. Organizations have to figure out where data is coming from, what data they have, how to repurpose data to drive good decision making in their programs so they can operate with agility, and be lean and responsive, while not impacting the services that are delivering the programs they are designed to do.

Technology challenges us every day in this space, as it continues to change and evolve. If you are a government entity, it is sometimes difficult to continually keep your finger on the pulse of that change. At times, it can also prove challenging for government entities to meet changes because their stricter policies and mandates restrict their ability to operate like a commercial organization is able to do.

One of the ways that NDTA provides value to government managed programs is to take those changes, disruptive technologies and mandates, and distill them into advice for the government. Information would include things such as impacts to consider, and things that might benefit or derail your programs. Within NDTA we need to refocus to say ‘I want to be that advocate.’

It’s great to get into the subcommittees and focus intensely on one topic that’s plaguing the government and talk about that for a year. But how many other things happened in the course of that year that impacted their program either through technology, mandates or processes? Now you just added four things to your list, and if you don’t tackle those four eventually you have eight and before you know it, because you are not taking a holistic approach, there’s a snowball effect of all these things impacting your program.

This is important for the Committee and subcommittees to think about moving forward to help us decide where to dig in really deep to solve a root problem with government and where we step back. If we step back, we can, for example, provide some market research insights into the issue, but then we can continue down the path of all the other things that are also impacting government. It’s all about balance. I am excited to see how finding this balance—broadening their scopes while putting some boundaries around what they do—will increase our effectiveness.

At its core mission, NDTA is a bridge builder. It builds bridges, gets collaboration moving and puts experts at the table on both sides to solve really big problems. But, we can’t solve every problem. If connecting industry and government is indeed our core mission, the Committee and its subcommittees should be putting the right connections in place for government to get a holistic approach. We should be going out to industry to ask for their insights on a problem government is having, with the goal of compiling those thoughts, research, best practices and recommendations from industry, and presenting that to government.

This is an opportunity for NDTA to establish an expert voice in government travel across the board. It is a huge opportunity to rebrand the PTSC, figure out what’s working, what’s not, put some structure around making some really tangible wins for government and industry, and become a strong bridge builder—connecting the right people, the right voices, to solve government travel managed programs. If we can do just that core mission, we are already a step in the right direction of being a true advocate and partner.

Change is good and this will be a time for change for the PTSC. There will be challenges along the way, but this is an opportunity to revitalize and to create an organization that truly supports government travel. For industry and government, from the travel manager to the head of DTMO, and for all aspects of this community, we will focus on what the PTSC can do to be a voice not just for Defense travel, but for government travel as a whole.

We are committed to moving on that change. As we move toward it, we are lucky to have subcommittees that have done some great work. But it is time to dig in, look at our charters, broaden our focus, and come back to the basics of how to serve our missions really well in the direction we are going.

Our focus must be on growth—where have we grown our value, what have we done year-over-year that has continued to grow our value or are we in the same position as we were three years ago? Let’s look at our value chain to industry and government as that bridge builder or advocate to see where our growth lies and what we can point to as something that says we are continuing to grow that value.

In every organization, whether you are a non-profit association, an industry entity or government entity, if you are not evaluating your value year-over-year, you are doing your organization a disservice. This is a simple undertaking that all organizations should do regardless of their success rates or their bumps in the road. But, that’s what makes this a really exciting time—the ability to evolve and achieve some really great things for the partnership between industry and government.