Manhattan TMC Ovation Has New View On Outsourcing After Storm

Based in the Union Square area of Manhattan, Ovation Corporate Travel was hit particularly hard by "Superstorm Sandy." The company's home base was without power for a week, and like other travel management companies in the region, many of its employees for days on end were not able to get to work or even connect from home. All told, Ovation's executives said they were relatively pleased with how well they had planned for such an event. Yet, there were lessons learned.

"Some third-party tools we were using didn't behave exactly as we planned for them to behave" in such a situation, said executive vice president Michael Steiner. He declined to name the technology providers, but one in particular evidently did not meet its service level agreement and now Ovation is taking that function in-house. "We would be in more control of the physical hardware and configuration, and some pipes, versus completely outsourcing it where you don't have that same level of control," said Steiner.

"With the ash cloud, or 911, these are very unfortunate events but as a business you learn from them and become stronger," he added. "With every event or situation, all travel companies get better and smarter and quicker to react to the next one. We could never have predicted that we'd have a location out for that period of time, but the good news is we had planned for it."

Critical functions were covered by what Ovation chairman and CEO Paul Metselaar described as a "triage situation" in which the company relied "heavily on our Dallas and West Coast offices, as well as the network of virtual agents we have (about 30 percent of our staff of 500 employees)."

"A company like ours can't afford not to be redundant with critical systems, if not all systems," said Steiner. "GDS connectivity, phone systems, email ... you still have to meet your SLAs. When there's a crisis, clients are very understanding__to a point."

Yet, all the planning and redundancy in the world doesn't account for everything and doesn't truly test technology's responsiveness, Steiner noted.

"One of the most challenging parts was that we had both our business out of power and then all the personal situations, out of power or worse," he said. "We had employees who lost their homes. A lot of employees didn't have phones and we didn't know how to get hold of them. Ahead of time we had set up a portal to inform them of what to do. We did have folks with cellphones and laptops and tablets at McDonald's and Starbucks dealing with clients."

One agent proactively set up on-site for a client before the storm took out his ability to get to work. Another agent secured a hotel room for a displaced customer who had just been released from a hospital following heart surgery. Another gave a ride to and secured extended-stay housing for a customer who lost her home.

That's all on top of the swell of required en-route support. "We had roughly 10,000 travelers impacted," said Steiner. "That's a lot of changes and refunds and that are not going to an online booking tool."