SNW INTERVIEW -- Jan 31 -- Sabre Holdings has 9,000 employees in 59 countries. To keep employees connected Sabre created an internal social network called SabreTown. In June, Sabre began to market “cubeless,” a similar system for other companies. Here is Marc Lesnick’s interview with John Samuel, VP of Sabre’s innovation lab.
How long has SabreTown been around and what exactly is it?
It’s an internal social network to connect, ask questions, and find information. Sabre has 9,000 employees in 59 countries, and almost half our employees are outside the U.S. Over 60 to 70% of Sabre employees use it regularly since it started in August, 2007.
Was SabreTown implemented on an opt-in basis or was it required for all employees?
Basic information goes into the system because you’re an employee; everything beyond that is opt-in. You can make your profile more robust, add pictures, talk about experiences, places you like to go eat, or destinations you like to visit. We match questions to people who might have an interest in those questions or ability to answer them. There really was a sense of wanting to stay connected in a way that was friendly and easy. If you have a question that has almost anything to do with travel, you’re likely to get the answer via SabreTown.
Could you describe what Sabre does as a company?
It has three businesses, but the most well-known to consumers is Travelocity. My group is called Sabre Travel Studios and it looks at business opportunities that are out of the mainstream of what Sabre might normally look at, and that we think could have an impact on travel. We got interested in interoffice social networking, and the move towards enterprise came later. Sabre was already working on a project to allow a photo corporate directory and we heard about that project and said: How about we do this instead, and plug in what we had already been building? That was the start of SabreTown.
Is the software platform internally-developed or are you licensed from one of the providers?
We developed it internally and it’s called cubeless. Because we had such success here at Sabre, we are taking the cubeless platform and integrating it with some of our other services. We have a product called AgentStream, a community for travel agents, to exchange questions and expertise not only of the products, but about being a travel agent in general. We have a group that works with other companies that have heard about SabreTown and are interested in these kinds of tools.
Do you have any examples of where it aided the bottom line, either in sales or saving money?
Tools like this are most useful for questions that don’t fit neatly into the box. One of our employees was booking a house in the Caribbean and wanted to know which side was windward because they had gone in the past and found that the windward side isn’t pleasant. That’s something no website is going to have, and yet people often just keep that information in their head. Being able to connect with somebody who knows the answer is really powerful. With SabreTown, it’s with the more subtle, nuanced questions that it really shines.
When was cubeless offered? How many clients now?
Summer of 2008. We have a partnership with American Express and they use this product internally in their Business Travel group. They are also talking to some of their clients about using the cubeless platform for their clients’ internal use. We’re still in the small numbers, but we’ve got an interactive ad agency here in Dallas using it, and the Naturally Slim partnership. We’ve got a sub-company of Sabre, a home-based agent, who uses the product. We’re finding significant interest. Despite the economic situation that we’re in right now, I think a lot of companies next year and beyond will really start sticking their toe in the water on this kind of stuff.