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12/14/2005
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On-Demand Startup Looks To Simplify Business Travel Booking

Rearden Commerce hopes deal with WorldTravel is the first of many that will transform how employees purchase business services online

Startup Rearden Commerce Inc. has taken a bold step into the travel market, hooking up with travel-management firm WorldTravel BTI to distribute its on-demand personal-assistant service to corporate travel departments.

The two companies Wednesday revealed an alliance in which WorldTravel will market and sell Rearden's travel product to its clients, working with them to create dashboards to track an array of travel-related expenses. Employees of WorldTravel's clients, meanwhile, will have access to a booking tool that combines personalization, corporate travel policies, and a wide assortment of travel content in a one-stop shop for travel services. Companies that adopt the Rearden service will pay an undisclosed per-seat licensing fee for access to the application, and WorldTravel will get a piece of that revenue.

Rearden wants to help companies tackle the "last-mile spend" in companies, or purchases made by individual employees that don't fall under the corporate purchasing umbrella, by tapping the growing trend of employee self-service. In the travel sector, one of Rearden's initial areas of focus, the idea is to give employees a personalized travel portal that reflects their preferences, knows their employers' corporate discounts and travel policies, and helps them book everything from flights and hotels to dinner reservations and concert tickets. The tool then automatically populates employee calendars with all the appropriate items.

Companies traditionally haven't had a complete picture of their spending on travel services, focusing almost exclusively on airfare, hotels, and car rental fees, but Rearden wants to change that. "We know, and their end users know, that it doesn't include all the other services that are part of a trip," says Tony D'Astolfo, Rearden's VP of travel services. Rearden's technology lets companies track spending on items that previously have fallen into miscellaneous expense categories. Rearden has no immediate plans to pursue similar alliances with WorldTravel rivals American Express Business Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel, but it will reach out to smaller regional travel-management companies, says D'Astolfo.

WorldTravel is confident companies will justify the expense of Rearden's service because of the promise of cost-savings as their travelers become more effective purchasers. "We want to broaden the services we can bring under a common umbrella, and also help procurement people looking to save money," says Tom Lacny, senior VP of WorldTravel. Lacny says WorldTravel was attracted to Rearden's technology because it leverages Web services to integrate transactions with multiple suppliers into a single application in a way that hasn't been done previously.

Travel is just one area Rearden is tackling--it wants to transform the way employees purchase a wide assortment of business services, including booking meeting facilities, shipping packages, or arranging for a limousine. Backed by $67 million in venture capital, Rearden has spent nearly five years quietly building an on-demand platform into which it can plug services that link suppliers to end users via a common transaction engine. It's focusing on the employee business-services market first, predicting it can slash 20% of the $471 billion a year companies spend on employee purchases that aren't part of the procurement process, says VP of marketing Jeff Pulver, a former Siebel Systems exec.

Eventually, however, Rearden has its sights set on the consumer market, where it aspires to be the Amazon.com of online services.

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