How Much Data Is Too Much Data?

“Without big data, you are blind and deaf and in the middle of a freeway.”

– Geoffrey Moore, author and strategy consultant

While there is truth to Moore’s bold assertion about the modern risk of doing business without the benefit of big data, it is equally true that the data itself will not save you from traffic while standing in oncoming traffic. It doesn’t, by virtue of its existence, offer sight and hearing. Gary King, Harvard’s Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science notes that “big data is ‘a massively important development’ but… the data itself isn’t what’s most important. It’s the algorithm” (Harvard Gazette). At the simplest level, King’s assertion lends itself to the adage: It is what you do with it (the data) that matters.

Never before have so many not known what to do with the excess of information. Rarely does a topic elicit so many catastrophic metaphors: blizzards and avalanches of data, the data lake (a term for a large repository of information with the ability to handle infinite tasks simultaneously) has become the data flood. The data burms have collapsed, threatening to wash away those who don’t have a hold on it—or so it seems sometimes.

It is time to shift the conversation. Big data is just big data. It doesn’t signify anything nor predict calamity. What big data does represent is an opportunity: an opportunity for actionable insight, an opportunity to create value, an opportunity to effect relevant and profitable organizational change. The opportunity lies in which information is integrated, how it is visualized, and where actionable insight is extracted.

In travel circles, the big data conversation often involves demographics, behavioral information, and social or psychographic data—and the new aim of big data is in the personalization of the travel experience, from marketing to booking to the stay. Perhaps surprisingly, the same holds true for travel management companies. Leveraging big data to personalize service for your clients adds value, and in doing so, allows you to not only influence your clients’ bottom lines but also your own as you differentiate from your competition.

As EyeforTravel notes in a 2015 data recap, “Increasingly companies are recognizing [sic] that it’s not necessarily about ‘big’ data, but instead using all the ‘right’ available data streams to produce results in good time.” Where travel management companies must begin in the murky waters of big data is to isolate useful information. When reviewing annual travel spend, for instance, what matters are the areas of spend that are substantial, those that affect your client’s P&L at the end of the day. An individual room night does not matter unless you know that executives will be booking suites in New York on a recurring basis this fall. What matters more than the average of all first class and economy flights is the ability to look at flight class against organizational hierarchy alongside booking patterns (last-minute or advanced) across airlines and destinations. There are two levels of value: one is in the ability to correlate different data sets as in the aforementioned example; the other is in understanding trends, averages, and the top 10 and bottom 10 of any major category of travel (flights, hotels, ground transportation, business, leisure, and so forth).

However, this only truly matters if the information is then used to guide the corporate travel compliance standards, ideally creating substantial savings. For travel management companies, providing this level of actionable business intelligence takes your role as a third-party from useful to indispensable.

In 2014, Starwood began optimizing revenue based on big data by reviewing guest preferences, inventory, and property location (i.e., particular data streams) followed by creating highly tailored incentives (i.e. action). They reported to the Wall Street Journal a hefty increase in revenue between Q4 2013 and Q4 2014—from $128 million to $238 million and an increase of 4.4% in revenue per available room. This example is relevant for two reasons. First, it highlights the relatively recent adoption of actionable big data initiatives by some of the world’s most influential travel brands. Second, it demonstrates that the process of identifying critical data then leveraging it to achieve a specific goal can be extraordinarily effective not only by creating immediate revenue increases but also by generating long-term revenue through loyalty. While travel management companies are just beginning to harness the power of big data, it is clear that when managed well, the potential is vast.

So, to the question “How much data is too much data?” we reply “data is not about quantity but about the quality of the data streams toward a relevant and actionable goal.”

Love Your Data – From Creation to Collation to Examination Part II

Part II Examination of Data

In part 1 of Love Your Data, we examined the lifecycle of data from creation to collation. The catalyst for generating new data in the travel industry is the traveler. Data created by the traveler’s journey begins with thinking about a trip. From the moment a trip is conceptualized, numerous information sources are poised to be ignited that eventually filter down into pieces of data. All of this data needs to be collated in a meaningful way.

The traveler, along with travel buyers, sellers and technology partners, generates business intelligence through sources such as GDS, credit card data, expense management, online and mobile bookings. The problem companies face in examining this information is that data sources work autonomously and in many cases require manual collation.

Before analysis, data needs to be published by retrieving information from those various sources in a user-friendly format. TravelOptix™ solves the data aggregation problem by incorporating travel statistics into a rich visualization that highlights actionable data that is leveraged by the TMC or a corporate travel manager. The graphical dashboard is responsive in design and can be viewed on any platform including mobile, web or tablet.

Reporting applications, while they might be an extension of the business intelligence tool, have their requirements. These tools must have the ability to be scheduled and run automatically on a regular basis. They should be easy to distribute to both users and non-users. So how is this all pulled together?

Examination

To make meaningful data,  technology must integrate data flowing in, data that is stored, and have the ability to publish the data customized in a beneficial way for the end user. 

Data Sources

Cornerstone’s overall goal for the next generation data analysis is to establish a process of capturing data from any source in any format. Collected data is gathered via API integration along with export files and other sources. Feeds include data consisting of purchase information, content data, and contextual data. Purchase data is specific to the acquisition of travel, such as an invoice, ticket and credit card transactions.  Content data is data that supplements the transaction, such as seat map information, restaurant and event data. Contextual data is lookup data or master data that describes information about the trip, such as a list of airports or hotel properties. Information is cleaned up at this stage to fix “bad” data at the time of transformation.

Data storage

Two main types of data are stored, facts and master data. Fact data relates to both purchase and content data as previously mentioned. Data arrives via various sources such as Cornerstone’s ICCX, iBank, other expense management tools, rail providers, HR systems, CRM platforms or credit card systems.

The second type of data is master data. Master data is a lookup type of data that enhances the trip to give it a unified translation for the various sources. Master data includes information like airlines, airports, rail carriers, hotel properties, mileage and benchmarking data.

Data publishing

In a next generation system, publishing refers to the way data is retrieved from the system and presented to a user or collaborating system. It is where any external API’s would be used giving TMC’s and their clients a way to retrieve information in their programs and mobile applications.

TravelOptix™ is a platform that is flexible and easy to configure so that clients can determine what information is necessary and sort and filter the data on based on how the end user wants to view the data. Business intelligence becomes dependent on analysts ability to create a view that provides actionable data while maintaining the needs of the clients.

Until now, the capability to slice and dice this information in an accessible and understandable way has been out of reach.  Cornerstone’s launch of TravelOptix™ solves that problem.

Imagine taking one metric like airline ticket travel cost and be able to view that data by such categories as a class of service, regions, and city pairs or advance purchases. In addition, TravelOptix™ will bring in any external data and incorporate it into the existing information.

Now the data starts to take shape, especially when it is sliced and diced to paint a more accurate and complete picture of a company performance.

The lifecycle of data from creation to collation, to examination is a complex process involving an intricate combination of partnerships and technology. Originating with the traveler, data is created throughout every step of the travel journey. Travel managers and TMCs play a significant role in collating and analyzing the data in a meaningful way.  Proper technology is needed to make sense of the tremendous amount of information gathered from hundreds of trips taken in an organization.

Throughout the process, business intelligence plays a central role in guiding and evaluating a company’s overall strategy, yet today is still a fragmented process. Cornerstone is passionate about solving this and is continually innovating next generation solutions for business intelligence, helping all parties involved to “Love their data”!

Love Your Data – From Creation to Collation to Examination Part 1

This is Part I of a series I am calling Love Your Data.  To truly “love your data” it helps to understand the lifecycle of data from creation to coalition, to examination. The perception that data is static information could not be farther from the truth. The germination of pieces of information, the Petrie dishes of data if you will, is a dynamic process that incorporates multiple variables that produce facts and figures at a rapid pace. The catalyst for generating new data in the travel industry is the traveler. There are also separate customer segments, travel buyers, travel sellers and technology partners that play a crucial role in generating and evaluating all of this data.

Creation

Data created by the traveler’s journey begins with thinking about a trip. From the moment a trip is conceptualized, numerous information sources are poised to be ignited that eventually filter down into pieces of data.  Let’s follow a typical business trip itinerary:

Susan needs to attend an annual conference and wants to make sure she visits with one the company’s largest clients on the trip. She begins to visualize all the details to make the trip successful, attempting to maintain a lifestyle balance with her family while remaining aware of company policy. She checks with her travel agent on compliance, uses the booking platform approved by the corporation, and begins her search for air, hotel and car. Immediately she begins to see the flights within the adopted guidelines are not only ridiculously expensive but also have long layovers and horrible time schedules.

Susan jumps over to look at a favorite online travel site and is pleased when she finds flights that are economical and reduce overall travel time. Knowing how quickly fares can change, Susan books the flight even though she knows this is outside of corporate compliance. Susan feels empowered booking her own flights because she feels in control. She perceives that she is saving the company money, saving herself time, and overall, this will have an impact on trip productivity. Next, she asks his assistant to book the hotel at the conference host hotel, arrange a rental car and make dinner reservations at a high-end steak house.

As most any road warrior, Susan has her mobile phone with her at all times and leaves for the airport worried about flight delays and cancelations. She does have the assurance that if there is a trip disruption her mobile device will receive an alert. Boarding the flight, with no delay, Susan arrives at the destination and is frustrated to find the vehicle that she rented is not available, so decides to jump in a cab instead, and then use Uber to get to appointments.

Susan took the cab over to the hotel where she had requested an early check-in. Paying the extra $25 to check in early was fine for her as she needed to get ready to head over to the conference. Susan decides to order room service so she won’t be hungry at the conference even though she is aware this is outside company policy.

After freshening up and having a bite to eat, Susan pulled out her phone and ordered an Uber to take her to the convention center. The day was highly productive and at 4 pm, Susan jumps into another Uber to pick up her client and head to Ruth Chris steak house for dinner.

Susan’s trip was successful because she received a verbal commitment on renewal from the important client and is returning with numerous hot leads from the conference. Each step of the way she has created fragments of information that will turn into data for collating and examination. Some in compliance, others outside of the approved company suppliers.

Susan is not worried how the data is collected nor what the analysis will say.  She closed a deal, and helped her company begin to onboard a new customer and now has shifted focus into following up and the next steps.  Travel data and its analysis is not her concern.

Coalition

Travelers like Susan create a challenge for the individuals responsible for pulling together the numerous touch points to be examined, especially when travelers arrange and book travel outside the agreed upon conventions and channels.  Data around a trip flows in through numerous sources, credit card data, GDS, online bookings; mobile bookings expense management and business intelligence. The problem is these data sources work autonomously and in many cases require manual collation. This is where the three customer segments come into play – buyers, sellers and technology partners – all working together, harmoniously collecting proper information for analysis.

The Corporate Travelers Buyers Job 

The role of a buyer is to be the curator of the entire corporate travel program. Overall, they administer policy controls, manage suppliers, and negotiate contracts all while maintaining budgets. This highly specialized profession of buying travel services is an alignment between travel management and procurement’s best practices.

Travel and procurement need to create a functional relationship, as continued education in regards to the complexity of trip programs and technology are more intricate than other static purchases made by procurement departments. On the procurement side, controlling spend is a top priority, working with budgets and playing devil’s advocate on which trips are necessary over the alternative of video conferencing. Procurement is continually working toward controlling spend.

As the master of all things travel, buyers have access to incredible amounts of data. They assist in supporting the company’s travel standards and methodologies through the examination of this data. The pain point they experience is the difficulty in aggregating all of the data to answer the numerous questions asked by upper management. This complexity compounds when travelers break policy by booking outside of endorsed channels.

The Corporate Travel Sellers Job 

TMCs have extensive access to both human and technical resources. According to The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), a properly managed program will see a 10-12% savings in overall costs to the enterprise. TMCs can build a successful and profitable business intelligence strategy based on four core principles; the foundation of service automation, subject matter experts, communication and most significantly, cost savings.

Travel sellers are busy booking and managing all the elements around trip planning. They are the primary support for travelers and most importantly are responsible for pulling together data. All the fragmented information, whether within company guidelines or not, needs to be collated in a visual representation that is clear, actionable and meaningful. This is where choosing the right partnerships with technology companies becomes increasingly important.

The Travel Technology Partners Job

Technology should simplify or enhance the travel process. Companies likeCornerstone have proven leadership in developing software solutions for the traveler journey and the examination of a trip. The recent launch of TravelOptix™ solves the data aggregation problem by incorporating travel statistics into a rich visualization that highlights actionable data that is leveraged by the TMC or a corporate travel manager.

TravelOptix™ visualizes the decisions a traveler makes from profile setup to expense reporting. It then shows the flow of data generated through various platforms that the traveler, manager, and TMC can use to optimize a company’s trip performance.

Through this NextGen of data management, a TMC can eliminate productivity drain, invigorate travel confidence and oversee policy control while balancing flexibility that may be better for the traveler or the company.

Data is created through multiple sources throughout a travel journey. The current environment of extracting data is fragmented. There is difficulty in retrieving information from multiple sources and collating the statistics so that these touchpoints can be interacted with in a meaningful way.  The goal at Cornerstone is to provide a framework to bring many disparate data sources together within the travel management sphere. This will create standards where none currently exists within the industry to increase data connectivity. Cornerstone is passionate about this and is continually working on next generation solutions for business intelligence helping all parties involved to love your data!

Why it’s Time You Start Incorporating Data as Part of our Airbnb and Uber Decisions

I have written recently about the importance of using travel data to execute better business decisions. Companies are approaching the use of data as a core element in their day-to-day decision making, especially when it comes to managing their costs, policy compliance and future travel and expense strategy. We all need data to define our travel trends, to measure trip effectiveness, to understand our behaviors and activities and to understand our financial patterns and limitations. So what happens when there is a missing component in your business intelligence? Enter the shared economy and the growing usage of services like Airbnb and Uber by business travelers.

Whether you like them or not these shared economy giants are quickly becoming a formidable option as more business travelers are bypassing their travel management companies and booking directly with this exploding channel. According to Airbnb, 10% of their sales are to guests on business trips. Without including this data, along with other shared services like UBER, the analysis is skewed by the lack of relevant information.

There is something you can do to incorporate this missing business intelligence back into your program. First educate your company on what Airbnb is doing and how it is possibly impacting your business.  Far from the rudimentary system used by Airbnb a year ago, in July 2015, they launched a new tool that centers on a dashboard for corporate travel planners. With more than 250 business clients including Google and Salesforce, the dashboard provides centralized billing, financial reporting data, and information on employee itineraries booked through the service. Companies like Cornerstone recognize the need to incorporate this data for their TMC clients and are working toward that integration in the near future.

Before panic starts to set in – let’s take a look at the type of traveler and accommodation is being sought after through Airbnb. It’s hard to imagine that a major CEO of a company would want to stay on someone’s couch or in their spare bedroom. The majority of alternative accommodations business guests fall into two core categories, extended stay and corporate meetings and retreats.

For workers on long-term projects, or in the middle of relocating, especially in a big city, Airbnb provides a home-like atmosphere that even the best of hotels can’t duplicate. To inspire team building, imagine having your next corporate meeting in a big house or villa with all participants staying together under one roof. When examining the type of clientele that Airbnb Business is attracting, it begins to make more sense and gives both the TMC and company a place to start tracking the itinerary data.

The next step is to encourage TMC’s to help their clients design a program policy regarding Airbnb. If they do allow it, there is an assigned place on their website to enter the corporate ID. This step will bring the data back into the hands of the TMC and will provide the necessary intelligence to make future decisions on policy and budget.

It’s not the perfect solution, but TMC’s and corporations need to recognize that, as the 4th largest supplier of accommodations, Airbnb is not going anywhere anytime soon. Start with understanding their program, identify what type of traveler this would benefit and create a policy to collect the data. From there you have a laid a good foundation on how to manage the growth and adaptation of the shared economy.

What’s the Solution to Optimizing Your Business Travel?

At Cornerstone, we are busy preparing for the next week’s Global Business Travel Association Convention (GBTA) in Orlando. While we are looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones, this year’s event is particularly significant to us because we are returning to our roots as innovators and launching two exciting new products to the market – TravelOptix™ and 4site™.

At Cornerstone, we set out to solve two of the most significant problems in the travel industry. These two issues are data consolidation and the proper visualization of data to make it actionable – as well as the world of proactively managing trip disruption effectively. Our groundbreaking advances with TravelOptix™ and 4site™ are designed to address these challenges and optimize travel for companies and travelers. TravelOptix™ is a powerful, affordable, user-friendly business intelligence tool for travel and other data. The event-driven app 4site™ provides real-time and contextual trip data directly to the corporate traveler’s mobile device, making the travel experience seamless.

I was recently reading the article How to Optimize your Travel Budget by Chuck Leddy. In the article, he states that middle market companies need to focus on “controlling costs and making wise investments in managing travel budgets that can improve your bottom line and help you develop sustainable relationships with clients and stakeholders.”

Getting the highest return on a travel budget is critical to any size company’s success. What is the best approach to do this? Having the proper tools and an analytic business intelligence platform is the foundation for making smarter business decisions when optimizing your travel budget.

The introduction of TravelOptix™ will clearly demonstrate the power of impactful data visualizations coupled with easily assessable analytics. The ability to import, view, join and analyze non-travel data, as well as traditional travel data puts the control of understanding your travel program compliance and gaps back into the hands of the company. Cornerstone will make this available from the start with an iBank app, and we look forward to demonstrating the power of the solution at booth #827 at GBTA.

In today’s competitive economy and fast-paced environment, we all face the challenge of optimizing our business travel budgets to the fullest. Knowledge is power, and leveraging data provides the insights needed to make the best decisions. Cornerstone is proud to deliver the solutions to this problem for the industry. As we always say….”Love your Data.”

Quantitative data-driven insights to make better business decisions

Data analysis is not new, yet everyone seems to be talking about it. What is new is the way companies are approaching using data as a core element in their day to day decision making. What is also new are the variety of tools available to measure and report on data. Whether you are a large enterprise company or an SMB, there are four key elements a company should embrace to execute better business decisions using quantitative data – training, measuring, balancing, and choosing.

Training for Executives and Managers

No longer can executives and managers sit by complacently while others report company metrics to them. In today’s fast-paced work environment, everyone finds themselves working under a compressed time frame to produce results. This pressure might come from investors, the consumers themselves or equally important, the competition. Whatever the demand driver is, today’s main stakeholders need to enhance their skills to survive in a data-driven company culture.

According to a report by the Harvard Business Review, eight out of ten executives say they are reliant on data in their roles. Almost three-quarters say their areas rely on data to make decisions and roughly the same majority also predict that their organizations’ overall reliance on internal data will increase in two years.

This means making decisions based on data needs to become a scalable process within the organization and not just the opinion or interpretation of one individual or department. Companies who have adopted this process have been rewarded with increased profitability. Leveraging data to incorporate a faster decision-making process is significant. The adage “time is money” is more relevant today than ever before.

Monitor and Measure

The applications for reporting data have become so sophisticated that identifying what to monitor and measure is overwhelming. A common mistake companies make is placing the same weight of importance on all metrics that are measured. The first steps are identifying the right KPI’s (key performance indicators) for your organizations individual goals.

Fundamentally, this means identifying which metrics offer a clear picture of how you are performing against an objective. Choose a manageable set of KPI’s to gauge the health of targeted initiatives such as travel programs, sales and marketing and revenue generation. Also, consider within a program the importance of savings metrics, program gaps, policy compliance, budget enforcement and future strategy.

Analytics tools should provide rich, dynamic and actionable visualizations of companies’ data irrespective of the device used. Conveying insights through analytics allows companies to make informed decisions based on consumable business intelligence.

Balancing Data and Instinct

Balancing data with instinct is imperative in defining your analytic ecosystem. Great leaders have always had the unique ability to see not only what others do not, but what is not even there yet. Data is critical, and metrics can become scalable, however, to succeed and lead a “side order of vision and creativity” cannot be ignored.

The ability to receive real-time, actionable data is critical in today’s business environment. With the rapid advances in technology along with an aggressive competitor landscape, we no longer have the luxury of watching data for months at a time hoping to see improvement. You may need to apply your own experience to that information and choose your next steps accordingly even if that means overriding what the system recommends.

Quick decisions, sometimes relying on more on instinct than data, need to be made in order to keep your business model relevant and profitable.

Choose the Right Tools and Providers

Before choosing any technology solutions, evaluate what is a crucial to propel your company’s business strategies forward. Does the application have the ability to communicate in real-time and deliver relevant solutions? Can it provide extensive, reliable data that empowers the company to confidently make data-driven decisions? Is the data customizable with the ability to set benchmarks to easily and visually see where you measure up to your KPI’s? Can the application evolve and grow with your company or will it be obsolete in a few years? How will mobile impact your data ecosystem and does the provider have a mobile vision?

Also do not forget to do your due diligence on the company itself. Who are the principals of the business? How long have they been in business and are their core values in line with your objectives? Do they understand your organization or just trying to provide a cookie cutter solution to all?

Most importantly do they enable you, as their customer, to be strategic vs. reactive and ultimately help you operate a lucrative business?

To survive and thrive in today’s competitive landscape, companies need to rely on the ability to leverage accurate, relevant data which is comprehensible, actionable and aligns with the short and long-term goals of the business. Whether it is travel, retail, merchandising or marketing, there are four key elements that are vital in driving decisions that elevate the data into a quantitative decision-making vehicle. Analytics training for your executives and managers, measuring and monitoring KPI’s, balancing data with gut instinct and choosing the right tools and providers are the guiding principles in moving your business from being one of the crowd to leading the way.

Cornerstone Represented Well at GBTA

Cornerstone Information Systems, one of the world’s largest privately held travel technology companies, will be well represented at the upcoming Global Business Travel Association’s annual convention. In addition to presenting new product releases at their exhibit booth, number 845, Cornerstone has two of its staff participating in education sessions.

Rock Blanco, Cornerstone’s Senior Vice President of Product Innovation, will be moderating an opening session titled: “NEW Opportunities for Savings—Where’s a Mature Travel Management Program to Go?” Rock will be joined by Chris Vukelich of Egencia and Stephen Mitleider of Wolters Kluwer. The session will be held at 9 am PST on Monday, July 28th at the Los Angeles Convention Center and is part of the convention’s Data Analytics & Forecasting Track.

Alan Minton, Cornerstone’s Senior Vice president of Sales and Marketing, will be moderating a session that is also part of the Data Analytics & Forecasting Track. “Coming Up for Air After the Deep Data Dive!” will be held on Tuesday, July 29th at 10:30 am PST. Panelists in this session include Ivan Imana of Adelman Travel, Margaret Brady of Havan Enterprises, Mike Kubasik of Travel and Transport, and Trish Earles of the Halliburton Company.

GBTA 2014: Business in Motion is the annual convention and exposition hosted by the Global Business Travel Association. More than 400 companies will be exhibiting and more than 6,500 corporate travel professionals will be attending. GBTA has more than 5,000 members that manage nearly $350 billion of travel and meeting expenditures annually.