Why Data Visualization is Like a Map of the World

Every point on Earth has its own coordinates, a latitude and longitude. For the average person, a list of latitudes and longitudes is useless, but a globe is a powerful tool. Were it not for maps—the visualization of the world’s coordinates—we humans would have a far more difficult time understanding the relative location of two destinations (meaning the location of a place in relation to another place); determining the most direct route from point A to point B; or reasoning that it is easier to go from point A to point B to point C than it is to go from point A to point C to point B. Maps afford us a representation of the data that defines our understanding of the world. They also allow us to make better decisions about how we will interact with our world, and, therefore, save us hard-won time and hard-earned money along the way. As John Noble Wilford, author of The Mapmakers, notes, “Maps embody a perspective of that which is known and a perception of that which may be worth knowing.”

Such is the case with business intelligence and data visualization: data visualization allows us an important perspective of that which is known about our business, and with the resulting perception, we are able to determine what is worth knowing (i.e., what is worth exploring further, how our strategies can evolve, and where we can effect change). Coordinates are essential to maps, which are essential to many of the decisions we make every day about how we arrive at work in the most timely fashion or how much money we’re willing to spend on gas to drive from Texas to Colorado. Similarly, business intelligence is essential to data visualization. Business intelligence offers the raw information—the spreadsheets, for instance—while data visualization offers the visual representation of the data that makes it useable and actionable. And this usability is what makes an organization smarter, and more profitable.

There are very few roles in a company that necessitate seeing row upon row of raw data that then requires filtering, running macros, running regressions, and so forth. What most organizations need is to know what is most relevant in that data, a visual of where the minefields are and where the opportunities lie in wait. Data visualization—the representation of that information—allows you to analyze data on the spot, identify trends more quickly, and communicate more effectively to a wider variety of groups. For instance, presenting to CEOs and VPs about the role of travel in the corporate budget is as simple as presenting to the sales team about the importance of compliance.

So why does this matter for Travel Management Companies? Data visualization can take the past two years’ worth of traveler data for a given company and show quite clearly that the organization’s travel has shifted. The company’s employees that travel to Chicago have shifted room nights from the downtown Hilton to the new Virgin Hotel when it opened. The immediate benefit is the ability to negotiate a better rate. The secondary benefit is the ability to present the information to clients in real time, in a visually appealing way, and prove the worth of your services. The third benefit is knowing whether the travelers themselves are adhering to your companies compliance rules.

Further, when it comes to compliance, data visualization simplifies the conversation around where compliance is proving value and where new travel policies may be needed in order to save corporate resources.  For instance, data visualization can readily show a travel team what percentage of travel was in compliance, and what areas have the highest rate of non-compliance (i.e., too many refundable air tickets or a high percentage of expensive last-minute hotel bookings)?

Imagine if any of these things were presented as spreadsheets of data. The impact of the data would not nearly be as powerful as when a well-designed visual is offered. A big blue slice of more expensive Virgin hotel pie next to a tiny red slice of more affordable Hilton makes the attention to the matter of rate negotiation more obvious and urgent. (The resulting benefits of the negotiation can be presented in a similarly appealing way.)

Maps allow us to navigate the world; data visualization allows us to navigate information. Data visualization is more than a pretty face. It is the cumulative step in the data journey that illuminates the important information and allows it to be communicated rapidly and accurately. Some like to say that data visualization just slows down the process of understanding the information, but the goal is quite the opposite, to isolate what is important and speed up the analysis and reporting of those essential details. To this end, business intelligence is essential to data visualization, and data visualization is essential to your clients’ success.

The Ever Changing Landscape of Corporate Travel

A 2013 survey conducted by PhoCusWright found that 92% of business travelers own a smartphone, and more than six in 10 own a tablet. It is no wonder that today’s travelers want to take control over their business trips and access information anytime, anywhere. This is not to say that the role of the Travel Management Companies (TMC’s) or corporate travel policies are dead – it is merely stating the time has come to incorporate a harmonious union between these entities. TMC’s volume has leveled off from the OTA’s poaching market share, however, they have managed to maintain a place in this new world order and through the advent of technology, can deliver this new mobile seamless environment.

Travel itself from the path to purchase to trip execution is in a constant state of change. New technology, travel patterns, shifting demographics and social media are successfully engaging frequent travelers and presenting a challenge to TMC’s to balance this with internal policies. How is it possible to drive program adherence while empowering the individual who is on the trip?

The best way to unravel this complex web is to examine the evolution first from the traveler perspective and then from the Travel Management point of view. From here, we can draw some conclusions that will assist in closing this gap.

Today’s Business Traveler Profile

It’s difficult to speak about the preferences and annoyances affecting today’s traveler without first acknowledging the diverse demographics of the new face of the modern business traveler. Nearly half of these travelers are women and, while according to the Pew Research Center, more than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials, quickly outpacing both Baby Boomers and GenX.

A great snapshot into the minds of the contemporary traveler can be found in The 2015 Business Travel Survey produced by Travizon Travel Management. Let me share some interesting information uncovered during the study.

  • 84% of the individuals surveyed confirmed their employer works with a travel management company
  • Yet only 18% preferred delegating trip planning responsibilities to a third party
  • Surprisingly 59% percent stated they never book flights on their mobile device.
  • Business travel apps are primarily used for viewing real-time flight info, as over half of respondents indicate this to be the most useful feature. Instant itinerary access, weather and travel alerts were also considered important
  • Even though there has been a lot of buzz around shared services (namely Uber, Airbnb, and Zipcar) 54-56% of Boomers and Gen X participants show little to no interest in any of those offerings, however only 13% of Millennials felt the same way
  • 78% of the frequent flyers, however, believe access to Uber would improve their business travel experiences. In fact, Uber received the most support overall—with 40% of the total group indicating an interest in its services
  • Gamification, companies, turning business travel booking into a game with points and prizes for choosing preferred airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc. is quickly gaining momentum! 41% of all participants noted they would play and want to win with an additional 32% willing to take part just to be a team The most competitive target segment? 70% of Millennials were motivated to play and win.
  • 54% of all respondents say their company has no policy guidelines for booking with suppliers via a mobile device
  • 33% of the most frequent travelers dread reporting travel expenses to the point where they pay for things themselves
  • 54 % of senior management said it was a hassle If you’ve ever had to change or cancel your business travel plans
  • The expectation that the individual is simultaneously in the field and available for conference calls is a major concern.
  • One common statement among participants was that they would be better able to focus on business trips if they did not have to worry about missing flight connections.
  • Finally, an overwhelming majority stated, “A travel app that would allow me to quickly change my flights and reservations would be very helpful.”

The New Travel Management Company Profile 

For corporate enterprise companies, the role of the Travel Management Company (TMCs) plays a significant role in implementing, improving and successfully operating global travel programs. So what does a present day TMC look like as it relates to the new age traveler? A recent white paper produced by American Express and PhoCusWright examines Strategies and Ideas for Travel and Expense Program Management. Let’s take a look at what they have to say.

  • Travel program managers are innovating travel programs around the needs of frequent business travelers as part of company-wide efforts to increase employee productivity, reduce service interruptions and drive program compliance to deliver savings for their organizations
  • The most innovative travel program managers are successfully engaging frequent travelers and driving program adherence by treating their business travelers as customers and employing engagement strategies along with mandates.
  • According to the PhoCusWright qualitative research, frequent travelers’ experiences and expectations are key drivers of change in travel programs. Travel program managers have begun adjusting how program services and tools can be delivered via mobile technology
  • While 32% of companies do not have a mobile app policy in place concerning travel-related applications, some companies are developing their own apps to increase productivity and service satisfaction.
  • To make it easy for road warriors to focus more on their work and less on the burden of expense management, providing access to the tools and interfaces travelers are familiar with, making it easier for them to stay within the parameters of the program.
  • Additionally, mobile technology provides new opportunities for travel program managers to influence choices along the traveler’s purchasing path. Rather than only influencing purchasing decisions prior to departure (such as booking a hotel, airfare or train tickets), mobile technology can enable managers to communicate with and influence travelers at every single step of the trip
  • The introduction of two-way communication during a trip with SMS tools to respond to keyword inquiries such as “Taxi,” “Hotel” and “restaurant “allows the ability to by send an automated message with in-policy recommendations
  • Travel program managers must become more savvy financial managers, balancing fiscal responsibility and traveler productivity.

Upon examination of the profiles of both the traveler and the TMC, we can clearly see that the overall goals and vison of both parties are not that far apart.   Once the TMC’s have a clearer understanding of what today’s traveler wants they then can then collaborate with their enterprise customers by offering unique services. The more TMCs become involved in how they can socialize their expertise to travelers and create innovative products, (such as Cornerstone’s recently launched solutions TravelOptix™ and 4site™)  helps to service the information needs of their clients .

It is clear that mobile technology is a great medium for delivering information to the empowered road warrior that is looking for real time information that an agency can provide. To continually improve global programs in the future will rely on a partnership with open communication between the individual out in the trenches and the agency.