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.

Solve All Your Problems with Mobile

By Alan Minton, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cornerstone

Does anyone else feel that mobile phones are being billed as the next great cure all for businesses large and small? It seems that the single key to corporate riches is a sound mobile strategy.  Think I am exaggerating?  How many of you have seen the Geico ad with the talking pig on a plane checking his insurance policy updates on his cell phone?  I recently conducted some grueling and seriously unscientific research and discovered I know absolutely no one who checks their insurance policy regularly. So how is the Geico app going to sell more auto insurance?

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure of the mobile market.  There are roughly 6 billion cell phone subscriptions in the world and slightly more than 1 billion of them are smart phones. This is an enormous marketplace and if you can get your product in front of all these people in an engaging way then you are bound to make millions. site down . Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with this very broad assumption.

First, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a business man in Beijing. He said – “Everyone thinks ‘If I only could get a dollar from every Chinese person then I would have more than a billion dollars’. The problem is that every Chinese person does not have a dollar” In short understand your market better before you make revenue predictions.  That is sound advice. We need to be careful not to confuse possible with probable.

The second issue is that of channel limitations.  Not every channel is suited to every product.  Anyone remember how the internet was going to produce the demise of the financial planner or real estate agents?  Sure, eTrade and others provided a new channel for those who were willing to rely on their own understanding of finance to make investment decisions, but many still rely on certified financial planners to manage their 401ks and IRAs.

Now let me be clear, I think the Travel space, particularly the leisure Travel space, is ripe with opportunities for consumer-facing mobile apps. All you have to do is read the recently released PhoCusWright study that predicts U.S. mobile leisure/unmanaged business travel bookings will more than triple from 2012 to 2014, when mobile bookings will reach US$25.8 billion. However, I am concerned that corporate travel professionals are looking at the mobile channels as their savior.  Just last week I received a question from a customer wanting to know what our mobile app technology plan looks like. At first glance this seems like it is an acceptable question.  But with additional consideration I am afraid this exceptionally ambiguous question was the product of channel confusion.

I know there are many good travel apps that are excellent. Here is a link to CNN recommendation of the top 50 travel apps.  I use several of these myself and each time I attend a travel industry event I enjoy perusing all the cool new ideas based on mobile technology.  Yet I am curious as to how these apps help us address all of the pressing challenges facing corporate travel professionals.  For example, one of the most common questions we receive at Cornerstone from corporate travel managers is, “How can I be sure my data is accurate?” We answer this question via our Data Confidence Index™ where we analyze a company’s travel data based on 51 metrics so that they can feel confident about their data quality and thus the business decisions they make based on this data.  I am not sure a mobile app is the right solution for this type of a problem.

So here is my conclusion/recommendation.  Use the technology that is best suited to address a specific problem.  Be aware of the new mobile apps and their capabilities and limitations. Don’t be so reluctant to use hosted solutions to tackle some of travels larger and important challenges.

Think I am a technology Luddite?  Let me know.  And if you have some favorite mobile apps you want to share, post them here.