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.

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.”

Cornerstone Information Systems Debuts New Travel Data Analytics and Visualization Solution, TravelOptix™ at Travel Technology Europe

 

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Elegant platform enables travel companies and corporations to connect, prepare, visualize, engage and optimize their business around actionable data

BLOOMINGTON, IN February 18, 2016, Cornerstone Information Systems (CIS), a leading provider of innovative technology solutions for travel companies, today announced the official launch of TravelOptix™, its new user-friendly data analytics platform that delivers actionable insights for travel management companies and corporate travel managers on any device.

The new technology was developed by CIS last year to support the increasingly multifaceted travel management process and analyze complex data with complete agility.  Now out of beta, several clients are successfully leveraging TravelOptix™ to optimize their business and regulate their travel spend. From easy data preparation to beautiful dashboards and interactive analytics, the solution combines the best of visual BI and analytics in one platform. The platform has the ability to drill down, and across, multi-dimensional data. The user-friendly solution uses simple menu selections to view trend lines and visualize actionable insights from disparate data sets to support better business decisions, cost savings and policy enforcement.

For agencies and corporations, TravelOptix™ offers a fully configurable, self-service platform that enables companies to create and design their own custom reports, highlighting information and insights critical to their own unique business. Components are plug-and-play, and companies can easily create their own presentations from directly within the platform.

“Data is the key to helping TMC’s and their clients understand how well their travel initiatives are producing and performing,” explains Mat Orrego, Cornerstone’s CEO. “The aggregation of travel specific information through visually rich data empowers travel companies and corporations to optimize their travel and drive continual improvement. TravelOptix™ delivers a single solution to explore virtually all your data from any angle and at any granularity to reach real insights, fast. Even with little or no prior experience in data crunching – any data, from any data source, is quickly accessible and actionable and available on any device.”

Cornerstone, recognized for developing intelligent automation technology and innovative solutions for travelers, companies, and their clients,  will be exhibiting at Travel Technology Europe 2016 in London, February 24-25th. Attendees are invited to visit booth T81 to meet with the CIS executive team, and view live demos of the CIS suite of products.

ABOUT CORNERSTONE INFORMATION SYSTEMS

Cornerstone Information Systems delivers innovative solutions for travel companies and their clients to maximize opportunities for higher performance, greater efficiency, and ultimately, higher profitability. Our unique core offerings provide clients and their respective travelers with data insights that enable them to make better business decisions and manage their trips more effectively to be more productive and cost conscious. Companies managing more than $25 billion in travel spend annually trust Cornerstone to help them proactively lower the costs of travel management and drive revenues through travel optimization. Founded in 1992, Cornerstone Information Systems is a privately held company headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana with customers in more than 50 countries. To learn more, visit ciswired.com

Unless indicated otherwise, all trademarks and service marks herein are trademarks of Cornerstone Information Systems Inc. or an affiliate thereof.

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If you would like more information about this topic, or to arrange an interview with the executive team at Cornerstone, please contact Lauren Wolters at lwolters@ciswired.com.

 

Data is at the Heart of Winning Over Today’s On-Demand Traveler

The emergence of the on-demand economy has altered the way today’s travelers interact and use data before and during a trip. To properly service and win over the on-demand traveler, data in the form of proactive, actionable information and communications lies at the core of building this relationship.