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.”

How Today’s TMCs Optimize Corporate Travel

The complexity of managing a travel program today requires a team approach. Gone are the days that a corporate travel manager can monitor everything from seat assignments to supplier negotiations and everything else in between. Corporate alliances with TMCs have continually grown based on their expertise, knowledge and guidance to optimize a company’s travel program effectively. According to The Global Business Travel Association, a properly managed program can 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; Foundation of service automation, subject matter experts, communication and most significantly, cost savings.

Foundation of Service and Automation

TMCs have cultivated solid relationships with technology providers who have developed the latest technical programs designed for travel. This has become imperative with the growth of mobile applications in travel.  The amount of time and money saved by working with a TMC who has already vetted out the appropriate players have produced proven systems to support business policies and procedures that drive value to the bottom line. Through their partnerships, TMCs bring to the corporate environment an infrastructure to support such elements in a travel program as:

  • Negotiating and optimizing supplier agreements
  • Managing trip disruption – Both the Traveler and TMC are usually aware of trip disruption at the same time, however solving the problem in stress- free, real-time actionable way is best suited for the use of technology that a TMC brings to the relationship
  • Implement policies and procedures – they help implement more than just develop
  • The ability to slice, dice, customize and proactively use the analysis of big data
  • Use of current technology including mobile apps

Subject Matter Experts

TMCs have extensive access to both human and technical resources. When it comes to travel, expecting the unexpected has become the norm. Trips are in a constant state of change affected by various contributing factors. Weather, updates in bookings, cancellations, and delays are a common mantra for today’s road warriors. The ability to have access to 24/7 support that also serves up viable solutions is an advantage TMCs have in their role in travel management.

Throughout a traveler’s journey, a TMC knows the itinerary, can reach out in real-time and can often predict what may happen before it happens. This access and expertise can be used to administer practical solutions promptly. An individual Corporate Manager with hundreds of travelers on the road at any given time cannot possibly monitor and assist with each trip.

With smart phones and tablets in nearly every consumer’s hands today, travel company’s  need to think strategically about developing a highly effective omni-channel strategy. Mobile devices are ideal companions for travelers, allowing them to access information, services, and booking while en route and mobile technology has quickly become a standard resource for travel assistance. The new event-driven Cornerstone 4site™ provides real-time and contextual trip data directly to the corporate traveler’s mobile device. 4Site™ assists travelers with such challenges as trip disruption and provides direct real-time communication with their TMC. 

Communication

Make a plan and work the plan! Every company wants to be in control, but it can be challenging with today’s complex travel arrangements. Travelers also want control and sometimes feel they can do a better job by self-managing their trips. Communication is the key.

Compliance is one of the toughest parts of a travel program to handle, and the recent consensus is that the one size fits all policy does not work in today’s environment. What does work, be able to capture data booked outside of the expected order of business and use technology to examine the impact noncompliance.

A solution like TravelOptix™ solves that problem by incorporating travel statistics into a rich visualization that highlights actionable data that can be used by the TMC or company travel manager. Through 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.

Savings

Cost savings is the number one priority for most any company. TMCs have access through supplier agreements to the right tools to help make this a reality. Organizations using a TMC to obtain useful technology benefit from considerable savings from the start, with the ability to negotiate volume discounts.

A TMC can benchmark successful tactics and programs that reduce expenses through measurement across similar companies in their management. Simply put, the ability to see what works and what does not is clearer for a TMC than and individual company. Working in partnership with a TMC, solutions such as Cornerstone’s Fare Checker modules optimize trip costs by monitoring best available fares as they open up.

It takes a village to raise a child and a team to manage and optimize a corporate travel program.  The modern TMC can create a foundation of service, expertise, communication and savings that benefit both the traveler and the corporation.

Making Data Count – Metrics that Matter

Identifying a strong set of KPI’s is a critical component of any company’s travel policy. Key performance indicators are a measurement of how well the company’s travel program is operating in tandem with the overall strategic objectives of the business. Access to data has been growing each and every year, to the point of having too much data to evaluate and accurately analyze. Having this chaotic amount of data, knowing what data to focus on is of paramount importance.

Both TMCs and travel managers understand that leveraging good data is crucial for their work, but what data do they need? Are they combining the appropriate measurements for real performance management, building a full and actionable picture of what is going on in their travel program?

The introduction of our TravelOptix solution solves that problem by incorporating travel statistics into a rich visualization that highlights actionable data that can be used by the TMC or company travel manager. Let’s take a look at an example.

Measuring the total cost of a particular travel segment (air, car, hotel, and rail), as it relates to budget is traditionally one of the standards for a critical performance measurement. A total dollar expense is an easy metric to evaluate. However, most large companies have hundreds of thousands of trips in any given year that include a high volume of changes and cancelations. Until now, the capability to slice and dice this information in an easy 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, city pairs or advance purchases. Also, TravelOptix will integrate any external data and incorporate it into the existing information to maximize overall relevant visibility of the data the user wants to see and understand.

Now the data starts to take shape, especially when it is leveraged to paint a more accurate picture of a company’s performance. This is a paradigm shift in the way we look at identifying KPIs.

Imagine analyzing such new performance indicators as the effect of advance purchase, not just compared to budget but compared to regions or individual travelers. This changes the question from looking at total spend to; is buying flights in advance always the smartest move? How many were canceled or paid a high change fee? What was the leakage created by making the purchase ahead of time? Is this pattern indicative of particular city pairs?

The questions are endless, and finally there is a solution to locating the answers right at your fingertips. The ability to interrupt data quickly and efficiently shifts the focus from looking for the answer to displaying the solution!

Travel Managers have claimed that analyzing data is the most time-consuming part of their job, and many have said they do not possess the necessary skills. TravelOptix solves both of those problems. Actionable Intelligence translates into cost savings, better travel management and redefines the definition of KPIs!

Note: I will be at the ACTE Conference in Paris October 14-16, please stop by the booth for a demo or contact Cornerstone at www.ciswired.com to find out more about TravelOptix 

 

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.

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.