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.

 

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.

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. 

Rainy Days Demand Better Service

By Alan Minton, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cornerstone

You know how people say to not write an email or blog post when you’re angry? Screw ‘em. I am writing anyway.

Let me set the stage. I have a meeting in Chicago from 9:30 until 4:30. I made a reservation on United that would get me to Chicago by 8 and back home by 10. I chastised other meeting participants for coming in the night before and incurring hotel and dining expenses. I am the efficient business traveler who is a sound financial steward of my companies travel budget. Then it started to rain in Chicago and I became the jerk who showed up late to his own meeting while everyone else was prepared and ready to work.

It started this morning when I got up at 5 and was going to go running, take a shower and be at the airport on time. I picked up my phone to select some inspiring tunes form my 2.5 mile amble and noticed that I had a message from United and Tripit. I opened the United message and this was what I got.

As of 3:08 a.m. on July 19, United flight UA1575 from Columbus, OH (CMH) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) on July 19 is canceled. To see available options, go to united.com/flightupdates, access an airport kiosk or see a United representative at the airport.

I then opened my Tripit email and they shared the same info plus a link to alternative flights that met my date and time preferences and quickly identified an American Airlines flight at the same time. I attempted to book online but was told that since it was within 6 hours of departure I had to speak with an American agent. AARRGH!

After futzing around with the United site and attempting to rebook I decided to call. My pleasant welcome greeting explained that my hold time was going to be 30+ minutes. I put the phone on speaker and hopped in the shower. I then, shaved, got dressed, made coffee, got in the car, drove to the airport, parked, and got in 50+ person line at the United counter. Then I got a live person on the line. The gentleman was very pleasant and apologetic about the cancelation. While we did not share the same primary language we were able to discover that I had been rebooked on the same flight the next day. I explained that unless he had a time machine it would be a bit of a challenge to leave tomorrow and return today. I shared with him my discovery of the American Airlines flight and he made an effort to book me on that flight. I left my United line and got in the American line. Almost immediately a pleasant older lady with an iPad came up to me. I explained my predicament and she let me know the American flight I wanted was delayed but there were seats. She put me in the priority line. At that point my nice United rep explained that he had me rebooked on my American flight. I told this to the hip grandmother and she walked up to the counter and produced my boarding pass in minutes.

Now I understand that weather is unpredictable and that flights get canceled and delayed all the time. It is this very frequency that puzzles me. If flights are affected by weather every day I would think there would be a better way to handle cancelations.

Well there is but it requires you to book on Expedia. You see for the last several years Cornerstone has been powering the Expedia schedule change service. So if I were to have booked on Expedia versus the airlines direct site in a misguided effort to potentially save a couple of bucks I would have received an email or a call, whichever one I preferred, informing me of my predicament with suggestions for a resolution.

But I didn’t and now here I sit with egg on my face, nourished with Mountain Dew and M&Ms watching two ladies groom their impossibly small dogs while my team commences work in the windy city and prepares to serve me crow at lunch….. If I ever get there.

Travel Serendipity

By Alan Minton, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cornerstone

There is nothing like using a Peter Allen song title from All That Jazz to do a setup for a tech review but I am a fan of obscure cultural references so this is what you get.

Recently the travel trade media has run stories on “new” technology capabilities offered by Yapta and ExpertFlyer.

Yapta’s claim to fame is they can search the GDS for a better fare on a flight thus ensuring the traveler receives the best deal. Pretty cool.

ExpertFlyer provides their customer’s with the capability of searching for a better seat as defined by the travelers preference. Again, pretty cool. In fact, both ideas are really cool and provide a measurable value to almost any traveler.  After all, who doesn’t want to save money and avoid the dreaded middle seat?

Here is the part that these stories forget to mention.  Any travel agency that has used a mid-office system like Cornerstone’s iQCX or those offered by the two technology companies recently swallowed up by Concur have had this ability for the past 20 years. On top of that, IQCX’s FareChecker and SeatChecker modules are managed by a business rules system, meaning that you customize the search for a virtually unlimited set of possibilities.

For example, what do you do when the price drops $100?  You say yes and celebrate your savings, right?  To quote Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”  What if the change fee on the airline is $150 and the service fee is $25?  If you accept the “better” fare simple math will tell you that you are out $75.

If you read the fine print in the ExpertFlyer article (“If a better seat is found, agents are alerted through the application in the Sabre workspace or through optional email alerts. It is then up to the agent to re-assign.”) you learn that manual intervention has not been removed and thus potential labor savings have been reduced and opportunities for errors still exist.

In short, valuable capabilities that have been available for more than two decades have been repackaged and seem to be all the rage even though more than 300 Cornerstone customers have these capabilities available on the nearly half billion reservations we will process this year.

I am looking forward to the next story about a technology that can monitor waitlist to help travelers get the flight they need/prefer so they can do their jobs better and more efficiently.  Anybody want to talk about iQCX’s WaitlistChecker? domain maps Pashto to Urdu