TIILTS: Better Travel Data Reporting

Quick, now – what’s the biggest innovation in travel data reporting over the last ten years?

  • Dashboards or Balanced Scorecards?  Those trace back to 1987.
  • Web-based travel reports?  Gotta be 15 years old, at least.
  • Comparative price benchmarking? 15 years old, minimum.
  • Travel program benchmarking done online?7 years old.
  • “One number score”, aka batting average? 5 years old.

My point? Corporate travel managers need a new generation of travel data tools.  I’m not selling anything.  But I can see the numbers on the wall, at least in terms of what’s needed. Here goes:

Core Value: is Descriptive, should be Prescriptive

Maybe we’re fenced in by the very term “data reporting” –  it’s explicitly a rear-view mirror, isn’t it? Sure, some users need to know what happened, but the real value from travel data is to help decide what should happen.

Travel and procurement managers don’t add much value by reporting yesterday’s news.  They need to come up with well-informed plans of action to improve things.  Hard to do that without good data, and to a fair extent, we have the raw ingredients.  What we don’t have are the explanatory and predictive analytics wrapped around the data.  Think Bing (nee FareCast) or FlightCaster for category managers.

Data Sources: are Isolated, should be Integrated

The two main sources of corporate travel data are a company’s reservations and credit card payments.  Those are very private data sets, and rightfully so. But you can do only so much with your own data.

Travel benchmarking services like Travel GPA and NBTA’s Managed Travel Index are a first step.  But benchmarks look backward.

To produce more sophisticated analytical and predictive tools, we’ll need to tie into external data sources.  Sources like airline flight schedules (published 10 months in advance), hotel building and occupancy forecasts,  and supplier-specific should-cost models.  There’s gold in those data integration hills, for sure.

Context: is Shallow, should be Deep

I hate stupid travel statistics.  Data such as average ticket price, average airline discount and average room rate add zero value – unless they are placed into meaningful context.

To date, the two main sources of context are time and peers.  By time, I mean historical trends, and by peers, I mean compared to a benchmark. But those are shallow contexts. We can do better.

Start by asking this question whenever you see a travel statistic, like average ticket price:

What should it be?

Getting a well-informed answer to that simple question takes you a long way toward getting real value from your travel data system.  Answering that question implies a key ingredient – one missing from most every data reporting system out there.

Namely goals.  Well-informed, fact-based targets. The backdrop that brings meaning to those stupid statistics. Not that determining good goals is an easy job – but that’s part of the higher value-add we need to expect from the next generation of travel data reporting tools.

Strike “reporting” – let’s think of them as travel data prescribing tools. Now who’s going to fill that prescription?

TIILTS stands for Travel Innovations I’d Like To See.  This is the fourth in a series.

LinkedIn users are welcome to join the TIILTS group. You’ll find a faster flow there of innovation-related posts.

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12 thoughts on “TIILTS: Better Travel Data Reporting

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention TIILTS: Better Travel Data Reporting | Gillespie's Guide to Travel+Procurement -- Topsy.com

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Am amazed at the lack of both context and insight supplied by what’s out there today – it’s often just a serving of statistics on a platter of rows and columns.

    When I swipe my card at Target, I receive the coupons that are important to me because the store (or more accurately the store’s data warehouse) knows me. I don’t have to search the Sunday paper – I don’t have to drill down – they bubble up. Words like “bubble-up”, “simplicity”, “context”, “insight” and dare I say “fun” are missing from today’s offerings. As for the prescription, stay tuned…may not be the perfect Rx but hopefully some of the work we’re doing at Cornerstone on the transient side and Meetings Analytics on the meetings side is fighting the good fight.

  3. “I hate stupid travel statistics”. Scott, you just defined 99% of what this industry seems to rely upon in the form of “travel reporting” to manage what is such an important line item in the typical corporate budget. We still see so many companies fixated on traditional management reports that don’t do anything to answer the basic question, “So, is my travel program in good or bad shape?” “Where are my strategic areas of opportunity—is it supplier, traveler, departmental, travel policy, or just bad habits?” It’s a heck of a challenge to answer with compelling analytics like Avg. Ticket Price or “Top 5 validation airlines” metrics (Does anyone even use the word validation anymore?). Reports like these are generally based on one source of data that is neither accurate nor a complete representation of total travel spend. This was OK in the 20th century, but the dawn of the “Twitter” era brings the “predictive analytics” that you mention through several new technologies including the more familiar “Business Intelligence” or BI. These tools represent the difference between the 20th century X-Ray (today’s travel reporting) and the 21st century MRI (BI/Modeling). X-Rays did a great job of providing an overview of a potential problem, but a MRI offers a view into many layers of detail for specific identification of a problem area.

    Typical travel reporting tools do a fine job of telling us where we’ve been, but do very little to tell us where we are headed. Seems to me that the 21st century travel reporting tools should act more like a corporate version of the GPS systems—let me plug in my objectives for where I want to be with my travel program (the goals that most impact ROI) and have a series of options presented that will guide me to my final destination (cost savings, ROI, etc). We live in an era where the difference between success and failure can often be measured in how well one can use the knowledge gained from the past to “re-calculate” the road to identifying and managing a successful travel program.

    • Rock, your GPS metaphor is pitch-perfect! So – when will you have the first release out??

      Keep up the great work!

  4. Update: KDS’s new tool, Executive Suite, gets credit for moving in the right direction. As reported by The Beat on February 3rd:

    Paris-based booking and expense management tool provider KDS on Tuesday revealed a new data dashboard which will help corporations track strategic travel key performance indicators and automatically generate suggested remedies if targets look set to be missed. Describing its Executive Suite as an early warning system, KDS officials said the system potentially can track travel spend versus budget and also versus corporate revenues so a CFO can judge, for example, whether to allow travel over-spend to continue so long as sales are increasing. (Subscribers to The Beat have access to the full story at http://www.thebeat.travel/home.php )

  5. Hello Scott,
    You know if anything recently came up regarding carbon emissions and potential savings on consolidated level. Eg: Say a company decided to cut 10 percent on carbon…The report should flash out where the company is, what is left and suggested savings to achieve .
    Or where we are at itinerary level? Eg potential savings on itineraries. Example: if we take as a flight CPH-BKK, a flight CPH-BKK with SAS is the normal carbon whilst the lowest carbon would be Copenhagen with rail to Helsinki, HEL- BKK with Finnair.
    Thank you

    • Johan, the only site I know of that calculates the CO2 impact of specific airline flights (such as UA #97, not just SFO-LAX) is http://carbon.trx.com

      This site only covers airlines, so it won’t be able to combine transportation modes to come up with the lowest total CO2 impact for a given origination and destination. Perhaps another reader could help here?

  6. Scott, thank you. I was not aware that TRX took a specific flight.
    I only know one site that includes all transportation modes but that is at booking, not at reporting. It is RouteRank.

  7. Hello Scott,
    I’m a software developer I work on financial systems, but I’m also working on a university research project. I’m developing a Travel Managers Expense System. It’s not a commercial project it’s for my degree.
    But I’ve needed to do a fair amount of research so far.

    In the world of Business Intelligence the travel industry seem to be years behind others. You rely on 3rd parties to provide historic, already invoiced data. Often this data comes from a number of different sources and is in various incompatible formats.

    Instead of relying on your reservation system, your invoicing system or a meaningless 200 page weekly air travel spend report from your travel providers you should be asking your suppliers to provide you with a daily data extract of all your activity. It’s your data and it should be part of the service level agreement that they provide it to you.

    They also need to provide it in a consistent format so you can then automate the import of all of this data into a consolidated reporting database.

    All the data ranging from flights, hotels, rail, chauffeur service, meet and greet at the airport even the courier’s fee needs to be imported into your database. Then instead of relying on 3rd parties to sell you back your own data, you use some inexpensive industry standard tools to create your own data warehouse along with statistical analysis, forecasting and all the other data mining tools.

    That’s what your 3rd party vendors are doing anyway.

    • Hello Steven,
      Thanks for the contribution here, and good luck with your project…sounds like a not-trivial challenge!

      Is the travel industry woefully behind others in terms of its ability to leverage data? Yes, absolutely. The two main reasons are poor ingredients and boring recipes.

      By recipes, I mean the imagination needed to create more useful KPIs and analytical insights than what the industry settles for today.

      By ingredients, I mean the data that is available for analysis. It is fragmented, incomplete and inconsistent. Now, that statement applies to travel data in general, around the world. In some cases, the data is fairly clean, such as airline transaction data from TMCs in North America and Western Europe.

      But data quality is generally a major problem, no doubt. Someone needs to do the data scrubbing and cleaning, so who should that be? You’re suggesting it should be the suppliers who adopt an industry-wide standard, and then pass the buyer’s data back to him/her/it in standardized form. Have I got that right?

      If so, there are two barriers in the way. First is getting all those suppliers to agree to an industry-wide standard. Not theoretically impossible, but there needs to be more economic motivation for them than exists today.

      The second, and maybe smaller barrier, is the difficulty in knowing who the supplier should send the data to. If the traveler has bought a ticket or a hotel room or rental car using a corporate discount, this problem is easily solved. But what about all the non-contracted spend that travelers generate? How is the taxi company going to know that his passenger was from IBM? Or the hotelier who sold a room, but it wasn’t booked using a corporate code?

      I think that until these two barriers are overcome, we’re stuck with data consolidation and scrubbing done by third parties. If done well, I don’t see that as a problem. The market will settle the issue of price in a fair way, or so I’ll always believe.

      • Hi Scott,
        I see your point about the industry standard, may be that is a tall order. But at the very least the suppliers should be able to send you the data in the same format each week.

        Data interchange is the life blood of most businesses, maybe it’s easier for larger companies but supplying regular data extracts should be part of the terms of any supplier agreement.

        You will always have cases like the taxi example you mentioned. To import that data would require pulling data from some sort of expense claim system. When it comes to populating a reporting database/Data warehouse the hardest data to get hold of is often tucked away in spread sheets and proprietary systems running on someone’s desk top, this can often be the most useful.

        Once there is an automated import process in place, the system should take care of itself.

        My point is that Business Intelligence systems are now available to the masses, often managers do not understand the value these tools offer until that have had the chance to play around with it.

        A little bit of effort in the beginning will reap huge rewards.

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