Travel data is notoriously dirty. Why? One of the primary reasons is because the back-end systems which house the “system of record” for travel were created decades ago, and many of the fields needed for doing business in this day and age (email address, mobile phone number, etc.) end up being stored in “comment” or “remark” fields. These “comment” type of fields are very rarely validated for correctness or completeness during record creation because, after all, should a travel agent not allow a person to book their trip just because they haven’t provided their mobile phone number? Other issues include re-using “unique” reservation IDs (called record locators), re-using airport codes and people entering default values for fields they just plain don’t feel like entering.
Here at my shop, my team and I have to deal with these types of data issues every single day. Travel data management is quite a chore, and sometimes we’re amazed that air carriers are able to fill up their planes and charge fliers correctly for their fares. Our clients (typically large organizations) hire us to aggregate large amounts of travel data (and other “asset” data) for risk management purposes. This aggregated data provides the client an overall operating picture of their day-to-day operations and the associated risks to those operations due to the events happening in the world which might impact their business.
Way back in 2008, we decided we were tired of always being tangled up in data quality issues, so we decided to do something about it. Like many other “improvement programs,” we attacked the issue from three angles – addressing our people, processes and technology. In March of this year, I’ll be presenting our approach at the TDWI Solution Summit down in Savannah Georgia, which I’m looking forward to quite a bit. Highlights of the presentation include how we created a “Data Operations” team, created a Data Governance committee, modified existing business processes and created new ones and purchased a really cool Data Quality tool called DataFlux.
With many of our clients, we end up becoming very good friends with the people who are responsible for managing the travel departments or managing the relationship with the client’s Travel Management Company (TMC). These folks are typically called “Travel Managers,” and many of them belong to a professional group called “Global Business Travel Association” (GBTA). The GBTA is a fantastic organization, they provide their members with very valuable resources such as newsletters, periodic regional meetings throughout the world and many different conferences and webinars throughout the year. I recently sat in on one of these webinars, titled “Strategic Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Resource Toolkit Launch,” and I was very impressed in four ways:
- There is a significant movement in the travel management industry which recognizes the value of “data driven” decision making. More data, better metrics and a better understanding of what your program is currently doing (and has done historically) will allow you to improve your travel programs by giving you enough information to do things like negotiate better fares/rates from travel suppliers (air carriers, car and hotel vendors).
- The GBTA has now provided a road map in the form of a KPI toolkit for travel managers, which – if followed – will significantly increase the value of a travel management program through data management and data driven decision making. Each KPI is clearly defined, has an example, desired direction, considerations and likely data sources. Inexperienced travel managers can now focus on metrics and indicators which have proven to be of value for other organizations. Experienced travel managers who may have struggled with technology or understanding how data driven decision making can assist them now have clear examples of metrics and indicator which can be easily understood by anyone in their organization. Upon review of the toolkit I’m absolutely convinced that this could be a significant resource to travel managers in organizations of any size.
- Not only is “Data Quality” is listed as a metric (What percentage of our travel data appears usable?), but it is one of the top 21 KPIs in the toolkit and it is included as one of the inputs into the formula to determine the overall “Total Travel Management KPI Score”. Most notable is the fact that the GBTA states that this particular KPI is “complex” and “requires significant work”. Complex and “requires significant work, you can say that again.
- There were over 125 travel managers registered for the webinar and even more tried to attend – but were “locked out” because the phone service only allowed 125 people to dial in. What an amazing turnout of business people looking to talk about data!
If you work with travel data, I’d recommend reading the “Gillespie’s Guide to Travel+Procurement” blog by Scott Gillespie (one of the authors of the GBTA KPI Toolkit). Scott’s posts are very interesting and relevant to managing travel data and are sure worth keeping an eye on.
Overall I’m very excited to see the travel industry begin to make the shift to “data driven” decision-making and data quality. Perhaps someday we’ll get these back-end travel systems to start adding fields for 21st century data, validating content, and to stop reusing “unique” keys – imagine the possibilities.
Until next time…Rich