Managing data is a minefield, but it’s one your TMC must negotiate – here’s how

Travelogix's Chris Lewis seeks to help TMCs better understand how they can implement a data management strategy by being systematic in their approach, in order to achieve optimal operational efficiencies

Lewis: Companies can mine and analyse travel and expense (T&E) data to inform decision-making around spend, manage negotiated rates and prepare for rising hotel costs

How many times did you read last year that we are in the midst of a data revolution? That data is part of your value and it’s the currency of the future? You may well have read or heard it and then thought this is all very interesting but it’s not my responsibility, and even if it was, I haven’t got the time or resources to look into it.

The thing is that managing data does seem like a daunting task, a mammoth job that could open up a whole new set of problems and issues that will make you wish you’d never started.

Like everything else however, if you break it down into manageable chunks then suddenly it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to scale a mountain. This is how you do it.

Lewis: Companies can mine and analyse travel and expense (T&E) data to inform decision-making around spend, manage negotiated rates and prepare for rising hotel costs

Just like every other task, start with a clear set of objectives and goals that sit within with your corporate policy. Now look at your KPIs and how you can achieve cost savings and more effective spending. This is the important bit and without it, you will have no idea if your data management strategy is working for you or not.

Some good KPIs may include:

  • Travel percentage of company revenue
  • Travel percentage of company expense
  • Total average cost per trip
  • Travel cost per employee
  • Travel cost per department/cost centre or project
  • Strategy

Once you have agreed this with your team, your thoughts should then turn to your data and what you’re collecting. Look closely at the data you have and then consider what you need to achieve your objectives – expenses, HR feeds, purchasing, meetings management and so on. You need real-time access to this to measure your goals, but don’t make the mistake of looking at this data in isolation. Checking across the information you have exposes other variables that you would not see by looking at individual data. There are plenty of data sources that travel managers need to have access to and your chosen partner will be able to help you with that.

Travel and expense managers must have a strategy and a set of tools that can report effectively on all of this data and it needs to be clean. A strategy is imperative to optimise the specific elements that will have the largest impact on your budget. Data quality is paramount. The information you gather needs to be accurate in order to make the correct business decisions.

You need tools that your team will use and feel comfortable with, so look for partners who understand your business, as well as the travel industry in general – specifically how it is trending and changing. Communicate your goals. A great relationship with your selected partner is crucial so choose wisely and carefully and agree your parameters.

So, how do you bring all of your data sources together in one consolidated location? Make sure you collect what you need and only that. Don’t overcook the problem or make it too complicated. Make sure you are consistent across all partners.

Data exists in many locations and in a variety of formats. With purchasing and travel data for example, the primary sources are usually:

  • Booking engines
  • TMC invoicing/back office
  • Travel request and/or the approval system
  • Credit card/ billing accounts
  • Human resources systems

By bringing all of this data together, your business can start to predict and analyse behaviour and spending habits. Be clear on what you want to measure, what must be delivered and what data is required to meet your objectives. Collect information from all of your vendors and identify how often they can provide this data and in what formats. Take a look at your entire organisation to fully understand what can be improved.

Measuring up
Make sure that you’re able to provide measurable results which meet the objectives of your organisation. Plenty of intelligence tools produce the data but they don’t know or understand your business. Define the type of data analysis you will be conducting and use the tools to evaluate where you are at today. Set your goals clearly – focus on where you are and where you want to go.

If this needs tweaking or changing, don’t be afraid to do so. There is useful data within your organisation that can show trends, so exploring and playing with numbers will present new opportunities. This will give you a better insight into your overall travel data picture.

The things to remember are:

  • Collect what you need; work backwards from the reports to the data source
  • Ensure consistency across all partners to capture critical data points
  • Accurate reporting

Your business must have an easy tool to use. You may have all the data you need, but you’ve now got to make it work for you. Tools that are easily deployed and usable to many users of differing skill levels are vital to ensure that they are used. Don’t waste your budgets on overly complicated software and make sure you try a live demo of any reporting/analytics.

Phocuswright reported last year that corporate travel is solidly and steadily increasing. With that in mind, data is one of the most valuable enterprise assets you have, but it must be actively managed. With a systematic and methodical approach, it will be a much easier task to face in 2020.

Chris Lewis is the founder and CEO of Travelogix, a company which provides TMCs and travel managers with quick, easy access to business travel data. Lewis is highly experienced in the travel, and IT, industries. He was previously sales director at Micros Travel and responsible for developing automation systems for corporate travel. Lewis is also a regular speaker at travel industry events.

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