Data strategy is more important now than ever. 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. That pace is only accelerating. To give a little perspective, Google now processes over 40,000 searches every second or 3.5 billion searches per day!

Every travel manager has heard about the importance of data and how much power it holds. But, if you are like most people, you say, “I get it. That’s great. But how do I truly use it to help me run my program? What really matters?” This is very common because there is so much data and so much that can be done with it. Where do you start? How do you implement a solid data strategy that generates results?

Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The key to a great data strategy is simplicity. It is cutting through the noise of the latest trend or shiny object and getting to the things that work – and will continue to work consistently.

With that said, here are 4 critical elements of a great data strategy for T&E.

Define Your Objectives and Goals

First, you will need take a step back and look at each area of the data lifecycle: Point of sale (payment), data aggregation, enrichment, cleansing (consolidation); timeliness of data, data quality, and visualization (reporting/intelligence).

You will want to clearly define your objectives for each area and define why it is important in the context of the goals of your program. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule that states 20% of what you do generates 80% of your results. So, keep it simple. Come up with the 1-2 most important objectives under each area. For example, for point of sale/payment, does it make sense for your program to implement virtual single use cards to streamline hotel purchases and reconciliation or does a traditional BTA account work? Why?

Many programs don’t achieve the results they want because they don’t know what they want or they try to do too much. Keeping it simple and focused on the 1-2 most important things will not only make the program easier to run, but also deliver real results. Once you have mastered your most important items, then you can move on to lesser ones.

Don’t Go It Alone

Once you are clear on your objectives and have begun to formulate your strategy, you will need to decide which processes and tasks you will handle internally and which ones you will need to incorporate good partners to accomplish. This is a critical step because you will absolutely need good partners to succeed and selecting the wrong partner in an area can derail your entire strategy and even set you back a few years. You are not looking for a vendor, you are looking for a true partner that will embrace your goals and objectives and work with you long into the future to help you succeed – not just deliver a solution.

Data Strategy

Here are some key traits of a great partner

  • They understand reality and are honest and upfront about their capabilities and the potential challenges of implementing the solution(s) you are partnering with them for.
  • They are experienced. Since T&E has no true data standards, you are dealing with the “Wild West” of data. You want to have partners that have deep experience throughout the world, understanding and working with the different markets and regional nuances of data.
  • They understand that implementing a data strategy is a journey, not an event, and thus are willing to commit to working closely with you over time to continuously improve
  • You like them and want to work with them!

Quality and Quantity Matter

As you implement your data strategy, get as much data as possible from your different data sets. It will not be perfect and you will not necessarily use it all right away, but building a good data store will help you as your strategy matures. Equally as important is working within your processes or with your partners to make sure you are getting the highest quality data and improving the quality as much as possible.
Here are 5 steps you can take in your travel program to help measure and improve data quality consistently:

  1. Create Standards. You can and should define the standards for the way that you will work with you partners and make sure that everyone understands how you want to view and understand your data. For example, define domestic and international for your program, define point of sale, how you determine true destination, how you will apply currency, etc. Data quality starts with consistency and standards.
  2. Create a data correction and feedback loop. To improve data quality, you need to put in place or create a measurement system. This can be done by taking the standards you have created and setting up a specific metric for them that will be measured consistently.
  3. Get a baseline or SLA. You will want to establish baselines for your data source partners for each of your different metrics. Make sure that the SLA you put in placem with them, and reflects the need to meet or exceed those metrics.
  4. Apply standards to your reporting. Create the “go to” report library specific to the program and stakeholder needs. Make sure you are aligning it to your key metrics that drive the results and ROI for your program. Additionally, use the 80/20 rule in this area.
  5. Stay consistent. The key to getting better data quality is having clarity on what you want to measure and consistency in measuring it.

Review, Adjust, and Improve

Once you’ve setup your data strategy and the data is flowing, the exciting part begins. Now you get to start using the data to make decisions and better run your travel program. It’s important to understand that at this early stage, not everything will line up and be correct. You will go through a period of refinement and understanding to see what the data is telling you. You will also want to implement a review of your processes around your data at least quarterly.

The Travel Industry is constantly changing and evolving. Your data strategy will need continue to evolve with it. As you begin, you will find opportunities and potential that you never knew were there. So, adopt an ongoing management strategy to review, adjust, and continuously improve.

There are a lot of things that go into a good T&E data strategy and if you can use the 4 critical elements cited here as a foundation, you will be well on your way to maximizing the potential of your data and making a huge impact to the top and bottom line of your organization. Here’s to your success!

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