Data containing travel and expense information 

With travel data, there are many players that handle data and only a few that contribute. The contributors can be individual, corporate, or supplier. Personal information like name, loyalty information, meal preferences etc would originate from the traveler. Company information such as policy, GL, cost center, etc would be coming from their employer, the stakeholder who actually pays for the trip. Supplier data would be information around the trip itself like segments, reservation #s, etc.  And each one of those contributors would have a piece of the overall puzzle. 

Unfortunately, there aren’t many that can acquire and consolidate all of that information into the complete picture.  And even those companies are dependent on the contributors of the data to help make the multiple pieces of the puzzle into a full and meaningful picture.

Data is the new oil

There has been lots of talk in the last decade that “data is the new oil”. And there are many similarities between the two. Crude oil is broken down into various elements and then repackaged into other products (gasoline, jet fuels, chemicals to make rubber/plastics, etc), providing much greater value in parts. 

For those that handle data, does the repackaging sound familiar? Like oil, data can be ‘dirty’. Data can be inconsistent, missing, or inaccurate. Similar to oil, it needs to be cleaned to provide meaningful and valuable information. Without cleansed data, advanced analytics or machine learning are of little value. Having high quality data is a foundation for many of the data-based decisions we make today.  

And like oil, gathering raw data is a challenge in travel. With oil, it needs to be harvested from underground reserves, oil sands, or offshore. So why would travel data be considered difficult to obtain?  Because there are so many systems within a travel workflow, and those systems are often disconnected and do not flow downstream to the true owner of the data. Does a GDS talk to a back office? Yes. But does it happen in reverse? No. When a credit card charge occurs for a hotel booking, does it update the back office? No. If a booking is made via OBT, will the traveler receive real-time updates on ancillary purchases? No. There are many different scenarios where data may or may not flow - and when it does, it might be incomplete or partially sent. 

What does ownership mean?

Who is the true owner of the data? Well, that could be a topic for another discussion as many stakeholders in the data flow may assume they are the owners of the data. But for simplicity, let’s say that the entity (company or individual) paying or contributing for the trip is the owner of the data. The one initiating, providing information, or paying for a transaction should ideally be entitled to the data of that transaction. 

As an example in an unrelated scenario, I recall when I had my first business cell phone. Yes, that was some time ago. It wasn’t a brick phone but it was a flip. I didn’t use it for personal purposes, as I still had a landline at the time. But I was an active user of that cell phone and as a result, I had all my contact data and history on it. It just made sense to have all contacts in one place and in some cases business contacts were friends as well. And I’m sure I may not be the only rookie to make the mistake of having all my information in a phone which I technically didn’t own. Did I own the data? Maybe. I provided the content and the history on the phone was based on my activity. But I did not own the underlying system which contained that information. My employer owned the phone and the phone company owned the network which it ran on. I didn’t have any agreement with the purchasing of the phone or the phone service. Even though I may have thought I was the owner of that data, I wasn’t.  

This seems obvious. I never owned the number (or data) so I never had control of it. With travel data, that problem still exists but it is not that obvious. The corporation certainly owns the corporate travel data but it doesn’t reside on their systems. If a technical failure were to happen, a process were to change, or a player in the workflow went belly up, then that data would likely be gone. The data lives upstream and must flow downstream in order for the corporation to acquire the information.

Does having access to your data translate to ownership?  

Let’s again take the example of my cell phone. I definitely had access to the phone and used it extensively for years. It was a great phone and the service worked well too. And although the data was not technically lost, it didn’t belong to me even though I was a contributor. I didn’t have a contract or agreement with the phone provider, the underlying system. I was at risk of losing my data should my employer go belly up or they weren’t willing to send the data to me. In the end, they were very accommodating and willing to share the data with me. But that isn’t always the case and may not be an option in the event of a bankruptcy.  

The downside of this is possible lack of continuity and control. In terms of continuity, if you are not capturing data on your systems that you ‘own’, then you are at risk of losing your information which could mean all history and insights. And many in travel and finance will use history for trending analysis as well as forecasting. This data becomes invaluable for budgeting and identifying opportunities for improvement in addition to seeing how well your travel program is doing.  

As a corporation, if you have contracted with a data provider directly, you have complete ownership of your data. If you instead use a TMC for your travel data reporting, will the data be accessible to you in the event of an acquisition, merger or bankruptcy?  And, if you are a TMC or agency, are you reliant on an older onsite back office which could be vulnerable to failures? Is the database platform patched and up to date?  

In the end, companies may or may not have concerns on ‘owning’ their own data. Having access and perceived ownership might be enough to satisfy the business needs. One of the ways to determine if it is a problem is simply to shut off access for a period of time (days or weeks) and see what havoc could occur. If even the thought of that suggestion is concerning, then it might be worth digging deeper to see how you can be the owner of your own data.  

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