Today’s advisor is Dave Lukas, vice president and chief sales officer for Grasp Technologies. He walks through five steps to tackle a longstanding industry challenge. They include creating standards, feedback loops and service level agreements. He then implores business travel professionals to pursue continuous improvement.
Everywhere you look there is data. And everywhere you turn, someone is telling you to “do something” with it. You hear things like, “Data is the new oil.” And daily, you see articles about how data makes such a difference in travel. But as a travel manager or leader, do you ever get the feeling that you are missing something? Like there is some big data secret that others have figured out that is eluding you? You are told how important it is to get all the data you can, but in reality, you have to contend with the following:
• Travel and entertainment data is disparate and disjointed
• There are no data standards and limited to no integration between most T&E systems
• Your TMCs all do things differently internally in how they manage your travel
• Each travel program is different in strategy and requirements, and is following different data rules
• There is a broad spectrum of data quality
The last one is the biggest challenge, and the challenge that for most seems insurmountable. Even if you can get all your data together and on the same page, what good does it do if it is missing critical elements and is low in quality?
Make no mistake, data is a critical lifeline of a travel program. It must be trusted because it is used to make decisions that affect individuals, productivity and a big controllable expense.
So, is it possible to get good quality data and improve the quality of data you get in your travel program? Yes. It is possible and, like anything worth doing, it takes some work. Here are five steps you can take in your travel program to help measure and improve data quality consistently.
1. Create standards
You as the travel manager or leader are in charge and thus can control the way you want your relationships to work. You can and should define the standards for the way that you will work with your vendors and make sure that everyone understands how you want to view and understand things. For example, define “domestic” and “international” for your program, define “point of sale,” determine true destination, prescribe how you apply currency, etc. Data quality starts with consistency and standards. We all know that achieving 100 percent perfection is not possible, but in the absence of any consistent set of standards, your data quality will suffer needlessly. Ask yourself, “What things can I standardize across my different data providers (TMC, expense, credit card, etc.)?”
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. You will also want to set your ideal thresholds that your data partners will be held accountable to. For example, you could institute a measurement key performance indicator identifying a missing routing sequence in which you would tolerate that happening a certain percentage of the time, and measure your data partners against it. If anyone dips below that baseline, it would alert you to engage them. Ultimately, you want a scorecard of metrics that you can measure monthly and use to help your suppliers improve their data quality with you. What gets measured gets managed; but most importantly, don’t just manage. Take real action and work together to continuously improve.
3. Get a baseline or service level agreement
You will want to establish baselines for your data partners for each of your different metrics and make sure that the SLA you put in place reflects the need to meet or exceed those metrics from your scorecard. Making sure everyone is aligned will allow you to better analyze data at a glance to ensure performance and make it part of your weekly or monthly processes.
4. Apply standards to your reporting
Create a “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 return on investment for your program. Additionally, use the 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of what you measure will produce 80 percent or more of the results, plus benefits to your travel program. Focus there first. An easy example is making sure that unused e-tickets are being managed and used properly alongside vouchers, etc. Reports should be calibrated to the standard definitions you have set. This avoids confusion and doubts regarding the data quality.
5. Stay consistent and realize the confidence from stakeholders
As you can tell, the key to getting better data quality is clarity of what you want to measure, consistency in measuring it and continuous improvement to get better. Your data partners are essential to making this work, and doing so requires true partnership. The net result is that everyone gets better. Your data gets better, the data partners get insight into their data and improve their offerings, and ultimately everyone gains the ability to operate at a higher level.
Make no mistake that there will be challenges to overcome in instituting a solid data quality program, but it can and should be done. When you can take your data quality and accuracy from, say, 40 percent to 80 percent, it is a whole new world for you and will unlock huge opportunities to run your business better. Employing the five steps above is a great start, but don’t stop there. Think about how you can continue to identify and improve. Engage your data partners. Make them part of the process. And commit to making it work.