Business travel is a $1.3 trillion business worldwide, and all those dollars generate a huge amount of data. By itself all that data is just data. But framed in the right context, data takes on meaning, giving it the power to deliver greater value for the travel dollar investment and enhance the experience of every traveler.

It sounds daunting but there are a few basics that should be included in every Phat Data strategy.

Over the past couple of years Phat Data has extolled the importance of starting with a data strategy so you can bring concise focus to your data needs. Building this strategy takes time and once it’s been implemented, it becomes a living breathing part of your travel program. Here is how to get started.

The first thing to understand is that as a travel buyer, you probably have more data than you need or can use. So let’s figure out what’s really important. Begin with your program objectives. Whether you are trying to better engage with your travelers, drive compliance or deliver savings, your outcomes may look very different from another organization’s travel program. But while your data needs or strategy won’t look like anyone else’s, the fundamentals are the same.

Data Management

Engage Stakeholders
The first step to a successful Phat Data strategy is reach out to the people who actually use your travel program – both budget owners and travelers. You need to sit down with these individuals from different departments within your organization. This is probably the most important and time consuming part, and it’s an ongoing process.

More than likely each of your program’s constituents travels for a different reason. You need to accept and embrace these differences. As you engage with them, ask questions like, “What are your goals for the next twelve months and how does travel help you meet those goals?”

Ask them about your travel policy. For example, are there things in the policy that cause them to ‘go rogue’ or constrains them from getting their business done. As you have this open conversation, ask what data you could provide that would help them meet their objectives.

Taking the time to meet with your stakeholders will put you on the right path to execute your Phat Data strategy.

Data Inventory
Now that you have a keen understanding of what your company’s overall business objectives are and how travel can support those, you need to figure out what data you need. This is the point in the data chain where your relationships with your suppliers are critical. No longer do we need the same set of reports that we have been getting for the past 30-plus years!

We often think about Phat Data from the buyer’s perspective. But it’s important to understand the supplier’s efforts to support their client’s data strategies. One such supplier is Radius, a global TMC servicing clients through a network of independent agencies in 80 countries.

As Chris McAndrews, senior vice president of products and partnerships for Radius Travel puts it: “At Radius Travel, we strive to deliver to our multinational clients a robust data set to support and advance their overall program objectives. With our agencies certified on our Radius 3.0 data specification, we can aggregate, normalize, enhance and publish transactional data from our clients’ markets throughout the world.”

In order to deliver the right data, McAndrews says Radius account managers need to ask direct questions of their travel buyer clients to determine how to best deliver the data for them. This is critically important to building a successful Phat Data strategy.

More suppliers need to start asking questions such as, “Am I delivering data that is useful in meeting your objectives?” “Do you even use the data I supply?” “What do you need from us that you aren’t currently getting?” Simply put, suppliers need to have a conversation with buyers that starts with: “Tell me about your data strategy.”

Buyers need to take inventory of the data they currently have access to. Then lump it into one of these three buckets: 1. Good Stuff, totally helps me achieve my objectives. 2. Nice to have, if I had X it could be more useful. 3. Total waste of trees and hard drive space, get rid of it now. Focus your attention on Number One and Number Two, and run away as quick as you can from Number Three.

Once these two building block are in place, the next few areas of building your strategy are easier to execute.

Supplier Time Out 
I call this section the supplier time out because we often figure out which suppliers are going to give us the best rates and may not consider if they can actually help us deliver on our company’s objectives. As a result, we see a lack of compliance and program leakage. In the same way you take inventory of your data, you need to ensure that your supplier mix is conducive to meeting the needs of your program.

For a supplier like Radius, McAndrews explains, “We understand that it can be challenging for buyers to deliver the efficiencies of a managed travel program and at the same time deliver a better experience for the traveler. Helping our clients build a data strategy to optimize their program while delivering on-the-ground service from our agencies in local markets can yield the best of both worlds," he says.

Data shouldn’t be telling you that you have program leakage or lack of compliance with a supplier – the data should be supporting a solution. So taking a deep look at your supplier mix and making sure they meet the needs of your travelers and your program’s objectives is mission critical.

Data Delivery
OK, folks, we have talked about this before. Travel buyers need to figure out what the story is that they are trying to tell, and then tell the right story to the right people at the right time. The story you tell your chief executive officer will look a lot different than the one you present to a front line manager.  

Use dashboards and reports to highlight what actions need to be taken to ensure that your program is delivering on the objectives that emerged from the discussions you had with the key stakeholders at the outset.

Nothing should be a surprise. If the program is in alignment with those overall business objectives your stories will be spot on. When there isn’t alignment between the expected results and the objectives, the conversation starts again with the stakeholders to find out what has changed and why.

There are suppliers in the marketplace who understand the importance of their role in helping buyers meet program objectives and deliver on that through data. By sharing our objectives with suppliers, we build stronger long term partnerships into our data strategy.

These last few words of advice are really important. This isn’t a once and done activity; it is a constant process that changes as your company changes, as your suppliers and their offerings change, and as your travelers change. It requires flexibility and adaptability.

If you take the time to build your Phat Data strategy, I promise you will become a strategic part of your organization. And then, when travel is impacted by either a challenge or new objective, the powers that be will be coming to you before you can get to them!

Welcome to 2017 our Phat Data friends. If you don’t start now, when? If not you, who?  

Jennifer Steinke is manager, corporate travel for Dycom Industries, and an industry thought leader with over 27 years experience managing corporate travel. She holds an MBA plus Certified Corporate Travel Executive (CCTE) and Global Travel Professional (GTP) certifications from GBTA. Jennifer strives to deliver innovative and thought provoking ideas to the corporate travel industry.