As technology marches on and continues to discover new ways to capture more information, it’s become apparent that Big Data is no longer the Big Deal it was even a few years ago. Merely collecting, collating and controlling huge mountains of information has quickly descended into an exercise in futility; there’s just so much you can do with so much information.

The Global Business Travel Association reports in its BTI Outlook – Annual Global Report & Forecast that business travel spend worldwide reached $1.33 trillion in 2017 and is on track to grow by another 7.1 percent by the end of this year. GBTA estimates that by 2022, companies will spend $1.7 trillion on business travel.

This number includes everything from big-ticket items like air and hotel to ground transportation, meals and myriad other travel-related costs. And every penny of that spend represents a data point in some way. As a consequence, travel buyers are inundated with data, either frozen in ‘analysis paralysis’ or using it to build a managed travel program that not only survives but thrives.

Technology

A survey by the GBTA Foundation sponsored by Carlson Wagonlit Travel found that 64 percent of travel managers feel they don’t have enough data to calculate the total cost of a trip. The lack of data limits the visibility many corporations have into their spend, leaving 30 to 40 percent of total travel costs difficult to track. This according to analysts at ViewFrom36k, Travel Leaders Group’s digital content hub.

Data Management

The difference, the analysts say, comes from travel programs limiting their view of data to those larger segments of spend – air, hotel and car rental bookings – versus including what was actually spent throughout the entire trip. It’s often difficult to isolate all the spend because the data around those costs is often spread across different platforms.

For businesses to get a full picture of travel patterns a travel manager might have to sift through data silos from travel agencies, cards, expense systems and suppliers for end-to-end visibility of spend and compliance across all travel subcategories. "Companies' travel and expense data is typically their second or third-largest expense," said Gabe Rizzi, President of Travel Leaders Corporate, a division of Travel Leaders Group, the organization behind ViewFrom36k.

With the second decade of the 21st century drawing to a close, what has become evident is the need for tools to help travel managers discern the real value of all this data, and to do it in real time. So technology is riding to the rescue once again to solve a problem it created, namely how to look at all that information, parse it, clean it up, and show us its meaning and what actionable steps can be taken to control costs in as close to real time as possible.

In response, a whole new generation of platforms are emerging to help corporations visualize and act on the information their travelers are generating during their trips. The tools often feature advanced artificial intelligence and provide predictive data analytics to enable “what-if” scenarios.

One key, according to Rizzi, is integrating travel and expense data to help travel management teams gain insight into the out-of-pocket spending that factors into each trip's true cost. "If they don't get full visibility into what employees book as well as what they actually spend, companies won't understand the true cost of a trip and they won't have the right insights to negotiate,” he cautions.

Tools of the Trade
Among the recently launched tools to address travel data management and visualization, Egencia has recently rolled out its Analytics Studio, an enhanced data visualization and analytics platform. According to Egencia, the solution delivers “a consolidated view through visual renderings and customizable widgets,” with the ability to visualize the impact of different actions, such as advance purchase, within policy and the scope of the trip.

“We live in a world where data is everywhere, but it’s only useful when you can turn data into actionable insights,” says Alex Kaluzny, CTO, Egencia. “Understanding the data and using it to make decisions that benefit your business is just the beginning.”

In July, Carlson Wagonlit Travel launched its own analytics tool, CWT Travel Consolidator. The web-based platform combines air, hotel and ground transport transactions booked through the TMC with credit card, expense and HR data. In addition to booked data, the platform also provides information on spending outside official channels such as flights and hotels booked on personal cards and costs like airline seat selection charges, meals and incidentals.

The tool’s data algorithms consolidate, standardize and clean up the data, allowing all the data to be presented on a single platform, with configurable dashboards and reporting capabilities. “Gathering, matching and reconciling travel and expense data is challenging and it’s often hard to get the full picture of the total cost of a trip,” said Christophe Renard, vice president, CWT Solutions Group.

Meanwhile Travelport and its strategic technology partner IBM have introduced IBM Travel Manager, a travel management platform delivered via the IBM Cloud that uses IBM Watson capabilities to intelligently track, manage, predict and analyze travel costs. The platform gives users unified access to information which had previously been held in silos. When combined with travel data from the Travelport GDS, the tool can create real-time predictive analytics to recommend adjustments in travel booking behavior.

The product features an interactive dashboard that offers end-to-end visibility of travel spending, the ability to create alerts and notifications, predictive and pre-defined spending trend analysis, and natural language understanding to analyze text and uncover insights from structured and unstructured data.

These are just a few of the new platforms that are being developed to make data actionable and relevant for corporate travel. The good news is, more tools are being created every day to help travel managers dive deeper into the real value – and produce real results – from the data they have.