In last month’s Phat Data feature, we looked at what goes into creating a Phat Data strategy. We continue to see that more and more buyers and suppliers are already living in that world. To explore some of these strategies and how they are being implemented, we highlighted case studies in BTE’s Going Deeper webinar on Nov. 8 which we called “WTD?! What The Data.”

This month we’ll take a deeper dive into those Phat Data case studies that we explored during our webinar. So, let’s take a look at what’s possible, and how those ideas can be adapted to your program.

The Balancing Act
Imagine for a moment that you’re not only responsible for the procurement activities for travel but you also oversee your own in-house ARC-accredited travel department. In addition to building a data strategy for procurement, you’re also building one for operations. This is the case for Kevin McDonald, Sr. Director of Strategic Procurement for PPD, a global contract research organization in the pharmaceutical industry. PPD has over 20,000 employees operating in 47 countries so as you can see the breadth of the travel program is significant.

With responsibilities for both travel procurement and corporate travel department operations, Kevin knows that he has to find a balance between the two. He also acknowledges that sometimes that is not easy.

One of Kevin’s key initiatives at PPD is the aggregation of the multiple sources of data that he uses to build his data strategy. While 90 percent of the travel spend is managed within the CTD operation, the data that comes in from PPD’s global program in other countries with smaller spend is just as important.

The smaller spend also comes from multiple agencies, so creating a seamless and timely process for capturing that data has been a challenge. PPD acknowledges that a potential lag in receiving data could be a missed opportunity, whether that is for savings or even employee safety. Kevin and his team are keenly focused on bridging the data gap.

When wearing his procurement hat, Kevin focuses his data strategy on six key areas:
• Negotiating provider agreements
• Tracking supplier performance
• Optimizing policy•
 Forecasting travel demand
• Benchmarking
• Creating and maintaining a global strategy

Each of these areas is equally influential on Kevin’s procurement strategy for travel. Monitoring and assessing each of these metrics allows him to ensure that he has the right suppliers in the program at the right times, and that policy can support those initiatives.

There is a direct impact on PPD’s CTD operation that stems from the procurement activities. This is where the balancing act comes in for Kevin. The traveler experience combined with operational efficiencies could be impacted by the procurement strategy and vice versa.

When it comes to measuring the operational efficiency of the CTD there is a focus on agent performance, such as transaction volumes, first call resolution and efficiency. Combine that with forecasting plus providing 24/7 service, and it’s easy to see how important it is to get it right.

Travelers may have no idea what is happening on the procurement side of the house, but they certainly know how well they are being serviced. Let’s face it – there aren’t that many CTD’s in the US and travel is a function that can be outsourced, so building a superior service model that is operationally efficient is critical.

Measuring compliance and identifying gaps is also tracked through the operations of the CTD. If the data shows that there are gaps, Kevin identifies the ‘why’ and determines if there needs to be changes in policy or supplier mix, or if it is just a matter of traveler education.

Finally, as part of PPD’s global strategy, accurate data about a traveler’s location is critical to Kevin’s focus on the safety and security of travelers. Meeting duty of care obligations is always a paramount concern. Beyond cost savings, the challenge of collecting timely and accurate data from all the global sources takes on a fresh urgency; keeping travelers safe and healthy may come down to having the right information available when you need it.

The traveler’s experience and the procurement experience are the twin factors that make up the Phat Data strategy for PPD’s travel program. Is it easy to balance? Not always, but Kevin realizes that there can’t be one without the other.

Big Data, Bigger Opportunities? 
Imagine taking half a billion dollars in travel spend and waking up one morning and saying how do we tackle our data better? That is exactly what Rita Visser did. As Director Global Travel Sourcing and GPO for worldwide technology giant Oracle, Rita had a big task at hand.

Rita’s story starts in-house. Working for a technology company such as Oracle, one would think it would be easy to just build an amazing tool for analyzing all of their travel spend, right? Not necessarily easy perhaps, but Rita and her team have done just that.

Through their in-house data consolidation project, Rita is now bringing together their global agency data with their card data; soon to come, the initiative will add expense data. The team also realized they needed an in-house data specialist to help build out the data sets and reporting. Why is this important for the Oracle travel program? Two things: timely data, and the ability to create data outputs based on the company’s and the travel program’s needs.

To support the travel program at Oracle, Rita and her team use these data sets to ensure they are optimizing their supplier and contract performance. When a travel program is as large as Oracle’s, it would be easy for compliance to slip. So maintaining razor-sharp focus on this area allows the travel team to leverage their spend and deliver a superior product to their traveling population.

Monitoring traveler compliance is also important to the success of the program. Rita understands that in order to gain compliance they have to think globally and act locally – meaning that they need to be cognizant of the local nuances and requirements, and then leverage that information on a global basis. Through the data consolidation, they can identify these areas and ensure that their travel program is meeting the needs of all travelers.

In addition to supporting the travel program initiatives, the travel team also shares sets of data internally. Through creation of dashboards and hierarchy reports, insights into travel spend can be seamlessly delivered to the right people at the right time. Whether the purpose is for budgeting travel or for audit purposes, the data can be accessed and consumed with little to no burden on the travel team or on those needing the data.

Report cards are also an important deliverable for Oracle’s data strategy. It is one thing for the travel team to know how they are performing as an organization, but sharing how departments or travelers are performing is just as important. Rita and her team can closely monitor compliance, but with such a large traveling population, that also means providing insightful data to allow managers to drive companywide compliance and expected traveler behavior.

Rita admits that while they have been successful in building their data strategy supported by their in-house tool, there are still challenges. One area they are looking to tackle is the integration of supplier data. How do they consume data from suppliers and normalize the data coming from multiple sources in multiple formats? Rita acknowledges that anomalies will always exist, but a continued focus on getting more data and getting it with greater accuracy is critical.

The other challenge for her team is in the overall scheme of projects for Oracle. If something goes wrong with the travel data it is not always the highest priority on the list to get fixed. So Rita and her team remain determined and patient. They always understand that each anomaly or issue is an opportunity to get it right and build even a better data deliverable.

The Supplier
Our travel buyer case stories are impressive. However both Kevin and Rita would acknowledge that supplier data is critical to the success of their data strategies. We invited Nicolas Borel from Amadeus to join the conversation about how his team is delivering value to managed travel programs. Nicolas serves as head of Analytics & Data Strategy for Amadeus, the global travel technology platform. So we thought he might have some cool insights to add to the ‘What The Data?!’ story.

Amadeus’ platforms service travel providers, travel sellers and travel buyers. Their focus is to connect the travel ecosystem through distribution and IT solutions. Whether through their corporate insight tool or predictive analytics, Amadeus focuses on helping corporate buyers build better data strategies and obtain ‘smart data’ – which, as we all know, is just another way to say ‘Phat Data.’

Recently Amadeus sponsored a white paper on Managing Every Mile, emphasizing the importance of using smart data to optimize the travel program. This paper focused on the opportunity to overcome data challenges in the areas of understanding the complete spend analysis, defining policy, ensuring compliance and taking a holistic view of all aspect of the managed travel program. This is all driven by end to end processes, granular reporting and IT systems that eliminate data silos and facilitate ‘feedback loops,’ real time analytics and alerts.  

Suppliers like Amadeus who understand the importance of a Phat Data strategy are incredible partners of the travel buying community. As buyers and suppliers we all have to work together to drive the changes we need to better support our travel programs through more strategic data.

In previous Phat Data stories, it has been acknowledged that putting together your strategy takes time and perseverance. Both Rita and Kevin’s case studies show that regardless of the shape or size of your program, having a strategy is critically important.  

Whether you have internal resources to build your own data aggregation and reporting tool, or whether you need to rely on good old Excel, you still need to know what data is needed to tell the story of your travel program. And by adding in supportive suppliers like Amadeus, we can be successful in telling our travel program stories. Just remember to tell the right story to the right people at the right time.

Many thanks to Kevin, Rita and Nicolas for sharing their stories! If you’re interested in learning more about the data strategies and case studies covered here, the entire “What the Data?!” webinar is available at  

Jennifer Steinke is vice president Global Travel Experience at WHoldings, 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.