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Travel 29th June 2018 - 5 min read

Buying versus building your own Travel data solution: 5 things to consider

By Joni Lindes

Growing data scientist skill sets and plug-in tools have significantly lowered the entry barriers to data analytics applications. Travel Managers now have a key choice: do I buy my data solutions or do I build and manage them in-house?

Building a data tool in-house seems simple enough. You use the resources at your companies’ disposal, mobilize your IT department, requisition a data warehouse on your servers, stick a data visualization tool over it and you’re off to the races, right?

Wrong. In our experience with Travel Managers, I.T. departments are excited to build the tools, yet months down the line, the solution is still getting off the ground and it is already less cost-effective than initially thought.

The headaches don’t stop there. Updates and maintenance bombard the I.T, Travel and Analyst team with additional work. The never-ending torrent of additional data sources in today’s Corporate Travel landscape does not make this any easier.

Due to regular changes in tax laws, most companies prefer to outsource their Payroll rather than build and manage it in-house. Travel data sources are changing at a much faster rate, yet why do companies think they can possibly keep up with this complex and changing environment they do not have specialized knowledge of?

Sometimes it is better to leave it to the experts. Below are six things to consider before you build:

1. The analytics

Building a solution takes time. Each analysis must have a use case, specify dependencies and calculations.

What is more is that wider industry expertise and broader knowledge on what feeds into a solution’s design is an absolute must in creating a complete solution delivering all necessary data analytics.

A total trip cost view takes into account complex machine learning algorithms to group activity around each business trip. Any comprehensive solution will also link in external APIs such as Google, Tripadvisor and Airbnb and wider industry feeds will be used to derive certain metadata such as fare class or hotel brand.

All this needs to be built from scratch.  Does your internal team have that kind of industry experience to build this? Depending on the supplier, a bought solution has already been building and testing data analyses for years with real-world feedback. Their approach is tried and tested and ultimately more robust.

2. Data accuracy

The simple build approach of using excel spreadsheets and plugging in a data visualization tool will combine data that is not clean; i.e. duplicated data with no overlay for Hierarchies complete with currency issues. When transactions are delivered from the supply chain with missing fields, this incomplete data will become a major drain on the internal team’s time. Who is going to chase down the missing data elements for information accuracy with the outputs? Best guess is that job will soon be yours.

Bought solutions will already handle multiple data formats and have data corrections and enhancements pre-built.  When data is missing they also have relationships with your supply chain to chase down the missing data.

3. Data Security

Analytics companies live by their data security with practices, certifications and systems like GDPR, Safe Harbor and ISO. Your own company may not offer the same rigorous environment.

4. Implementation and ongoing data import management

It takes around one and a half years to internally build a robust solution that does more than display simple data. A bought tool can be ready in as little as three months.

Most built solutions also focus only on TMC data. Managing and cleansing 3-10 weekly data imports from TMCs, Card, Expense and Direct Suppliers requires supplier knowledge, standard APIs and ongoing oversight.

Many bought solutions have already automated the data import, cleansing and merging of data sources – leaving your team more time for actual program management.More data sources are popping up than ever before. With each new data source a new round of system updates is needed. For example, meetings and events spend is increasingly a factor in Travel and needs to be integrated into already existing Travel data systems. This integration requires considerable updates to the software and data management.

5. Maintenance and Updates

Suppliers who change their formats over time also cause considerable updates and maintenance. Imagine the additional complexity that could get added now that air travel’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) will result in the adoption of new data formats. In addition, there is often an ongoing need to chase missing data, manage duplicate transactions, update currency rates and keep the corporate hierarchy refreshed.

Most of the time companies, along with company funding, have already moved onto new projects after the initial build is complete. Travel Managers will struggle to get funding for much needed updates when a new data source, new field, new page or change in supplier format occurs.

The verdict? Building is only profitable if there is no other adequate solution on the market, and you have the personnel to chase data and perform the QC work required for accurate output and analysis.

6. Innovation

With all this complexity, there is still one key component missing from the equation: innovation. As disruption happens regularly across the Travel landscape, most companies require a solution that has a vision for the future – taking into account new data source integration as well as bringing data driven insight as close to real-time as possible.

Data analytics solutions also add additional models to their product that your team may not even know they need yet relish in the detailed insight these new tools provide. Our Behaviour Science for Travel model, for example, is instrumental in promoting travel policy compliance. This solution would never be devised by an internal team as their job function is about innovating the program itself – not the data surrounding it.

Our advice? If you want a tailor made product, speak to suppliers with Travel, Credit Card and Expense domain knowledge first. It is cheaper, faster, and the value of the outcome will far outweigh your total cost of ownership.

Contact PredictX to discover how your programme can benefit from a quality data analytics solution.

Joni Lindes
By Joni Lindes
5 min read

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