Want to be a data-powered travel organization? Here’s how
I spend a lot of time thinking about data-driven organizations. What do they look like? How do they work? What sets them apart? And I’m passionate about exploring these questions with travel players—especially today.
Everyone is thinking about execution
I never have to convince travel executives of the value—or the imperative—of grounding everything they do in data and analytics. This is absolutely top-of-mind for them. It’s the “how” of getting from where they are today to where they know they need to be that keeps them up at night.
And it’s no wonder.
Organizational silos and talent gaps have always made it hard for travel companies to execute the data transformation they need. The pandemic made a tough situation even tougher. Revenue challenges and cost pressures cut into investment dollars and headcount. In addition, Travel has become a less-than-desirable landing place for top technical talent in an increasingly competitive market.
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We all know data is important. So, make it important in the organization.
How can travel companies move from aspiration to execution and become data-powered? At the most basic level, it’s about making a commitment to do things differently. I talk to travel organizations about these five key actions:
- Give the chief data officer a seat at the table. In Travel, chief data officers (CDOs) are often “stuck” in the IT department. They aren’t exposed to the business issues and aren’t part of decision-making processes. This is a symptom of a greater problem—the separation of business and IT. And it needs to change. Elevating the CDO role is fundamental to doing this. When CDOs are at the table, they can connect the data and analytics strategy to business ambitions. They can also help the business prioritize demand for data and analytics services based on strategic fit and business value.
- Structure the organization for collaboration and scale. Beyond the CDO, data teams should be business savvy, and the organization should be designed to provide easy access to skilled data resources—including both specialists and generalists. The key is to get the balance right and eliminate redundancies while having resources available to scale up capability if demand intensifies. These teams are backed by enterprise-wide platforms that store data and expose insights that support product development, business intelligence and data science discovery.
- Break down the silos with proper governance. Governance further codifies how business and technology teams work together around data and analytics priorities as well as how roles and responsibilities are defined. It’s essential because it creates a common language that supports collaboration and knowledge sharing. We typically see hub-and-spokes models in which governance is conducted jointly with business SMEs providing the context and technical personnel developing solutions on how to implement and scale.
- Strengthen the talent and shift the culture. Building data skills given the tight hiring market takes a realistic talent sourcing plan that accounts for filling talent gaps, addressing learning curves, and consolidating from many vendors to a few key partners. Travel companies must also assess options to move talent internally and source talent externally as needed. The added benefit of making these moves is the cultural shift that comes with it. The more data-savvy talent there is, the more data-centered the culture becomes, which can smooth silos between business and IT.
- Embrace the power of incremental change. No travel company wants to spend precious resources on a data and analytics program that delivers underwhelming outcomes. The travel industry can avoid this by championing agile methods and rapid minimum viable product delivery tied to the business goals. This is about testing-learning-tweaking the way to solutions that deliver true business value. Companies that do this will find it easier to get management buy-in—and the funding green light that comes with it. The ultimate goal is to implement agile at scale across the organization.
No regrets moves to get started
When travel executives ask me what changes they should prioritize to lay the foundation for organizational change, I remind them of my mantra about being data driven. If you want data power to be important, you must make it prominent. That starts with these three moves.
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Set up leaders to lead and provide opportunities for them to embed with the business.
Get the balance right between “hub and “spoke” and stay flexible as needs change.
Repurpose the talent you have today to deliver maximum business benefits.
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Travel organizations have come a long way since early data and analytics capabilities first emerged in revenue management and operations research groups decades ago. There are no quick fixes to becoming a data-powered organization, but there’s never been a stronger case for getting started.
Thank you to the colleagues who contributed to this content: Philip Rothaus, Naveen Singla, Ross Farquharson, Jamie Yates, Andrew Maliszewski, Douglas Cochran
Think big but start small:
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