In theory, data integration is a clean and simple approach to travel management, but the reality is anything but.
Companies spend many millions of dollars and staff hours every year trying to combine, manage and process data from traveler bookings, corporate and personal credit card expense data, vendor data and other sources, The goal is to build a more complete and complex picture of traveler behavior, spending and compliance.
The process is not working, according to a recent GBTA survey of travel managers, The State of Expense Data Management and Consolidation in the Business Travel Industry.
Too time consuming
“Travel managers are trying to do their job, a main feature of which is tracking travel spend,” Joe Bates, senior director of research for the GBTA Foundation, told Travel Market Report. “Most travel managers, 82%, say they have to spend time managing multiple data sources. It takes too much time to clean and reconcile the different data streams.
The problem is that there is no one unique traveler identifier from one database to the next, he said. “If everyone added this one field to their database, the travel manager could very easily combine all of the data from multiple streams based on that one unique traveler identifier.”
Quantifying the problem
GBTA found that the companies responding to the survey spent 442,000 staff hours in 2011 to manually clean and reconcile travel data. That equates to $22.7 million in staff costs for just 200 companies.
“This study is the first of its kind that I know of to even quantify the problem,” Bates said. “I thought we would find a lot of companies successfully managing their data and consolidating it. What travel managers are telling us is that no, this is not happening.”
Nearly two-thirds of travel managers, 64%, do not trust that they have all the data they need to calculate the true cost of a trip. Almost as many, 58%, say they spend too much time cleaning and reconciling what data they do have. And only 15% of respondents say they successfully consolidate all of their travel data into a single system.
“In this age of information, you can get data from multiple sources,” Bates said. “You can get data from your suppliers, from your TMC, your expense reports, online booking tools and more. There are so many sources of data and none of them has a complete view of your travel spend.”
Mix and match
Individual travel managers have long recognized the problem of consolidating data, but public discussion is just beginning to emerge. Suppliers have remained largely silent on the issue, Bates said.
TMCs may be able to consolidate the different data streams they manage, but most large firms use more than one TMC, even if they manage only domestic travel, he noted.
And almost every company with foreign travel uses one TMC for domestic travel and another TMC for each region travelers visit on a regular basis. Even if TMCs can consolidate data within their own system, travel managers still have to mix and match data streams from multiple TMCs and other sources to get the whole picture.
“Companies could make a very good business model based on a real solution,” Bates said. “There is a huge opportunity. A couple of suppliers have told me that they do consolidate, but my first thought is do they really consolidate data? Are they really meeting the needs of travel managers? When we did our qualitative research, it was surprising to hear travel managers express just how frustrated they are trying to integrate different data streams.”
If a genuine solution is out there, travel managers haven’t heard about it, he said.
“This problem isn’t going to go away overnight,” he said. “If anybody can show that they can save half or even a third of the cost of managing and cleaning data, the savings alone will allow travel managers to justify the product to the CFO. Industry can now say we have an unmet need.
We will begin to see solutions created to meet that need, but I think it’s going to take a long time to make progress.”