Big data’s big journey

Of all the industries affected by the emergence of big data, travel has seen the most dramatic transformation.

NB This is a viewpoint by Guy Marson, managing director of Profusion.

The plethora of connected tech that has entered our homes over the past couple of years is now starting to generate useful data. It is this technology that signals another step forward for the industry in terms of the data that can now be collected on consumers.

With both Google and Amazon bringing out home assistants, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg reportedly having an Iron Man-esque artificial intelligence controlling his home, it won’t be long until waking up and saying “Hello Google” becomes the norm for many families.

Crucially, these assistants can collect data on your everyday home life, from what you watch on TV to the websites you visit and even how often you boil your smart kettle and restock your smart fridge. Travel companies can use some of this information to provide more targeted customer service and marketing.

Additionally, thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, virtual home assistants will learn the preferences of the individuals they serve. This leads to a potentially new and lucrative area for travel professionals – predictive analytics. Namely, not only being able to predict where, when and how a customer is likely to travel but also being able to serve them marketing messages or prompts at a time when they are likely to buy.

Connecting the dots between separate data sets will be a growing trend for the travel industry in 2017. We’re only just waking up to the opportunities and discoveries we can make by combining and analyzing seemingly disparate data sets. Unfortunately, many travel companies are still guilty of keeping much of their data siloed away, with different departments unable to access each other’s data. 2017 will see many of these departmental walls break down as data starts to be held within a central reserve – a data lake – that can be used business-wide.

Data lakes will really take off next year, not least because good data governance and security will become a top priority. Big data seemingly crept up on many businesses, with many stashing data anywhere that seemed suitable at the time. The result is a fragmented storage system where you cannot accurately pinpoint what data you have and where. This becomes a significant issue not only when a business experiences a hack or data breach but also in the wake of the upcoming European General Data Protection Regulation that US companies will have to comply with under the EU-US Privacy Shield.

Given many companies will have to rebuild their data infrastructure from the ground up, there is ample opportunity to ensure all current and future data is plugged into a data lake. This will solve the issue of knowing exactly where your data is stored, how it is stored and who has access to it – and it will also allow you to access different data sources whenever you need to solve a specific business problem.

Previous purchase and marketing data, for example, can be used to attribute sales to specific marketing channels effectively. Data on previous holidays, current holiday trends and time of year can be used to give personalized holiday recommendations. Chat transcripts, reviews and customer satisfaction surveys can be analyzed to determine traveller sentiment and how your customer-facing staff are performing. Crucially, with this information kept in a data lake and in the right format for analysis, it can be accessed time and time again.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is also gaining momentum as evidenced by Google and Apple’s investment in the sector. Connected devices will provide a wealth of data for travel companies. Sensors placed on vehicles, planes and trains could give real-time updates on performance, condition and location. Crunching this data will tell you where you should refuel, undergo maintenance to prevent breakdown and even the best routes to take. Overlaying this with open data on local infrastructure and weather can add more insights, helping you plan for political upheaval or extreme weather.

Big data will continue to increase its reach across the travel industry in 2017. We’re going to see more travel companies using data to predict sales, determine marketing ROI and streamline logistics.

Before they succeed in tapping into their data however, many businesses will have a short sharp shock when they look at where and how their data is stored. Tidying up and storing big data securely will be a top priority for many travel companies in 2017 and one which, if done correctly, will benefit them for many years to come.

NB1: This is a viewpoint by Guy Marson, managing director of Profusion.

NB2: Image by kgtoh/bigstock.

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