EasyJet brings data on board, but will it take off?

This is a viewpoint from Bill James, chairman of Transform.

It is estimated that 90% of the world’s data was generated in the past two years, yet brands still are only using half of it. Everywhere you turn brands are claiming the status of data pioneer, hoping to be heard above the noise.

With GDPR set to come into force in May, we will witness a dramatic change in the way businesses use data, and whilst it’s useful to have an individual or team in charge of driving that change, it is far more important to change the mindset and structure of the business as a whole.

The travel industry, in particular, will feel the full force of the introduction of GDPR, mainly due to the large amount of personal data it collects from consumers, ranging from home addresses to medical data.

As the industry reels from a slew of negative PR stories from the latter half of 2017, from Monarch ceasing trading to Ryanair leaving passengers stranded, it is more vital than ever that they are fully prepared for the upcoming regulations. However, this cannot be the responsibility of a single data officer.

Data-driven changes in corporate structure

EasyJet is the latest in a long line of travel brands trying to prove it is a serious player in the data game. The brand announced that it is removing the role of chief customer officer, replacing it with a chief data officer.

It has made this decision so it can build on the work it is already doing with data science and further explore the opportunities data can offer. They’re not the only ones, as both Royal Caribbean and Clarity have recently appointed new insight directors.

So what does this shift in the way brands are treating data mean for the travel industry?

The absolution of data responsibility can mean trouble

In many cases, these new appointments show the industry that the brand is data savvy and forward thinking.  Yet the change itself can act as a red herring to distract from the truth that they aren’t as well-versed in data as the industry may think.

While a new data officer might work towards implementing some changes within the businesses, placing data in the hands of a single person can quite often mean that everyone else within an organisation washes their hands of responsibility, causing it to slip down the list of company priorities.

In a business world where nearly everything relies on data in some form, this shift has inherent risks. Management can easily overlook the often significant amount of data a brand has in its arsenal, and thus leave itself open to vulnerability.

Understanding the customer in a data-everywhere world

Data is essential when it comes down to meeting the needs of customers efficiently. Whether dictating how you market to them or how you streamline the customer journey, data suggest how to proceed.

Travel is fortunate because, as EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said, they have access to“billions of data points.” From customers searching for holidays and destinations online to when they visit a travel agent, the access to data the travel industry has is vast and if used properly is sure to give a business the competitive edge.

British Airways CEO, Alex Cruz recently talked about how BA has invested in new data centres. This investment will help the airline avoid repeats of the IT meltdown last year and ensure that BA remains competitive. However, if the organisation isn’t structured properly and a clear digital strategy isn’t in place for all, these data points become almost worthless.

It’s all very well being able to collect billions of data points, but it’s what you do with them that really sets a business apart. As shared during the Smart Travel Data Summit in the US, “letting inexperienced individuals work with data is like giving a child a bazooka”.

For a digital strategy to work, it has to be collaborative from all sides, but it also has to be led by a strong CEO who understands what it takes to be a successful travel brand in today’s digital world. If the leaders are digitally savvy, then a digital-first approach is sure to be top of their agenda. This approach can then make a top-down priority to educate on digital strategy.

It can prove beneficial to make a digital appointment internally whose role is to overlook an organisation’s data, and enforce change — especially with the new GDPR regulation looming. But in reality, this type of appointment is only a short-term strategy.

In the long-term, a digital- and data-first approach must be ingrained within the whole company. For any business to run effectively, every department has to be aligned with a unified objective and focus.

Data is no exception.

Related reading:

How airlines are evolving in their data journey

This is a viewpoint from Bill James, chairman of Transform.

Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

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