CWT Connect 2017 explored the glory, the power and the pitfalls that come with data. Karen Bamford reports from CWT's flagship client event
"If data helps you to win, it's worth embracing." That was the advice of Formula One aficionado Mark Gallagher when he addressed delegates at CWT Connect 2017.
He should know. As a confidante of drivers, and a former member of the senior management team at Jordan, Red Bull and Cosworth, Mark has first-hand experience of the power of data to manage risk and drive success. His keynote speech chimed perfectly with the event theme, 'Data – the new gold?', which aimed to enlighten and inspire delegates around this sometimes thorny issue.
The conference brought together experts from the travel industry at London's Rosewood hotel in November for a day of networking, learning and idea sharing. ITV news anchor Mary Nightingale moderated proceedings and helped ensure the conference was interactive by frequently inviting questions from the floor.
Mark held delegates spellbound as he revealed how data had transformed the world of F1 racing.
"The catalyst for change came 23 years ago when we killed two drivers in one weekend," he said. "For the first time ever we had data which allowed us to examine what went wrong."
Mark was referring to the tragedy of F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna, who died in an accident live on TV while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix for Williams. The previous day, Roland Ratzenberger died when his car crashed during qualification for the race. Senna was the 45th driver to be killed since 1950.
Analysts compiled data from TV images around the world, Senna's onboard system and camera, and footage from the camera of Michael Schumacher, who was following Senna.
"It meant we learned what went wrong," said Mark. From that day on they were able to address risk management and the sport has been fatality-free since.
Joining the data revolution
It's fair to say that the travel industry has been slower to grasp the potential power of data, which is why this year's conference looked to demystify the issues surrounding it. CWT's chief data scientist Dr Eric Tyree told delegates about his own move in to the travel industry: "I realised that travel was one of the big areas of industry that was not part of the data revolution. This was virgin territory."
Eric warned that failure to integrate three sources of data – card, travel and expense – meant organisations couldn't understand their expenditure, compliance and potential for supplier leverage. He re-assured them that they didn't need to capture 100 per cent of this data for it to be beneficial but just enough to be able to spot trends.
"It's easier than you think but the benefits are massive," he said, giving some examples:
Prove return on investment by pointing to travel expenditure that's relevant to revenue growth
Increase productivity by allowing employees to travel first class by train if they book two weeks in advance (the fare will be the same as a standard ticket bought two days before), enabling them to work during the journey
Improve wellbeing by introducing a policy of time off after travel by showing the cost of absenteeism of frequent travellers (who are more likely to be catastrophically ill)
Mark agreed: "Data improves all your decision making. We can drive amazing performance outcomes. Take a driver like Michael Schumacher. He spent hours a day with data analysis technicians to improve his performance and the car's performance."
In the driving seat
Jason Nash, chief storyteller at Travelport, spoke about the huge amount of data collected from mobile interactions and said: "The traveller is in the driving seat as the consumer in a way they never have been before. They are in control."
Karen Fordree of Virgin Atlantic said. "As we build this information and hold this data, your experience will get richer as you go along."
Mark Gallagher applauded this concept and said: "I was woken up (on another airline) by an air stewardess this morning for breakfast when I didn't want it. I love the idea of people using data. When you fly 120 times a year, there's plenty of data for anyone who can be bothered to read it."
So, is data the new gold? Or, as Mary queried, is it "the new asbestos"?
It certainly comes with enormous responsibility and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which becomes law in May next year, was discussed at the conference.
Johan Thorell, CWT senior director compliance and data protection, said the new regulation was "not a revolution but an evolution" of what went before.
He warned that the previously toothless regulator would now be able to fine companies four per cent of global turnover for breaches, and added: "The biggest problem with that is the damage to your reputation."
Johan answered questions from the floor and suggested the top three things organisations should do to prepare for GDPR:
Know what you do with data
Have a good understanding of the roles that you play in this space