Garbage In - Gold Out

So. You have data everywhere. Different sources of data. Global Data. And, it’s a mess. Let alone different locations for storing the data within the booking (if you are getting data at all), there are different languages, different currency codes, even different characters. The UK office is sending the Employee ID in UD4 while Japan isn’t even including it, and Australia is using a weird format that doesn’t look like what is in the ERP system. What’s the conversion rate between Brazil Lira and USD and do I want that converted from when it was booked or now when it is being reported? What is travel reason “Lieferantenbeziehungen” coming from the Germany office?

Wrangling global data can be challenging and exhausting. But, there are several options and steps for getting it under control and turning it into actionable, insightful, wonderful data ready to be analyzed. In this article, I will walk through the options and questions you should be asking to have a comprehensive view of the data from your global suppliers.

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Reconciliation in Business

The next few questions are the foundations: what the rest of the global consolidation is built on, and what I alluded to in the first section.

  • What can be standardized?
    • Is there a global ERP or HRIS that is already standardized that data can be built from or need to be fed into?
    • Is there a single global TMC or multiple TMCs that service the company?
      • If the global TMC is utilizing local subcontractors, how resistant are they to standardizing UDIDs to a global level?
      • Can the Global or Regional TMC handle training the local TMC servicer or even setting up the systems needed to help feed a global data stream?
    • Is there a standard language across the company?
      • If not, can reason/purpose codes be used instead of text?
  • What is the audience that is requesting the data? It is important to know what their expectations are, and the reasons for wanting the data.
    • Finance?
    • HR?
    • Security?
    • Regulatory reporting?
  • Is there data that varies per trip or always the same?

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UDID What?!?

Reportable travel data most often comes down to the actual travel data, the data about the trip itself known as PNR data or Segment data. This is about the flights the traveler took, hotels they stayed in, and rental car or ground transportation that was used. In addition, the travel agency will be recording data points in fields known as UDIDs, Free fields, or User Defined fields. Depending on the sophistication of the program it can be just a handful, or hundreds of data points.

UDIDs can be put into two buckets- Static and Variable.

  • Static or Profile data follows the employee or company no matter what the trip looks like, they have an employee ID, they always report to the same person, the same Form of Payment exists for the air segment, they have the same cost center or GL code. This could be pre-filled from a feed into a profile tool from an HR system.
  • Variable or Per-Trip data can be different for each trip. Maybe the employee reports to someone different if they are traveling, or on a different project number or cost center. Trip purpose could always be the same for each trip but would be considered variable data since it could change. Variable data can be sourced from drop-down boxes on an Online Booking Tool, or agent scripts when booking offline with an agent. They can be free-form but know that the data might not be the best, people will sometimes put anything in there just to get the booking done

Either one of these will have different sources and vary whether booked offline with a travel agent directly in the GDS or booked by the traveler or arranger in an Online Booking Tool. Profile data can flow one-way or two-ways between the GDS and OBT or have a separate profile tool that feeds both from a single source. Static data can also come from the company level profile within the booking system. Whichever way it is set up, make sure that the data in the profiles is correct. This can be done from an HR system that stores the information, but, again, that data could be messy as well, depending on how well curated the HR system is.

Most agencies utilize UDID numbers 1-99, but some more sophisticated ones go into the 3-digit UDID range. Grasp will also create some “virtual” UDIDs out of other fields or calculations as well, usually those are in the 1000 and up ranges.

 

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Standardizing

There are also options for curating and populating the per-trip data. Some OBTs allow for an upload of custom field options or validation. There are also processes that can populate agent scripts/flows in the same way for offline bookings. This is where codes for trip purposes or policy exceptions would come in. If a code is used at the beginning of the field, it is much easier to filter for if the rest of the field is in a different language.

A mid-office system can also be used to fill in fields, double check that everything is filled out, and filled out correctly.

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But, in the end, the user or agent can just bypass or “fudge” the system to get the required result quickly, especially with ASAP bookings. Training is a vital part of global data. When travelers and users understand the “Why” of something, they are more likely to think about and not just speed through required fields. They could also not even know the data they are supplying, does everyone have their project code memorized? Do they know the difference between different trip reasons? Those items would be an important part of general employee training or onboarding.

Another option, and one that could be beneficial to data security, besides using Traveler Name, is to use an employee ID or other unique identifier and sending an HR file to the data provider for matching other data items. Or, matching at the company after bringing in the travel data. Traveler Name will always need to be present in the PNR, especially if booking Air or Car Rental due to identification requirements.

Whenever possible, UDID numbers or Sorts should match between agencies or offices in a global program, especially if they are all part of the same group. Many agencies will have their recommended standard UDIDs. UD1 EID, UD32 Project, etc. The problem comes when managing a global program is that each agency will have their own standards, and possibly be unwilling to match the global specs. This could be for many reasons, from automation or scripts, to “we’ve just always done it this way.”

Cleaning data closer to the source is possible with a product like GraspPREPARE that utilizes a set of rules to correct and clean up data within an agency’s back office system automatically

 

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Consolidation - the Funnel

Once all possible standardization is in place with UDIDs and other data elements we can begin bringing in the data into the consolidation database. More mapping will take place, lining up the correct data elements from each source. This is more difficult when there are separate HR or ERP systems with a global operation, because some values might be in different formats. Some might also be in different character sets, and non-unicode characters can really cause issues if the system isn’t configured for them.

Other data sets can be brought in too: Out of channel bookings from a provider like Traxo or Cvent for when employees book travel outside the TMC, such as conference hotels. As mentioned before, HR data can be brought in if it is not advantageous to send to the TMCs. Expense data or credit card transaction files can also be imported to run automatic reconciliation processes. Currency conversion is another important step (Grasp maintains a table of 168 currencies), along with ATPCO class of service tables to make sense of the airline fare codes. Hotel Normalization, the process of correcting and matching hotel data across sources, is also important when bringing in data from different booking systems, and something Grasp does currently

Once all these items are brought together, the meetings are over, and data is flowing, the project is complete. Or is it? What about all the reporting? All the data visualizations? Delivery of files to different systems for analysis? We can handle all that too. Grasp can output via SFTP and soon API for import into ERP or finance systems, or the client’s own BI tools. But, that is a topic for another time.

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The Future


What's next in Travel Data? Well, more Machine Learning/AI (really just fancy algorithms) for corrections, forecasting, and other predictive analysis. Blockchain booking using Smart Contracts is also intriguing, but it is still too slow to book travel with. There are some proposals to start treating airline tickets or other bookings as Non-Fungible Tokens or “NFTs”, a much more practical use than digital art which most people associate with NFTs. NFTs are linked to unique identifiers on the Blockchain that can also store metadata, which seems ready-made for airline tickets. Profile systems using blockchain could be interesting as well, due to the security that it can provide.

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Conclusion

The Data Must Flow

Grasp can help turn your garbage global data into gold. We’ve been doing it for over 25 years from small TMCs to multinational corporations. It can take some time and work, but once the data is flowing, there are always opportunities to find the nuggets of data that can help make informed business decisions.

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About Grasp Technologies


Founded in 1996, Grasp Technologies is the leading provider of travel data management, visualization and payment solutions in the T&E industry. Initially founded to address the critical need for customized reporting and data management in the travel industry, we’ve held to our belief in helping our customers thrive and to succeed by transforming data into useful intelligence.

Throughout our years in business, we’ve engineered cutting-edge travel data management, integration, intelligence and consolidation solutions for client companies of all sizes – sometimes even outside of the travel industry. Our growing suite of products and service tailor to specific business needs. We are obsessed with solving complex problems in aggregating, consolidating, normalizing, translating, cleaning and visualizing data for travel agencies/TMCs, corporations, governments, and other technology providers around the world. Our state-of-the-art solutions have been implemented in more than 100 countries to improve business intelligence and process efficiency. All leading to more profitable clients who can focus on top-line growth. We have grown in excess of 50% year over year for the last decade with back-to-back positions on Inc Magazine’s List of 5000 Fastest Growing Companies.

We have defined many of the industry’s best practices in travel data management, global data consolidation and data bridging in T&E and serve many of the global leading financial institutions and corporations. That’s why many travel management companies, corporations and corporate travel departments turn to Grasp Technologies to manage their complicated data. We believe that with happy customers and happy employees, everyone wins.

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