Carlson Wagonlit Travel chief
data scientist Eric Tyree talks:
• Tackling travel ROI
• A Google-esque
search tool for travel
• Bracing for GDPR
This year, as part of its “CWT 3.0” technology
initiative, Carlson Wagonlit Travel brought onboard as chief data scientist Eric Tyree, who
previously held the same role at U.K. professional services company Capita. He spoke
to BTN senior editor Michael B. Baker about
WHAT SORT OF SOLUTIONS ARE YOUR FOCUS RIGHT NOW?
We started by looking at the travel manager:
What’s available to the travel manager now? What
data is out there that’s not getting used by travel
managers that can solve problems that either are
very laborious or aren’t getting solved by them?
We’re also in the process of getting an Amazon-like experience using personalization, modern
automation tools. The end game is: “I’m going to
New York next week and going between [certain
dates].” I should be able to do that in one click.
My air and ground transportation should be understood; my hotel preferences should be understood. They should just pop up as my itineraries,
and they should be the best one in terms of my
corporate travel policy and my preferences.
HAVING COME FROM OUTSIDE THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY,
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION IN HOW TRAVEL
DATA BY AND LARGE IS BEING MANAGED?
It was shock and horror. I would have expected
that it would be foundational for travel expense
and credit card data to be integrated by travel
managers because if you don’t have those integrated, anything off channel you can’t see. You
don’t have any granularity or control over it. The
first thing we did when I joined CWT was go right
WHAT IS THE TMC’S ROLE?
We can now start solving problems that travel managers haven’t really been able to approach before.
For example, what is the ROI on travel, and how do
I use that to defend travel budgets? Everyone talks
about it, and they might deal with it at the level
of “I want to spend some money on software” and
make a case. Very few have gotten to the point of
saying, “What’s the relationship between travel and
revenue growth?” and showing that correlation.
So, if the CFO comes along and wants to reduce
travel expenditures, they go after the bits where it’s
sensible. If you go to a CFO and say, “I can prove
to you if you cut in this division here or that cus-
tomer there, you will lose revenue,” then they’re
not going to touch it. It’s really about getting bet-
ter data-driven tools to make the case of doing the
right thing or to automate stuff and take out a lot
of the busy work. There’s a lot of manual work go-
ing on, and these are big global clients. You ask
the travel manager, “What are you doing with these
reports?” They say, “I’m looking for this.” You say,
“How do you find this? Show me.” They’re going
through hundreds of lines of reports. You should be
getting a set of alerts saying you have an anomaly
and you need to investigate it. They shouldn’t have
to spend five minutes trying to find the anomaly in
the first place.
A lot of the data revolution that we’re doing is not
about getting better data and getting it integrated
in front of travel managers and travelers but putting the tools on top of it so it integrates into the
processes better. That’s where a TMC can operate
much more efficiently. We understand the data, but
we also understand the business. When we build
solutions or analytics or parts, we can make sure
they’re done in a way that’s compatible with travel
policy or we can advise on what travel policy should
be. When you get an industry that’s new to analytics, there’s a tendency to reach for traditional data
integrators. The problem with that is they don’t
understand the industry, so you get good analytical
reporting solutions but they’re useless.
IN TERMS OF ACTUAL PRODUCTS, WHAT ARE YOU
We have a product called AnalytIQs that began as
a reporting system but has become a command-and-control system because that’s what clients
need. You take safety and security. It’s one thing
to know where your travelers are, but then what?
You have to be able to contact them, so you need
communication tools within it. You need to be
able to work with third-party providers who help
ensure the security of your travelers.
We also have a product that’s doing the whole
data integration piece. We have a bunch of stuff
coming out next year. We looked hard at what
travel managers need in terms of reporting and
getting the information they need. [But] they can’t
even tell you in advance [entirely] what they need.
We’ve developed a Google-like experience with
it. If a client needs a report … we can say, “Fine,
we’ll add it to the product; wait six months.” But
wouldn’t it be better if you could attach a Google-like search to data directly … and rather than getting Google links back, I get a graph? That enables
us to cover a lot of this long, long tail of operation
needs that come up on a random basis. We can
do this in ways that are much more efficient and
cheaper than ever before. You don’t need a techie
to do it. A travel manager can learn this system in
20 minutes. It’s basically learning to do an advanced Google search. We’ve tried it out. We’ve
given it to program managers who are very low
HOW ARE YOU CONTENDING WITH UPCOMING
CHANGES IN PRIVACY REGULATIONS?
It absolutely defines the landscape we operate in.
The [General Data Protection Regulation] rules
in the EU—the maximum fine is 4 percent of your
global revenues. That gets your attention. Our
global clients are saying, “Are you GDPR compliant?” so it will effectively become the global standard. We are very sensitive about it not only for
that regulatory reason but also because whatever
we do has to be right for the client and the traveler. That defines how we operate. You cannot
ignore that. I’ve got dedicated legal staff in the
company who just sit and advise on privacy issues
not from a regulatory point of view but from a
contractual point of view. I don’t think you can be
in the data business and not. It’s kind of like your
right hand. It defines how you work.
“A lot of the
that we’re doing
is not about
data and getting
it integrated in
front of travel
putting the tools
on top of it so it
where a TMC can