Data is the backbone of any successful business. Using it correctly, can and will save you several headaches. That’s why it’s one of the main threads of the new feature film, The Haircut, from Clarity Studios.

The film, not coming to a cinema near you, focuses on the way in which Clarity can save you money on your business travel, without sacrificing the quality. After all, it’s the small cuts that make a big difference.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the stars of The Haircut, and Clarity’s Head of MI and Data, Darren Williams, to talk to him about how Clarity are changing the conversation around data.

Kyle Daniels: Thanks for sitting down with me today, Darren. We’re going to jump in the deep end. Why is data so important in travel?

Darren Williams: It means I have a job.

Darren laughs to himself before continuing.

Why is it so important? It’s the lifeblood of an organisation. Really, without data, we don’t get any visibility on what is happening. We can’t work out what is going to happen. We can’t manage our cash flow, we can’t manage our staffing volumes, we can’t build our strategies. So, it’s absolutely essential.

KD: Is there a bit of a misconception around data that I suppose some people feel like it’s used as a stick to beat people into submission? Whereas, I feel, that for many it’s used more to challenge behaviours and improve things.

DW: Take a quote from Spider-Man. With great power comes great responsibility.  We can use data in any way that we want to.

It’s absolutely fine to use it as a stick to beat people with if that’s what you want to do, but we’ll probably get the most engagement out of it by using that data to make informed decisions.  

KD: What about those people who worry about the misuse of data?

DW: Sure. Data can be dangerous, but a lot of it is about context. Say, for example, last month we had a ridiculous amount of spend, it was completely out of trend for us.

The CEO says, ‘everybody, you must stop travelling to make up for the amount that we spent last month. I don’t want to see this happen again’.

Let’s put that in context.

We had the most successful store opening last month that we have ever had. We had to mobilise a number of people, but the opportunities that drove for additional sales were phenomenal. We had more people through the door than we’ve ever had on any other store opening. The amount of press and recognition that we got on the back of that was eye-opening and our profits for this year have been boosted significantly because of that activity.

The data provides insight into your activity, but it needs context around it. Hard facts aren’t enough.

KD: You mentioned the word insight, which leads us nicely into Clarity’s exclusive MI and reporting tool, Go2Insight. How is that different from reporting tools offered by other companies?

DW: I think the clue is in the name – insight. It’s more than just a reporting tool. It provides invaluable insights into travel activity, spend, booking behaviours, and more.

It’s a platform that enables you to look at every facet of your travel activity and spend. Whether it is paginated distributed reports full of facts and figures that you can share with your executive team, or an interactive dashboard enabling you to pivot your data from a multitude of different angles, it’s whatever you need it to be.

KD: What’s the difference between that and a .csv file?

DW: It’s what you do with the information. Let’s say you want to see where your people are travelling to, how they get there, how much they are spending, when they book in, what they are booking. You can get all that on an excel export. That’s the end of the journey. Fin.

Instead, Go2Insight takes that data and allows you to start asking the what-if questions.

KD: Like what?

DW: Like, what if we booked all our journeys 15+ days in advance?

What if we changed our travel policy to restrict the amount of first and business class tickets, we’re booking for short haul journeys?

What if we changed our hotel bookings to a location that is five minutes away with a cheaper rate?

You can see all the answers to those questions in an instant. It’s live. Suddenly you’re looking at the possibility of a 30% annual hotel saving on a £3 million spend.

In an instant, you can see a £15k rail spend saving in Q4, which may open up some budget to exhibit at that big industry expo which could, potentially, bring you in 10 times that in new business.

KD: It probably feels disingenuous to call it just a reporting to then.

DW: Exactly. It allows you to manipulate your data and showcase the best use of your travel spend if that’s what you want. If you just want a month-end report, it’ll do that too.

KD: What’s the downside here?

Darren leans back in his chair and laughs, it’s clear this isn’t the first time he’s heard the question.

KD: It sounds good, but there’s always a downside. Do I need a degree in HTML coding to navigate it?

DW: The initial setup is where you’re going to see the real work. And we’re talking relative sense here because the rest of it is so simple to use, so the set-up, by comparison, takes the most time. But the end-user, they don’t see that part in 95% of cases.

KD: it’s pre-configured?

DW: It is, but to the clients’ specifications. We then give the end-user access to those data sets that we’ve built bespoke to their requirements, and we’ll show them how to build their own should the need ever arise.

KD: Can you give me some examples of how a company may use Go2Insight, take rail as an example. How can you use it to change behaviours and drive savings?

Darren pulls his laptop toward him and opens up Go2Insight. I see dashboards spring into life and datasets whirl into action. Darren begins to demo the tool to me during the interview.

DW: Okay, let me show you an example here.

So, I’m now looking at my rail activity dashboard. What this gives me straight off the bat is a great overview of where people are travelling to, the class or travel, who’s booked it, what the booking horizon is, what the costs are, etc.

I can filter by ticket ID transactions, refund transactions but, what I’m going to do is choose the most frequent routes for this customer, which is Leeds to London.

If I now look at the volumes of tickets that have been booked within the different booking horizons, I can see by ticket type what my average prices are, I can also see the number of trips, durations, distances, and so on.

You mentioned how do I change behaviours and drive savings, right?

KD: Yeah.

DW: Let’s look at what savings can be achieved by changing our booking horizon. This quarter, the client has spent upwards of £57k on rail, if we were to assume they are going to do the same in the next quarter, and we moved the booking horizon to 15+ days in advance, we can see a saving of around £8.5k. Over the course of the year, that’s a potential saving of £34k.

KD: So, you change behaviour by sending a comms out to tell everyone to book 15+ days in advance?

DW: No, no. The problem with that is you risk alienating those people who are booking in advance and getting the best deal.

KD: Can you filter it by those who are booking last minute?

DW: Now you’re thinking!

We can see all the users who are booking fewer than 15 days in advance, and those are the people we target. By focusing on a smaller group, we’re able to have more meaningful conversations, which in turn, allow us to drive positive behavioural change.

KD: I suppose all this depends on how accurate the data is?

DW: Exactly. Fortunately, our data’s really accurate, due to the focus we put on quality. It’s the reason why we have a dedicated data quality manager that helps shape our policies and processes across the business.

KD: Okay, final questions. Who is right more often, the travel manager or the data?

I’m sure that the travel manager will always say themselves, but the truth is it goes hand in glove. As I said earlier with the example with the store opening. The data tells one story, the account manager tells another bit of a story. I think what you need to be able to do is bring those two elements together to say, these are our trends, these are the insights, these are the patterns that we’re seeing, and that’s when you’re able to get a true version of your data story.  

You can hear more from Darren on the latest episode of the Absolute Clarity podcast, available on all major podcast platforms.