Commission recovery and reconciliation specialist eCommission Solutions is joining a growing list of travel industry firms launching business intelligence platforms. "I didn't recognize the value of all the types of data we're sitting on," said ECS founder and CEO Paul Hoffmann. "It's big data, but how one manages and digests this information is critical. We have focused on commission recovery, which is very valuable because it's about the money, but we've come to understand that it's not just about the money; it's about the data."
Designed to address "the struggles agencies face organizing and interpreting big data from millions of evolving bookings from disparate sources," Hoffman said the ECS Business Intelligence Platform leverages the company's vast data warehouse. ECS this month intends to begin a three-month beta test before making the new product available to all customers, primarily travel agencies and ARC-accredited Corporate Travel Departments. According to a spokesperson, the "basic reporting package" will be included in all current ECS contracts while an "advanced" version with additional features will incur an added fee.
The focus is outside the airline realm: hotels, car rentals, travel insurance and "anything that has revenue associated with it for agencies to either make those accommodations or collect commissionable information," Hoffman explained. "Through ARC, travel agencies can have an audit trail to the penny as it relates to airline tickets," but for other travel components, "the traveler is settling directly with the vendor__when they check out of a hotel or settle up with the rental car company__so there's no clear precise audit trail. We take consumed data and paid data and put it all together."
That's not to say that the air travel data isn't collected. It's important to know, for example, if a traveler took a flight and didn't return until at least the next day, pointing to the likelihood of a hotel stay. That can lead to metrics on hotel attachment rates and incremental revenue opportunities for agencies, "but at this point we are not tracking the financial or accounting information [of air travel] because there are a lot of other companies that do that," Hoffman said.
The platform can generate various standard reports covering the financial, operational, accounting, account management and supplier relationship aspects of a travel agency's business. Agency users can drill down into specific client metrics and individual agent performance, view executive dashboards and customize reports. They also can use the information to analyze client travel patterns and policy compliance.
Access is furnished through web services, bringing users into their partition of the ECS data repository. Hoffmann explained that the repository is fed by four data sources: proprietary technology called Snapshot that collects GDS booking data at the point of sale, travel agency back-office accounting information, consolidated payment data from hotels (which may include hard copies of checks that some hotel companies still cut) or third parties involved in consolidating such data, and responses from hotels when ECS identifies a booking for which no commission payment has been made to the agency.
Taken together, "it gives us a number of more dimensions on how a travel agent looks at their clients, their vendors, their pay-for-performance programs, agent productivity, and the list goes on," Hoffmann said.
By combining all those data sources, ECS can determine when hotel segments, for example, are active in the GDS but "for a myriad of reasons do not make it into the back office," Hoffmann said, adding that an average of 15 percent to 20 percent of such segments fall into that category.
ECS already had built internally its data warehouse, and considered doing the same for the business intelligence layer. "We recognized how big a project it was and ended up licensing technology," Hoffmann said, noting that the supplier of that technology is not yet willing to be identified.
New business intelligence systems also have been or are being developed by Cornerstone Information Systems, BCD Travel, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Concur, Travel Leaders Corporate (for meetings) and Australia's Corporate Travel Management. Many others within the corporate travel industry intend to develop new ways to filter data into usable information.
ECS is introducing the BI platform during a period of rapid growth for the company. Among a client roster of more than 100, Hoffmann claimed American Express (both its consumer group and the Global Business Travel operation), BCD Travel, Carlson and Travel Leaders.