Understanding the big data crossroads

Pascal Clement

Head of Travel Intelligence, Amadeus IT Group

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We recently sponsored a new report At the Big Data Crossroads: turning towards a smarter travel experience authored by Professor Thomas H. Davenport, Visiting Professor of Analytics at Harvard Business School. At Amadeus we believe fostering this type of debate is important to the future of our industry and we hope the report proves useful for our customers, partners and the industry at large.

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Personally, I was encouraged by Professor Davenport’s findings. My career has spanned a number of different roles across the Business Intelligence (BI) industry and I have seen companies try to gain value from data in almost every way imaginable. But things are different now. As Professor Davenport highlights, we stand at a crossroads where the evolution of new technologies combined with ever-larger amounts and new unstructured data types present opportunities to derive greater value and insights, at reduced costs.

On the technology front the traditional approach to BI has usually involved the construction of large data warehouses for structured data with a variety of sources integrated, involving time-consuming and costly data preparation processes – not to mention runtimes that can take days for certain queries or analyses. Today, new technologies have arrived such as Hadoop and the MapReduce framework, newopen sourceanalytics programming languages such as ‘R’ and in-memory computing amongst others. These advances allow data analysis jobs to be split across multiple commodity servers and the results re-combined, in real-time. Using this approach our industry can store more data, handle more types of data and arrive at the results of analysis far more quickly.

This evolution is positive for our industry as a whole and we now have a significant opportunity to embrace these new approaches in order to improve the customer experience and internal operations. Some of the examples Professor Davenport’s research highlights are worthy of note such as British Airway’s Know Me programme which integrates data from a variety of sources in order to create a single view of the customer. BA then empowers its customer facing staff with access to a customer’s historical experience via iPads so that service recovery or improvement can be undertaken. Air France too is using HAdoop as the basis of its newrevenue management system, which will integrate factors such as weather data and other sources to improve pricing decisions.

In the online space too great innovation is happening. The traditional approach to search focused on price and origin & destination is being transformed to deliver results to travellers in more intuitive ways. Hipmunk, the USonline travel companyallows customers to search based on an agony index for flights which encompasses new parameters such as stop-overs and changes to structure results according to the flight that’s likely to have the least agony. At Amadeus too we are thinking hard about how the search experience can be improved by harnessing big data and our Featured Results solution based on our Massive Computational Platform and Massive Search Platform is already being used to great effect at Vayama the Dutch online travel firm.

Despite the cause for optimism already cited I do believe Professor Davenport’s well-considered report should serve as a wake-up call to our industry. Spending on analytics within the travel sector is comparatively modest and pockets of big data innovation too few and far between today. If travel providers and sellers are to focus on profitability, improving experiences and innovation, data and the insight it yields must be viewed as a key strategic asset.


Big Data, Research