How to share data more wisely

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Integrating datasets across an organisation is easier said than done. Tom Bacon considers some of the challenges and how these can be addressed

Big data is now a necessity. Travel executives increasingly demand an integrated corporate dataset to access financial, operating, customer and marketing data in order to get the ‘whole picture’ on any business issue. Optimal decisions must incorporate the impact across the organisation and meet broad financial, marketing, and operational objectives. 

However, integrated data – sharing data across functional silos – often fails to achieve superior results. So, what is the problem? Here are three. 

  • Not an integrated view/perspective

Even with an integrated data set, each function still has its own unique perspective. Having access to all the data does not change marketing’s focus on the customer or finance’s focus on quarterly earnings. Revenue Management (RM), as another example, has clear functional goals – accurate forecasting, achieving budgeted unit revenue, effectively managing sales promotions. RM’s functional objectives, too, colours its use of any integrated database.

  • Not an integrated diagnosis

Similarly, when targets aren’t achieved, each function often develops a different explanation. For a revenue shortfall at an airline, RM might well cite a problem with marketing or the schedule or operations, while schedules notes that RM did not forecast properly. Each function, with access to an integrated dataset, will likely still attribute results to different factors.

  • Not an integrated action plan

Given such a divergence of views and diagnoses, there is rarely an integrated action plan. If a function has decided that the ‘problem’ is another function, it may either do nothing or it may try to counteract what it feels is a deficiency elsewhere in the organisation – neither of which is likely to properly address the underlying problem.

4 ways to make data work better

Indeed, integrated datasets are not the full solution to coordinated actions across functions. Integrated data must be accompanied by integration of perspectives and processes across all the same functions. Once a company enjoys an integrated database, there are then four other necessary steps. 

  1. Establish cross-functional meetings based on the data. There is no substitute for face-to-face engagement and dialogue. I have chaired such cross-functional meetings with airline RM, sales, marketing, schedules, and distribution (typically we didn’t have operations, perhaps a major gap in a fully-integrated process). We collectively poured over the latest financial, schedule and marketing data on a monthly basis.

  2. Encourage a culture where different views can be shared. In my cross-functional meetings, some departments were highly engaged, offering unique views and proactively suggesting actions; some departments, however, were less analytical and less engaged with the data. Ideally, all functions are adept at data analysis and contribute fully to the conversation. Of course, over time, all participants gained greater understanding of each other’s data.  It is helpful if a facilitator challenges traditional views and pushes for fact-based conclusions.

  3. Collaborate on action plans including shared metrics. The meeting needs to be action-oriented. The meeting needs to go beyond ‘what happened?’ to ‘what needs to be done next?’  Any such plan then needs to include metrics: what are we trying to accomplish? How will we know that we’re on track?

  4. Post-audits and accountability. Of course, once an action plan is in place, along with associated metrics, subsequent meetings can review both overall performance and performance around the specific cross-functional action plan. 

Integrated, corporate-wide databases are a huge innovation that can facilitate improved decision-making. However, alone they do not ensure corporate alignment and optimal cross-functional perspectives and action plans. 

Tom Bacon has been in the business for 25 years, as an airline veteran and industry consultant in revenue optimisation. He leads audit teams for airline commercial activities including revenue management, scheduling and fleet planning. Questions? Email Tom or visit his website

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