Diners World Travel soars on biz intelligence

case study Corporate travel agency using business analytics tool to not only track internal performances and plan budgets, but also boost customer loyalty by helping them plan best travel routes at cheapest price.

case study The travel industry is data-intensive with information captured and stored on various media, which makes mining to generate valuable business-changing insights complicated and difficult to achieve. Diners World Travel, however, is aiming to improve internal performances and get ahead of the competition with the help of business intelligence (BI).

Loo Kian Wai, the travel agency's Singapore-based finance and human resource (HR) manager, told ZDNet Asia the company in September 2010 started to look into BI software as a means to improve business performance and increase customer loyalty. But traditional BI software offered by vendors such as SAP and SAS were "expensive" and the products not "very intuitive" for end-users, he noted.

Diners, instead, chose to go with QlikTech to meet its BI needs, Loo said.

It turned to a QlikTech reseller, Knowledge Management Solutions, which helped implement the software. Costing the travel agency S$30,000 (US$23,856) in one-time licensing fees for five users, the deployment included five implementation man-days should the company need to customize or troubleshoot the software, he said.

Loo added that while the initial BI deployment was on-premise, Diners eventually decided to host its data on a third-party service provider to cut down on hardware and maintenance cost. It chose Singapore telco, SingTel, as its hosting vendor and got QlikTech to configure its software to analyze the data from SingTel's data center instead.

Loo explained: "When we decided to host our data on SingTel's cloud, this was new for QlikTech too. In the end, it took about one to two weeks for both vendors to link up their services before it went operational in November 2010."

Tapping BI benefits
Describing the implementation as a "relatively cost-effective investment", he said Diners now applies the software across its business, ranging from budgeting and financial planning, tracking of employee performances, and helping their customers plan for the best travel routes at the cheapest price.

From an operations standpoint, Loo said the company can now monitor aspects of the business such as call conversion rates. This means, if employees are experiencing dipping "call-to-transaction" ratios, it is easier for the manager to come in, identify the problem, and address it in a timely fashion.

Given that the company's data is now stored in the cloud, BI reports can also be generated on-the-move and accessed via mobile devices such as Apple's iPhone and iPad. This better equips its agents to present the company's services to existing and potential clients, he pointed out.

These benefits were not possible previously as Diners relied heavily on traditional data which came in the form of paper-based data or Excel spreadsheets. This meant the company needed to dedicate one or two people specifically to churn out data insights from the different data sources and consolidate the report for employees.

"With BI, our business end-users can now get the reports and analysis when and where they need it, which improves productivity," Loo said. "The monitoring aspect of the tool also means the company is more proactive to shifting customer demands and industry changes."

He estimated that Diners was able to reduce one headcount by using BI, which comes up to about S$30,000 (US$23,856) to S$40,000 (US$31,808) annually in tangible savings.

Hosting its data on SingTel's servers also yielded savings as the travel agency no longer needed to acquire additional hardware and manpower to set up and maintain an on-premise data center, he added.

It currently pays QlikTech between S$4,000 (US$3,191) and S$5,000 (US$3,989) monthly in maintenance fees.

Additionally, due to the software's simple user interface, the travel agency did not have to set aside time to train its employees on how to use the software. He said the company simply e-mailed relevant users instructions on how to feed the required data parameters to churn out relevant business reports.

Leveling the playing field
Customers are also benefiting from Diners's BI adoption as they are now offered targeted travel packages according to their past preferences.

Loo elaborated: "Previously there was a lot of guesswork involved when we suggested travel plans, but with BI, we can now better help our corporate customers reduce their overall travel spend by proposing more customized travel itineraries on their preferred airlines, oftentimes, at a cheaper rate."

This, in turn, helps Diners increase customer loyalty.

Furthermore, he noted that BI use within the travel industry was "still lacking" and, to his knowledge, only one other company, Zuji, currently utilizes such software to gain competitive advantage.

Ultimately, it has helped the midsize Singapore-based travel agency to better compete with larger entities such as American Express, as it is able to apply BI to gain comparable business insights into its own operations and enhance customer relations, Loo surmised.

Looking to the future, he said Diners will be looking to extend the use of BI across a wider cross-section of its overall business such as imputing more aspects of its operational data for analysis.

It would also be looking to generate relevant data for its customers and partners such as airlines and hotels. In doing so, it hopes to open up a possible new revenue stream by charging these companies for the data provided, Loo added.