Big data could bring “a second Age of Enlightenment”, according to PwC partner Matthew Tod, an expert in digital analytics.
“We’ll understand what is going on in our world much better,” he argues. It will “turn the lights on”.
But businesses need to act fast, he says, not just because they risk being left behind but because it may become more difficult to extract data.
“The next Data Protection Act will give consumers the right to be forgotten by companies,” said Tod.
“A directive is working its way through Europe now. When this becomes law it will become more difficult to track visitors. There will be more protocols.
“We may well now be in a golden age of big data. The regulators and consumer behaviour will catch up.”
Tod, who will address Abta’s Travel Convention in Ljubljana, Slovenia, next month on ‘the power of data’, said: “We have more data and more analytical ability and there is no excuse for not participating. The costs have fallen to $1,000 a year using something like Amazon Web Services. Google Analytics is free.”
But he added: “The whole thing around ‘big data’ is a red herring. Every time a customer loads a page it generates 20-30 data points. Everyone has big data.”
Tod sees two issues holding businesses back: “Companies are not asking the right questions and not finding the right person to answer questions.”
He said: “They need to ask better questions. A bad question would be ‘Tell me the top pages on the website’ or ‘What pages do people leave most regularly?’ A better question would be: ‘Tell me the pages that new prospects leave most often and never return.’
“Knowing the top exit page is useless – it’s usually the homepage. A business is interested in where new customers fall out and don’t come back.”
Tod added: “People research travel multiple times. So where they left the last time you saw them is what is important. You can start to reach an understanding of the root cause of departures. People most often leave a hotel site because there is no availability on the date they want, not because of anything to do with the page design. The conclusion might be ‘we need more inventory’.”
Tod argues data expertise should be bought in: “It should be a critical hire in a company. It requires a very definite set of skills – a scientific set of skills – to work with raw data.”
He suggests an OTA with 50 staff “could easily have a team of three or four” working on data analytics.
Complying with privacy laws and maintaining consumer trust will become tougher, he warns, saying: “No consumer says ‘I want to be tracked’. Why would they? We have to be hugely concerned with obeying the law.
“Lots of people block tracking – look at the popularity of blocking tools.
That is one reason you never get perfect data.
“Most organisations have buckets of customer data and when the new Data Protection Directive becomes law, companies will have to track and delete data in all of them.”
Matthew Tod is due to speak on ‘Unleashing the Power of Data’ at The Travel Convention in Slovenia on Tuesday, September 23. To register go to: thetravelconvention.com