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Friday, 04 December 2015 12:46

Big data: from investment to business as usual

Posted By  Thierry Bedos

CTO at Hotels.com Thierry Bedos, offers four pieces of advice for CIOs to help successfully integrate big data into their everyday business.

Hotels.com is one of the world’s leading online booking services and is an early adopter of advanced and predictive data analytics with over 15 million Rewards members and over 14 million customer reviews. But, how can big data help to create a successful online booking service?

One of the most important success metrics for an online booking platform is to offer customers an excellent user and booking experience that is independent from the devices they are using or where they are. The continuous improvement of our sites usability is based on analysis from various sources including clickstreams, reviews, personal preferences of users, and hotel profiles. App developers are able to improve the user interface and the algorithms behind the booking procedure by understanding the customer journey beyond just one session.

Choose the right platform

We all know that the right technology platform makes or breaks an IT project; the same can be applied to big data solutions. But how can we make the right choice? A technology decision should be based on a thorough assessment of business needs and deciding what could benefit from data analysis in the future. CIOs shouldn’t focus purely on investment costs when choosing the technology. The evaluation should also include performance, reliability, usability, data security and – this is very important - scalability.

After weighing up all the pros and cons, Hotels.com chose Datastax Enterprise as its online data platform, which is based on the open-source Apache Cassandra NoSQL database. This allows Hotels.com to benefit from features such as built-in management services, extra security features, and external Hadoop integration that complements the features of a pure open-source solution free of charge. We also benefit from Datastax’s support, maintenance and update services. That leaves us free to focus on data analysis and supporting the Hotels.com business.

 Get the bosses on board

A big data project requires both investment and cross-company collaboration: silo thinking could be an obstacle to long-term success. A main goal for Hotels.com, for example, was to break down the barriers between the online world of our booking platform and the offline world with our data warehouse solution at its heart. This required a massive change in entrenched processes.

We found that the best way to get backing from the bosses was to prove that we could achieve a quick return on investment (ROI). To demonstrate this we collected more than 150 business use cases that would be possible with the proposed platform. We then selected a subset of 10, which were suited to illustrating a proof of concept within a narrow time frame. Seeing our proposed platform delivering quick wins helped to convince the board and served as a stepping stone to more challenging use cases.

Data privacy comes first

Customer trust is a precious commodity and respect for data privacy is one important key to success. Therefore CIOs should ensure that their big data strategy is carefully balanced with a commitment to protect customer data security.The use of anonymisation is vital to protect every user’s privacy, especially when analysing large quantities of aggregated data.

Make data analysis business as usual

Regarding cost, time and organisational restraints, project leaders should always keep sight of long-term development to build a reliable, efficient and future proof platform. Scalability is an important component in long-term planning to ensure that the technological platform is able to keep pace with the ever increasing flood of structured and unstructured data.

CIOs should start to integrate the analytics processes into everyday business once the platform has been established and first use cases have yielded results. Only when this has become business as usual should IT and data teams address new projects to advance the company’s business even further.

More than analytics

Big data is closely linked to data analytics, but Hotels.com’s big data platform goes far beyond that. One of the most important uses of data is to deliver a cross-device user experience for multiple screens and independent from where they are. On the one hand we analyse user data in order to determine which devices are being used. On the other hand, we also log data in order to be able to recognise the destinations each specific user has been searching for on the company’s booking platform and to ensure that customers are recognised on any device, so that they can pick up where they left off in their search for a hotel. This allows users to begin looking for accommodation, for example, on a tablet while travelling by train, before confirming the booking on a desktop at home without the need to start the booking journey again. This is only one example of how Hotels.com uses its data platform to improve the booking experience and make it as personal as possible.

About the author

Thierry Bedos is CTO at Hotels.com and is in charge of the global technology teams that deliver and operate all the online websites and mobile apps for Hotels.com. Thierry was the founder of a few startups in Asia and co-authored patents on web technologies. He holds an engineering degree from Supélec, France and currently lives in London.

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