AAA Integrates Apps to Resolve Data Glut

Analyzes travel info to target hot spots

AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, has gone live with newly integrated software that enables it to sort and analyze customer data, which the company will use to secure better travel deals for its members.

"We've always had more data than we knew what to do with," said Glen Mac Donell, manager of data management and analysis at AAA's national offices in Heathrow, Fla. "The difference is how to track it."

For years, he said, the 81 independent AAA and Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) clubs have collected customer data through three business-intelligence software products from Cognos Inc. in Burlington, Mass. The three products were linked to the national office by a third-party, custom-built application, but it couldn't track all of the information.

"They didn't work well together. [The previous, proprietary system] didn't really get all the information that we would normally get," Mac Donell said.

Culling the data is nothing new, analysts say. "That's a practice throughout the travel industry," said analyst Kate Rice at online travel researcher PhoCusWright Inc. in Sherman, Conn.

But getting it quickly and accurately is another matter. "The whole challenge is having the right data," Rice noted.

AAA is "behind the eight ball" in terms of culling and analyzing its data, according to Richard Eastman, CEO of The Eastman Group Inc. in San Francisco. "[But] there is an advantage to being behind the curve. An astute business company can recover from having made an incorrect strategic guess, and they can learn from others' experiences," he said.

The automobile association offers travel, insurance, financial and emergency road services to almost 44 million members in North America. The group's travel arm and CAA provide them with information about airlines, hotels, car rental firms, tour companies and cruise lines.

Using integration technology from Cognos partner Sky Solutions LLC in Saddle Brook, N.J., the association can now track how many members it books for a specific hotel and provide data on which locations are most popular. AAA wants to use the data to negotiate better rates from hotels and tourist services for its members by year's end, said Mac Donell. The data will also help the association target its promotional efforts, based on where large numbers of members travel.

Reports generated from Cognos' Impromptu, PowerPlay and DecisionStream software are posted on AAA's intranet. Mac Donell and a few colleagues conduct the business analysis, while the 100-person-plus IT department runs the server.

Previously, AAA outsourced its server and server maintenance. But now it has the server in-house, which makes changes and maintenance easier and cheaper, according to Mac Donell. After Sky Solutions did the initial implementation, it "handed the keys over" to AAA, Mac Donell said, and let him and his colleagues configure the data analysis queries themselves.

Other travel services also use Cognos to analyze customer data. Dallas-based Sabre Holdings Corp. uses it at two of its subsidiaries, Inc. and GetThere Inc., to sort customer data.

Lebensart Technology Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based application service provider for the the hospitality and tourism industry, also uses Cognos for its business intelligence.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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