Getting the most out of the Business Analytics team

Sonja Woodman, Independent Travel Tech Writer
Connie Marianacci, Director, eCommerce Strategy & Performance, NCA Region at Accor
Salman Akbar, Director, BI & Analytics, NCA Region at Accor


Salman and I sit at the regional corporate office of Accor. Our specific responsibility is to work with corporate and property level teams to get the best use from the data available.  From an E-commerce stand point, I review how our web direct tactics impact revenue performance.  We act as a central business intelligence resource, using central expertise to help teams get BI reports needed to run their operations. From our office in Toronto, we are responsible for the hotels in Canada, USA, Mexico and the Caribbean.

As part of the HEDNA Best Practices series, we document steps to provide answers to different business needs. The goal is to spark inspiration and encourage you to develop better processes than ours!

1.      Managing the Business Needs

1.1      Discovering Needs

There are many business needs that come to us from different departments. To come up with the right solution, it is important for us to understand:

    • What is the need?
    • Who is asking?
    • What are the current processes in place?
    • Determine if the new ask will replace or fill in a gap.

1.2      Prioritizing Business Needs

Each department that approaches us with a new identified report request believes it is important.  We understand that, which is why we manage the priorities.  We review each new project against the following:

    • Importance – Prioritization of effort and resources
    • Value – Not all projects deliver the same returns

As part of an assessment of the importance and relative value, we use this matrix to help prioritize each of the requests that come in.

Matrix to determine Priority and Value

Image 1: Matrix to determine Priority and Value

Once each request gets labeled within one of these quadrants, here is what the potential list of projects might looks like:

Image 2: Typical New BI Project List

Image 2: Typical new BI project list

Next comes the development of a detailed roadmap itemising the tasks and development effort to undertake the project:

Image 3: Navigate tasks and effort across project timescale

Image 3: Navigate tasks and effort across project timescale

2.    Concept of “Working Group” of select stakeholders per report

When a new BI request gets the green light, it’s important to get consensus by involving all stakeholders along the journey to the final product. We achieve this by setting up a “working group” to brainstorm and test ideas. The working group includes teams from the hotels, so that they can provide guidance and recommendations in a real life scenario. To ensure success, many factors to be consider:

    • What makes good candidates for a working group:
      • Subject matter experts
      • Influential in the community
      • Willing to give real feedback
      • Be a real user of the report/tool provided
    • Expectations of the working group members:
      • Understanding of the commitment they are signing up for
      • Appreciation of the inevitable increase in workload (besides their day jobs)
      • Ability to incorporate the new report/tool into their operations

3.    Process of creating reports

Successful projects are a result of balancing deadlines, a budget, and the quality of work. This is where organizational skills come into play. Lack of organization is detrimental to any project, but there are many ways to ensure you achieve what you set out to do. The following is a set of steps to follow from beginning to end:

Image 4: Main operational steps

Image 4: Main operational steps

Main operational steps

Step 1Review business needs and where they come from

Understanding the business needs from the beginning will save you time in the long run.  Answer questions like:

      • What question are we trying to solve?
      • What report is already out there but not covering the need?
      • Is the data needed one time or is it daily, weekly, monthly?

Understanding the business need helps you to focus on displaying the information that people can actually use in the right way. This includes:

      • Easy readability
      • Simple and concise reporting
      • Displaying the right variables
      • Providing the right dynamic options for the users to slice and dice

Step 2Review the need and translate it into a goal.

Work out how the need is being met by turning the business question into a goal and identifying a path to achieve it.

      • What data is being used?
      • Can the business need be answered with the data available?
      • What types of graphs?
      • Who would have access?

Step 3 – Identify the Working Group members.

The working group will help guide the design of the report. What qualities should the individual members of the working group have:

      • Willingness to offer constructive criticism
      • Proactive to take part in brainstorm and provide feedback
      • Include the report within their day to day routine

The working group is key to the success of the report since it increases the probability of the targeted users to actually use it.

Step 4Review the data that can help solve the need.

What data and from where is it sourced?  There may indeed be many data sources to respond to the business need. Review which one is most appropriate to use. In particular, ask:

      • Quality of the data: completeness, out of the 100% of the transactions, are they all there, etc.
      • Trust and reputation of the data source: how users perceive it
      • Which stakeholders are currently using the data
      • Easiest way it can be pulled and can this be scheduled automatically
      • Long term availability

Step 5 – Draft the questions that the data will answer. 

Select the data.  List the questions to answer with the data.  Do they match the initial stated goal/purpose of the report?  The need of more data is sometimes found. It is also important to remain focused on the goal to achieve. Create a separate list with proposed enhancements and label it “wish list” if new needs arise.

Step 6Review the business need and confirm project scope to stakeholders.

It does sometimes happen that the stakeholders don’t know what they want. Going back to the stakeholders with a summary of it all helps to:

      • Reinstate the goal at hand
      • Remind them of what they prioritized and make sure it is still aligned with what they are looking for
      • Manage expectations about what they will be getting back

Add new needs arising to the “wish list.”  If needed, create “phases” to include later in the report, based on the different needs. For example:

      • PHASE 1: cover MAIN questions identified as the goals of the report.
      • PHASE 2: simple enhancements that make it easier to read the report
      • PHASE 3: more complex data points that will be required to drill down.  (This could go on a separate tab).

Step 7Create view – mockups / prototypes first.

It is important to verify how detailed the data in the reports need to be. Preparing some mockups helps review the look and feel with the main stakeholders and get their feedback. This saves time when creating the report on the visualization tool.

Having a mock-up provides the opportunity to get feedback from stakeholders.  Regardless if it’s on paper, in excel or within the data visualization tool itself.

This step is often overlooked, but it is quite important. In the case of Tableau, for example, the tool makes it so easy to:

      • Create a “mockup” type of view for presentation
      • Design a report based on the mockup using live data samples. (People sometimes don’t appreciate how the format of the data can impact the processes needed to make the data actually usable. Not using live data may cause delays in the long run.)
      • At least, use test data with the same structure as the live data. (Using a sample from the live data set is more valuable than using random test data)
      • Recommendation:  Involve the Working Group in an iterative fashion.
        The earlier you seek feedback, the earlier you can make corrections. This will impact the effectiveness of your work and will increase the probabilities of the report being a success.

4.    Beta launch the view to working group

Beta testing is where you launch the developed report to a real audience in a real environment. Beta testing is an important part in report development.  Once it’s completed, it ensures that the product provides excellent user experience.  Some best practice points include:

    • Give time to test
      We often find that for stakeholders to test a report, some handholding is needed.  Our current process is as follows (I know it sounds basic, but it takes time and patience):

      • Present the beta report in detail to the working group
      • Walk them through each section of the report and show them how it is useful to them. At this point, they often don’t have questions.
      • Use the report like they would to answer questions with the data available
      • Let them know that you would like their feedback by a certain date
      • Check in half way through the deadline before reconvening as a group
      • On deadline date, get individual feedback to avoid ‘Group Think’ tendency
      • Optimize the report views based on the feedback
      • Review the updates with the working group and collect any final feedback
    • Use real/live data

5.  Launch the report to the wider audience

Use standard and pre-existing “communication vehicles” to launch the report e.g:

    • Sharepoint discussion board
    • Newsletters (email)
    • “Whats New” teaser icon on the internal website
    • Host a 30 minute virtual session to introduce the report
    • Call to follow up

Recommended Tip

    • Do not remove the old process yet. The goal is to show the value of switching to the new process and buy in comes best when users make the switch for themselves.
    • Use the same vehicles of communication every time

6.    Engagement measurement and strategy

One of the most challenging steps of creating new reports is to stay relevant and keep users engaged.  So once implemented it is worth keeping track of metrics and KPIs such as:

    • Page views
    • Engaged users vs one log-in users, by whom, how often
      • Remind users of existing reports
    • Understand the challenges that both frequent and infrequent users have and work with them to fix them
    • Conduct an annual satisfaction survey (to collect more feedback on usage).

What Comes Next?

We use various tools to interact with corporate and property level teams, including:

    • Conference (internal)
    • Sharing best practices amongst hotel/corporate teams
    • How to manage follow up requests
      • Follow the prioritization process identified earlier

Finally, here are a few things that you might not have thought about 

    • People always love Excel!.  It’s a culture change for them to move to a more purpose built BI report.  People get upset if you take the report, hence engagement and inclusion is important.
    • Don’t forget about print outs.  Hotels still use paper.
    • Set clear definitions (and make sure everyone knows them).
    • Don’t take training for granted – it is an important part of acceptance.
    • Building and maintaining trust in the data is key.


HEDNA Hotel Analytics Working Group

The Hotel Analytics Working Group raises awareness of the opportunities data analysis brings to optimize cost and conversion and thereby empower hoteliers to collect, store, analyze and action their data to make intelligent decisions about their distribution strategies. The group is currently Co-chaired by Matthew Goulden of Triometric, Connie Marianacci of Accor and Nitin Bajah of NTTData. Click here to find out more and how to join as a HEDNA member.

This blog:

  • Written by Sonja Woodman, Independent Travel Tech Writer
  • Contributors include: Connie Marianacci and Salman Akbar

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