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Travel management company Clarity has turned to search software from ThoughtSpot to develop an analytics-based tool for its own business clients, as well as using it inside the company.
The Manchester-based firm’s service Go2Insight uses ThoughtSpot’s search and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven analytics platform to support travel buyers, travel managers, human resources (HR) and procurement professionals.
Its systems integrator partner Assimil8 built Go2Insight, which also integrates IBM Cognos, Qlik and IBM data warehouse technology. The user interacts through a portal called Theia that was designed by Assimil8.
Darren Williams, head of management information and data at Clarity, says ThoughtSpot makes it possible for a travel buyer to do series of simple searches, creating “pinboards” instead of having to get a data analyst involved. “It’s more like you’re searching through stuff from Amazon as opposed to using Google,” he says.
Williams joined Clarity in September 2017 as head of management information and data, shortly after a merger between Clarity and another travel management company, Portman. The combined entity was running a legacy version of IBM Cognos, and it wanted to have a fresh look at its business intelligence estate.
This year, it acquired Ian Allan Travel, and now has 650 staff across 16 sites in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Portman had an existing relationship with a reseller that was the first UK partner for ThoughtSpot, Assimil8.
“Portman’s had a relationship with them for about six years,” says Williams. “I got together with the Assimil8 guys and said, ‘I want to do a little bit more than just an upgrade of Cognos. And Assimil8 said, ‘We’ve got this platform, ThoughtSpot. Let’s give you some demos and take you through the potential of it’.”
The travel management industry is a “competitive space”, he adds. “There’s been quite a big transitional shift over the past seven years or so. I’ve been in the travel industry for 20 years, always in technical roles. I started as tech support, then got into software development.
“The management information and reporting capabilities of travel management companies has been historic in nature – ‘here are some reports, here’s a PDF we produce on last month’s activity on the 15th of the following month’, that kind of bread and butter, very slow kind of thing.
“I’ve been in the travel industry for 20 years, and there’s been quite a big transitional shift over the past seven years or so”
Darren Williams, Clarity
“Then we started to see more of a transitional shift, so you saw an increase in the common use of platforms like Tableau and [Microsoft] Power BI, so there was a lot more push in the industry of people delivering their own analytics platforms.”
From previous roles, Williams worked with Microsoft Power BI, Sisense and Tableau. In the role at Clarity, he “considered going down the Microsoft stack route” but came to the conclusion that “there wasn’t justification for the amount of effort that would be involved in lifting and shifting from the current Cognos estate”.
“I knew that I wanted to move away from a Travelogix platform, on the Clarity side, because on the Portman side we had a great infrastructure there,” he says.
“What we also leveraged from Assimil8 is the Theia wrapper,” says Williams. “Theia is a content aggregator, a proprietary bit of software that Assimil8 co-owns with a company in the US called Motio, and it acts as a UI [user interface], with a lot of scope for customising and branding, even down to the curvature of boxes on the screen.”
Clarity now has a connector from Theia into both Cognos and ThoughtSpot, as well as into QlikSense.
“If I wanted to, I could integrate Tableau at any point,” he says. “I could integrate Power BI. So from a user perspective, it’s a seamless interface, so when you go into Insight when you first log in, you’ve got the option to have a look at a Cognos report, a QlikSense report, or go straight into ThoughtSpot – the UI is seamless.”
Williams says ThoughtSpot’s AI-driven “pinboard” functionality enables a travel buyer user to see patterns in an employee’s travel in minutes, that would “previously have taken several hours by pulling spreadsheets together – that’s if you had the inkling to start and figure it out in the first place”.
“It’s that power, the fact that you can start at a point and drill down, and if you think that something’s not interesting, unpin it, get rid of your pin board, and start again,” says Williams.
Clarity signed its contract with ThoughtSpot in December 2017, and took shipment of its ThoughtSpot appliance in February 2018. By October 2018, it had combined Cognos, Qlik and ThoughtSpot in the Go2Insight product.
However, Williams admits ThoughtSpot is not the answer to everything.
“We’re not throwing all of our eggs in the ThoughtSpot basket and saying, ‘This is the be-all and end-all’, because, while it is an amazing product, if I want to send a scheduled PDF report every week to, let’s say, Doris at WH Smith, then I’m going to struggle doing that through ThoughtSpot,” he says.
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