Big companies still struggle with big data. That was my big takeaway when I read the news that Expedia is acquiring Orbitz to form a massive travel services company. For consumers, the joining of these two online travel giants could mean access to even more information, and therefore reap the advantages of volume pricing due to the purchasing power of the merged entity.
But, the only way that consumers will realize value from the Expedia/Orbitz marriage is through airtight data integration and management within the new company. And that challenge is easier recognized than solved.
Behind every flight, hotel, car rental, and vacation package managed by these two companies — totaling at least $140 billion per year — is a set of incredibly complex data points, arrived at through sophisticated algorithms and mathematical gymnastics. It’s still pretty amazing, if you think about it, that the average traveler can find search results within seconds of querying the Expedia or Orbitz database for, say, a multicity roundtrip flight for a family of four.
The magic behind this speedy return of results is algorithmic, yes, but it’s also built into the data architecture. I haven’t been under the hood at either company, but it’s safe to assume that they each have built a framework for storing, retrieving, securing, and delivering data to front end interfaces that combines both homegrown and third-party solutions.
It’s also safe to assume that the engineering behind it is quite complex—and requires a high degree of maintenance due to the volume of consumer activity that takes place on each company’s systems every year. Again, without having insider knowledge of either Orbitz or Expedia’s technology architecture, I would bet that managing technical debt is a high priority for these companies as they keep their systems strong and flexible over months and years of high-volume, high-complexity big data management.
So, the success of the new Expedia-Orbitz entity will not just be contingent on a great new name, a cool logo, and great advertising at the Super Bowl. It will be contingent on the strength of the technology foundation on which the new company is built and the ability to capitalize on their big data. The consumer experience will live or die on the back of Expedia and Orbitz’s engineering intelligence.
This is especially true as people rely on an increasingly diverse set of devices and access points for researching and booking travel. The Internet of Travel isn’t going to get any simpler, and the data associated with it isn’t, either.
Big data may have become an overused cliché in the IT world, but it’s also still a vital challenge for companies for whom data is their livelihood. It will be fun to watch how Expedia and Orbitz tackle this challenge — and how consumers respond.