STA Travel helps millions of people travel far and wide—but its own analytics processes were stuck on the ground. How could it bring faster, more nuanced insights to teams around the world?
Working with IBM Business Partner ICit, STA Travel set out on a journey to more agile and automated planning, budgeting and forecasting, powered by IBM Planning Analytics on Cloud.
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Business challenge story
Exploring new options
STA Travel brings affordable flights and worldly adventures within easy reach of around two million travelers every year. Nearly 2,500 employees working in 250 stores around the globe help people to plan their perfect trips.
To keep this far-reaching business running at its best, it is vital for STA Travel to maintain clear visibility of enterprise performance and tight control over all areas of operations. To shape a strong financial and operational planning foundation, the company has counted on IBM Analytics solutions for more than a decade.
However, the world of travel moves fast, and STA Travel recognized that its traditional approach to planning, budgeting and forecasting was making it difficult for the company to react quickly to constantly changing conditions.
Margaux Barradas-Brand, Commercial Finance Analyst at STA Travel, elaborates: “Previously, we ran an older version of Planning Analytics on-premises, at our headquarters in London. The trouble was that no one outside of our financial reporting team in London could access the system due to bandwidth issues.
“This meant that whenever we wanted to prepare a budget, forecast or other analyses, users had to load the relevant data into templates and export it, then our team would import it into Planning Analytics. We had to perform many manual workarounds just to get data into the system, which took a significant amount of time and effort. The result was that most analyses became out-of-date as soon as they were produced, and sometimes contained errors.”
She adds: “These limitations were preventing us from making best use of analytics. We wanted to enable accurate, real-time insight into data, and empower users across the entire business to create budgets, forecasts and ad-hoc reports themselves.”
Embarking on an analytics journey
After carefully evaluating its options, STA Travel determined that a cloud-based platform offered the ideal solution to its challenges. A longstanding user of IBM Analytics software, it was an easy choice for the company to migrate to IBM Planning Analytics on Cloud—a move that made STA Travel one of the very first adopters of the platform.
“Moving to Planning Analytics on Cloud felt like a natural next step in our analytics journey,” notes Margaux Barradas-Brand. “As a very early adopter, we definitely experienced some bumps and uncertainties along the way. At the same time, we had the opportunity to learn alongside IBM, and today we feel that Planning Analytics on Cloud has really found its place.”
To reduce risk and minimize business disruption, STA Travel ran Planning Analytics on Cloud in parallel with its existing analytics platform for close to a year, gradually transforming reports, testing new functionality and bringing new users onto the platform.
STA Travel trusts in longtime IT services provider and IBM Gold Business Partner ICit to keep the new platform in prime working order. Margaux Barradas-Brand comments: “ICit is a true partner, and we know we can depend on them whenever we have questions or run into problems. We also lean on the ICit team for support with more complex Planning Analytics projects, and they always deliver great results.”
By making the move to cloud, STA Travel has broken down the barriers that once stood in the way of accessing analytics—opening up new capabilities to users across its global business.
Margaux Barradas-Brand confirms: “Before, there were just five people on the financial reporting team in London who worked with Planning Analytics. Today, we have brought our Commercial Finance and Treasury teams on board, and we have a long waiting list of other people who are excited to use the new platform. Plus, it no longer matters if a user is based in London, Melbourne or Cape Town—now that we’re in the cloud, our people can access the platform from wherever they are in the world.”
She continues: “With Planning Analytics on Cloud, we are taking advantage of new capabilities for the first time. Previously, we used the platform for budgeting, reporting and analysis; now, we’re making use of modelling too. For example, we’ve worked with ICit to develop sales models that are used by our Commercial Finance team daily.”
Choosing a cloud platform has freed STA Travel from the expense and effort of maintaining an on-premises infrastructure. With IBM and ICit supporting the platform, the company also gains the stability of round-the-clock support and expert knowledge—easing pressure on its internal teams.
Today, STA Travel harnesses Planning Analytics on Cloud to handle everything from weekly sales reports, monthly budgets and executive reporting packs to foreign exchange reports, revenue models and ad-hoc analyses. No matter the output, teams are now able to access and work with data faster and more easily than ever before—bringing a new level of agility to analytics work.
“With Planning Analytics on Cloud, data is instantly available, and we’re able to manipulate that data in a much more flexible way,” says Margaux Barradas-Brand. “For example, if we want to run a what-if analysis to look at the potential impact of a natural disaster on sales and revenues, we can spin that up very quickly, without having to wrestle with multiple spreadsheets or run several reports. It is definitely helping us to anticipate and adapt to changing conditions in a much more agile way.”
In addition, faster, more automated planning and analysis processes are helping STA Travel to deliver rapid, highly accurate insights to the business—shortening turnaround times, reducing workload and boosting confidence in reporting figures.
“In the past, it often felt like we were fighting to prepare data and get it into the IBM system. And because we relied on very manual processes, analysis was slow and error-prone. Today, that’s all changed thanks to Planning Analytics on Cloud. Processes are much more automated and efficient from end-to-end. In fact, the improvements have helped us to cut two months off data loading time for our annual budget. The efficiency gains mean that our teams have more time to focus on quality control, deeper data analysis and creating new models.”
She concludes: “Perhaps most importantly, robust planning and real-time insights are helping us to change the way the business thinks about analytics. Before, people didn’t really believe in the budgeting and planning process or commit to reporting figures as the data was often out-of-date or inaccurate. With Planning Analytics on Cloud, we are delivering timely, accurate insights that decision-makers can trust and put into action—helping STA Travel better identify risks, seize new opportunities and steer successful business performance.”
STA Travel is the world's largest student and youth travel agency. Founded in 1979, today STA Travel employs almost 2,500 people in 250 stores around the world, helping around two million travelers a year start their adventure.
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ICit combines software implementation and accountancy expertise to help businesses become more efficient and profitable by delivering world class financial planning, budgeting and forecasting solutions. A leading IBM Planning Analytics partner, ICit specializes in business performance management solutions that provide faster analytical capability, better process control and greater integration across departments.
IBM Analytics offers one of the world's deepest and broadest analytics platform, domain and industry solutions that deliver new value to businesses, governments and individuals. For more information about how IBM Analytics helps to transform industries and professions with data, visit ibm.com/analytics. Follow us on Twitter at @IBMAnalytics, on our blog at ibmbigdatahub.com and join the conversation #IBMAnalytics.