Interview with Vytautas Baronas, Chief Data Officer

20. April 2021

In May 2017, The Economist published an article about regulating the internet giants entitled “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. This statement summarises perfectly what Vytautas Baronas has at heart, as he eats Data for Breakfast. Recently promoted to Chief Data Officer, Vytautas looks back at his 14-year journey with Infare and tells us why the quality of data is such an obsession.

How do you reflect on the Infare journey since you joined in 2007? What are some of the key milestones you are particularly proud of?

When I joined Infare 14 years ago, the company was a start-up. It was and is still challenging, exciting and, for the most part, a fun place to work at. It is pretty remarkable how much we achieved and how much more capable we have become. If I needed to choose a couple of key milestones, it would be opening the Vilnius office and leading the Data Extraction Team.

We opened the Vilnius office 10 years ago. I was not very experienced back then, so managing a new location was extremely exciting and a bit intimidating at the same time. When I look back, my level of trust and support from management and colleagues was incredible, and I am grateful for it.

For quite a few years, I was leading data extraction. We have managed to grow the team with incredibly talented and eager-to-learn people. Moreover, we have significantly improved technologies and further expanded our know-how. Again, it would not have been possible without the contribution of other teams. I am thrilled with what we achieved and absolutely convinced that the team and data extraction capabilities will only improve with the leadership in place.

And now, I am super excited to start in the new role of CDO with hopes to maintain and improve the quality of data we deliver and provide valuable data-driven insights both externally and internally.

How do you define data quality? What is unique about the Infare approach to data quality?

When it comes to the data we deliver to our customers, there are three main data quality dimensions – accuracy, completeness, and timeliness. We achieve the highest quality when all data matches the requested data source perfectly, no data is missing, all necessary data details are present, and we deliver on time.

Continually delivering high data quality is not trivial at all. There are tremendous pressure and challenges in extensive volume data extraction and delivery. I think we are doing exceptionally well from an operational point of view. We have a reliable data delivery system; we have know-how and experience in the industry; we have an automated data validation and transformation that ensure data consistency.

Finally, we have over 200 Airline customers who work in our community Give to-get model. Airlines consuming data from Infare also contribute data back to the Airline community. Having data partnerships with Airlines helps to overcome numerous challenges related to large scale data extraction.

That said, there is always room for improvement. I am happy that we established the CDO position; a key goal is to improve and preserve data quality. More concretely, short term, we will focus on creating much more transparency to our data and data quality. Furthermore, we will work closely with Airlines and other partners to ensure we have access to high-quality data efficiently. Longer-term, we are looking at exciting new ways of obtaining and sharing data.

How have customers’ needs evolved with time? Has the crisis impacted the airlines’ needs for data?

Capabilities of consuming and making sense of large quantities of data have increased drastically over the ten last years. We used to extract 20 million records a day ten years ago; now, it is 3 billion records. Furthermore, our customers are much more insistent on data quality and are enquiring about additional data details. It shows that usage of our data is extending.

Currently, the industry is undergoing an unprecedented crisis. Even so, the majority of Airlines decided not to decrease their data consumption. I hope that our data helps Airlines to navigate through difficult times.

Airlines made it clear that additional data sources experimented with during the crisis were here to stay and should be standardised during the crisis. At the early stage of the pandemic, we decided to refocus our development efforts and halt the projects that did not directly benefit airlines efforts into recovery once demand indeed returns.

We have and are listening to customers and are investing in developing and incubating a series of new initiatives to expand our offering on data types to provide you with a greater competitive edge. The data offering will remain within the framework of our standard give-to-get model and will be announced as we release them.

What are the data sources used by Infare? What are your thoughts on NDC?

We always liked to screen scrape websites from a data quality perspective as we consider data coming from website representation of what passengers see. However, we understand that large scale screen scraping is not sustainable. Therefore, we work together with our customers in redirecting our data extraction to alternative data sources, supplying equal data quality and details as in the direct sales channel/booking engine/airline website. We are consuming a large proportion of data through APIs provided by our airline customers or their technology partner of choice.

NDC is a great initiative by Airlines to deliver better products and offers to travellers through various distribution channels. From Infare perspective, NDC APIs are a great additional alternative to screen scraping; we love the fact that Airlines are in control of NDC APIs and expansion of data details.

Besides the current Infare data scope, NDC APIs are opening an opportunity to expand the data we deliver to our Airline customers. For example, Airlines are interested in ancillary data for a long time. Still, extraction was either limited by data sources, or screen scraping on a significant enough scale would have been too expensive. As NDC usage is expanding, it might finally be possible to deliver expanded data required by Airlines.