Re-imagination of corporate travel

Our world has changed and the digital revolution is forcing all business and brands to reimagine themselves in order to not being disrupted. This is true for the newspaper industry, the music industry, the car industry (with Tesla) but also for the travel industry.

The key factors to consider are:

  1. Connectivity: Internet the information highway has dramatically changed our lives.
  2. Miniaturization: the computing power is increasing at a high pace. The Moore’s law is still valid and chip performance is still doubling every 18 months.
  3. Price of computation: the price of computation has decreased dramatically the last 15 years
  4. Cloud and platform elasticity: every application or business service can size more easily reacting nearly automatically to customers’ demand in the cloud, without requiring to buy and to operate huge data centers.
  5. Price of storage: digital non perishable goods can be stored in digital stores at a very low price enabling, then, company to offer a long tail of products.

Any business should now invest in process, product and tools that digitize capture, aggregate, curate data … and learn or invent how to generate value from it.

Homo Connecticus: A New Species

Volume of data we can capture or process with our brain is constantly increasing. Scientists recently found already some changes in the human brains, showing a beginning of evolution to cope with the data deluge. This is also true for our connected computer systems.

We are now part of a new species: the Homo Connecticus.

Homo Connecticus hunts for data

Homo Connecticus has to cope with three different kinds of data: public, shared and private.

  1. Data could be public, and shared to all. Public data like Open Data are free to capture, use, aggregate and value. Some have restrictions concerning their use (like flight alerts or train time schedules).
  2. Data could be private but shared publicly (on Facebook, twitter, Google Plus, Instagram). Each “sharing” service proposed its own intellectual property, presented as terms of service you should accept before using the service. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook were all known for having changed them several times to protect their business or increase advertising revenue.
  3. Data could be fully private, meaning only you can access it.

A new trend is appearing leading to a new kind of data: perishable data. Data will have associated to them a lifetime. SnapChat was one of the first service to implement this, with a considerable success.

Finally, most of the time, data could be accessed through API (Application Programming Interface) that defines both the queries you can ask (called a service) and the data format used for requesting and receiving the answer.

Let’s take an example. Imagine you want to go from one place to another. Before you had to buy a printed map, and use it to find your way. Now, in the digital world, digital maps are free to access and use (Bing Maps, Google Maps, Here.com). On top of maps, you can add public data: routes, store locations. You can then add real time public data like traffic on a map (Google defined an open protocol and open format called General Transit Feed Realtime).

Now add, shared information, also called crowd sourcing information from or any GPS app (like Waze) and you could refine the information and provide a better accuracy. Finally, add your starting and ending address and you will define your trip with private information.

And extend that example to a trip over two cities across the sea, and then you could experience a “door to door” service. Before, the old way of thinking was: define each segment thought alone (train, hotel), and feel the gap with printed paper and Google search. Now everything is aggregated into one non perishable “digital” story.

The Importance of Mobile

The previous example shows also the importance of mobile. Smartphones are like power plants, they generate a constant stream of data about you (as power plants generate electricity), about what you do and what your habits are. The mobile phone should then be seen and considered as an extension of your digital identity.

That’s why people are ready to spend hours in queues and several hundred of euro for the new iPhone. They are also doing it for buying Cronuts. But there is no correlation here, even if you can find a Google map to compare both queues in New York.

In a world of digital and pervasive data, everything could be compared, commented, and visualized in multiple ways. Data based Story Telling is then becoming the norm and it also forces brand to be more transparent. Secrets will be more and more difficult to keep, and competition will be able more easily to know everything about you. Amazon for example is benchmarking the price of its key articles seven times a day on average.

Airlines were the first to complain about that search and metasearch capability that destroys their value by letting customers evaluate their service based on “fare” only. Differentiating from your competition through digital platforms is harder than before, especially if you do not own your own platform. Expedia, Orbitz, Google, Amazon all spend huge amounts of money on building and enhancing their digital platform and creating an ecosystem (some will say walled-garden) around it using their APIs.

And “we’re living in a world where people can become businesses in 60 seconds” said B. Chesky (CEO of AirBNB). The power of the platforms is disrupting Travel (Blablacar for car pooling for example) and does only requires moving digital elements called bits.

The NEO period for Business Travel

The rate of new ideas, new technology and the thirst for information is constant and unquenchable.

Information and technology innovations advance like waves and as a business travel provider we have to be there on the shoreline working with those waves but also spotting what’s next on the horizon.

We are entering the “Neo” period that can be characterized by four major forces:

  1. The fluid traveler: Business travel has changed dramatically over the last decade. In the past business travel could be seen as regimented and fixed, but now we have to see each client journey as fluid. Every element of the journey is changeable and shifting. The information, the technology and the support we provide has to be as mobile and agile as the traveler. Our role is to ensure that ‘liquid’ is moved from container to container without leaking, spilling or losing volume.
  2. Each Traveler is a segment: Every service offered should be targeted to each fluid traveler, and it will be more and more difficult to create segments. The long tails clearly shows that you can earn money by targeting the long tail of niche needs provided to the right person at the right time. After Content, Context is key, segments are fluid …
  3. A mobility world: Mobility is the new normal. Most of the growth in travel will be domestic and on “short distances’. The last mile is still the one creating lots of stress and uncertainty, mainly due to lack of online planning capacity. Mobility integrators will be created and will integrate local suppliers within globally accessible booking platforms (local travel hubs like we have already for hotels or low cost airlines). There will be also more and more virtual meetings, and people travelling near to their office to join a virtual meeting room!
  4. Planning and living a Door to Door journey: The door-to-door concept is not only about planning at the beginning of the journey. It’s about a fully integrated service (voice triggered) which offers real-time intelligence and compliance knowledge at every stage of the trip.

In the Neo period, brands will have no choice than to offer a data continuum flowing to/from aggregation hub, automatically and securely. In the travel industry, it will be required to deliver the perfect trip or the perfect program.

The old mandate was to digitize the legacy business. In the Neo period, the new mandate is to digitally transform it. Reimagination of the whole industry and transformation of human mobility behavior:

  • Uber created a daily utility service and changed our daily behavior on transport, in key urban geographies around the world.
  • Occasional-use services Airbnb created a whole new hospitality sector.
  • Occasional-use services HotelTonight created a new behavior of last-minute hotel booking using mobile ONLY.

The Neo period requires imagination (people, talent), mastering technology (building your platform), a global online reach (you need to be bookable from “everywhere”) and powerful brand (and the associated social communities).

The Rise of Predictive Applications and Services

The “Neo” Period is disruptive not only because of its “big data” aspects, but also because of the usage of these data. We are shifting from a world of static reporting (aggregated data on cubes) to a world of predictive and intelligence services (generated value from data in multiple ways).

Aggregating data could be done with data at rest (stored in a Database, crunched with Hadoop V1) or with data in motion (data stream in real time, crunched with Hadoop V2 and Apache Spark).

Data at rest is used for reporting or data intelligence gaining insights from the past. For example, with data mining and analytic from data at rest, we could find for example that:

  1. 1/3 of travelers fly once a year — they represent 5–10% of the spend depending on client.
  2. Typically, the top 10% of travelers (in terms of frequency) account for 50% of the total spend.

Travel companies need to invest in predictive applications (and algorithms), based on real time data and providing Value and Intelligence Now! “Now” meaning “at point of sales”, when travelling (alerts, disruptions, etc.) or at any point in time of the travel journey (Context based).

What’s new is also the way intelligence is delivered to clients and travelers: They will not be looking for data (Pull mode), the data will have to find them (Push), follow them or precede them. Mobile will become the perfect recipient for such predictive services, through apps and web based “dynamic” dashboards.

With predictive apps, you can tell travelers that their flight could be delayed in the next 24 hours and propose options. Acting on the data stream, you could refine the result of a door to door journey query to match it with company travel stress index, hotel reviews, known delay, etc. And update it constantly.

The Trip Itinerary is no more a sheet of paper you will print out, but a living data aggregation piece, a never ending digital journal following your journey.

This will impact the way the predictive information will be delivered to people: could be through “cards” (like Google Now or twitter cards), through timelines (like WorldMate), through maps (like Google maps) or through instant communication (SMS, video like Hangout, etc.). Digital delivery mechanism will be key.

On the importance of the “Context”

Each second your mobile is able to provide information about your context : where you are, what time is it, the weather conditions, the current day. Data gathered could be used to provide “services” in context. For example, if you are in downtown paris friday at 20h, out from your home, then we could guess that you are meeting friends or going to a restaurant.

Services could be pushed to you in context. Of course, sometimes, there will be mistakes made. But, your mobile will learn, and will over the time improve the predictions. Snips is one example of such an application, preserving your data privacy (everything is computed on your phone) and learning from you. Path.Travel is another application, centered on Travel, that can also provides such intelligence to traveler.

The Big Mother Approach

Travel Management Companies (TMC) key capabilities should be to manage clients and travelers data and provide predictive services in context, respecting data privacy laws and terms of services accepted by them. It should become their DNA. The more information the TMC will capture, and process, the more personalized the service will be and the better value the client and traveler will perceive.

It is of paramount importance to understand that this is not a ‘Big Brother’ approach; it’s more accurate to say a ‘Big Mother’ approach. In order to give the best possible service to clients, TMC needs to be like any good parent and know our children. They have to ensure to know their challenges, behavioral differences and changing requirements. That’s where the power of brand will enter into play. Associated to brand is TRUST and the willingness to share data for a better service. The first movers in this field are Car Insurance Companies asking you to add a GPS device in your car and adapting your contract based on the way you drive.

The more data you have, the better it will be. And the more intelligence you will be able to offer, the better chance you will have to please your clients, and this is a virtuous circle.

Owning a platform

Considering then the future of travel as we envisaged it, the travel business will morph to mobility management (the last mile becoming the key element of the trip since not yet “managed”).

The number of suppliers to integrate will be enormous (especially in the last mile), and mobility integrators will become more and more important. Metasearch will spread and mobility meta-aggregators will emerge to enable multi-mode of transportation search (ever heard about Rome2Rio or KDS Neo?).

Big data will offer the capability to match suppliers offer to individual travelers demand in almost real-time: suppliers could be recommended depending on the relevance of their services for the specific trip, at booking time or in case of trip disruptions. Conversely, crowd/social preferences will begin to play a larger role in selecting the “right” supplier for the trip.

Big data can replace a lot of guesswork about who customers are and what they might want, but big data cannot, however, replace conversations. To follow and intelligently join conversations about your brand (particularly on social media sites) and your services, you will still need to manage “small data.” Data based commerce, will be social … Gartner says companies will generate 50% of web sales via their social presence and mobile applications by 2015.

The rise of the Blockchain

Corporate Travel being mainly about procurement, expense and payment, new disruptive technology like Blockchain. With Blockchain, the trust between employees (travelers), Corporations and suppliers (Airlines, Hotel, etc.) will be simplified and decentralized. We can then imagine :

  1. Each segment trip will be recorded in a block and chained in a private blockchain. It will be then easy to “reconstruct the trip”, generate KPI and use them for gamification to make people change their habits.
  2. Payment will be immediately recorded and validated by the corporation and the bank using “smart contract”. No need to ask previously for “authorization”, the decentralized trust systems will be doing it seamlessly.
  3. The expense system will be simplified and automatically recorded in a “ledger” like platform. This will enable them trust and transparency and reduce the need for dedicated tools.
  4. Blockchain could also be used to provide a solution for KWC (Knowing your customer). In the case of individuals, the process ranges from proof of identification and address through to understanding a person’s source of wealth, business interests and family connections, especially if they have politically active family relations. For businesses it means understanding the business, the entity structure, history, directors and shareholders, and how the business operates and makes money.
  5. Finally Blockchain will be used by travelers to prove that travelling is not just for fun and to create “proof of business value”, by being able to link trips and contracts.

The future of travel is still to be reimagined, and that’s really fascinating.