Lee Hayhurst - Big Interview:
Travel firms need to start figuring out how to inspire people when they are searching for travel options using voice-enabled devices, and do it quickly and accurately.
Nigel Beighton, the newly appointed chief information officer at leading travel technology developer Atcore, said technology, computing power and data storage is no longer limiting this ability.
Beighton, who has previously worked for lastminute.com, Capgemini, Symantec, Rackspace and Addison Lee, was speaking to Travolution following his appointment at Atcore in November.
He said travel is now facing the next paradigm in search as consumers migrate more and more towards searching using voice-enabled devices.
One in five searches on Android devices are now voice-driven and Chinese tech giant Baidu predicts by 2020 more people will be searching using images and voice that typing, said Beighton.
“We have passed the point where technology is the inhibitor. You have to work within commercial boundaries, but a lot of this is about vision, strategy and people.
“In tech terms we are beyond the singularity where we can now hold all the world’s information and data. And we can now, using various services, access as much infrastructure as we want.
“We have cracked the human genome, we now have machines doing hundreds of thousands of different calculations a second and churning through answers.
“The challenge is humans not knowing how to make use of this, or how to do it efficiently. We still struggle to get groups of people to work together. It’s a people challenge, not a tech challenge.”
Beighton said a factor in the evolution of technology is that less new functionality will be built and more existing systems will be plugged in and configured.
“I don’t understand anyone now who starts to build a data warehouse. They are sat there ready for people to use,” he said.
However, change in travel is difficult, Beighton conceded, because it remains a very human business. “You need those human beings, you cannot replace everyone with robots,” he said.
But he believes brave companies, like lastminute.co.uk during the first dot com bubble and Uber today, push the boundaries of what is possible and others follow.
The proliferation of mobile devices and the ease of transacting over mobile networks today means the customer is accessible to the providers of product and experiences like never before.
“It’s an area travel has not yet wakened up to; putting the effort in to make this a great customer experience. Is this going to be enough of a priority focus for us as a sector?
“Does the consumer want this enough? Do we make enough money out of it to go out and do it? Travel companies I talk to get that they can offer a better customer experience using mobile.
“All customers have a mobile, it’s just an extension of what else can we do for them. I think we will see this happen over the next couple of years.”
Another technology area that is easily accessible to travel firms is machine learning which Beighton said other sectors are using to automate processes and improve how they deal with customers.
He said travel firms should recognise the benefits. “Travel is an industry that’s very margin sensitive and yet it’s not really using machine learning to think about how to optimise that margin.
“It’s strange because we know how to do it. There are mathematicians out there advising the likes of the finance and car industries how to optimise what they do using machine learning.”
Beighton added: “It’s all about how you evolve product and services. There are lots of things happening.
“Customers, businesses, tour operators want to do interesting stuff. There is lots of technological change happening in the market, it’s how do you embrace it without disrupting things.”