Technology trends.

Software developments that disrupt the market, guiding business performance and customer experience.

By Luke Francis29th August 2018

Technology is ever-changing and the rapidity of software evolution increasing. Not only does this affect our daily lives – in fact, individual tolerance and comfort with technology changes has increased – but also the way businesses operate.

In this post, we explore some of the most interesting and relevant developments that will play their part in future markets. Rapid implementation of new tech isn’t necessarily the best way to go, but it’s vital for companies, specifically in but not limited to the travel sector, to keep an eye out for opportunities. Being aware of the trends we’re exploring here and adopting what makes sense for your business can help you with operational efficiency and boost customer engagement.

Customer-centricity.

Alongside with profits, the customer experience is increasingly an area of focus for companies. In historical comparison, this can even be described as a fairly new economic era. Forrester research have coined this model:

  • The age of manufacturing saw the rise of brands like Ford, Boeing, GE, RCA they achieved success through making new things first.
  • The age of distribution created brands like Wal-Mart, UPS, P&G who drove competitive advantage through supply chain.
  • The age of information sees those who have data dominate, e.g. Amazon and Google.
  • The age of the customer puts the customer in control, as is the case with Uber, AirBnB and Netflix.

This shift towards a customer-centric strategy is a change in mentality cross-industry. In the flights sector, we see movements towards a “pay for what you use/need” approach, where airlines increasingly offer base fares with upsell options like merchandising, free cancellations, increased flexibility. Network Distribution Capability (NDC) is the technical approach to this movement. The reason for this is not just to improve carriers’ abilities to compete with low-cost suppliers/vendors, it’s also about allowing customers to really decide what they want. For example, why would baggage be needed for a business traveller on an overnight trip?

We can see a further move towards engaging customers on their terms with an interesting trend of millennials using travel agents. Millennials do not mind to book their trips in travel agencies if they offer them something valuable, whether it is specialist services, unique travel offers tailored to them or in-depth knowledge. The modern consumer travels more and spends more on travel, but also has a keener understanding of the limits of technology - and where a person can add more value.

The development towards increased customisation is evident in both examples. As consumption habits are evolving and becoming more individualised, businesses are required to adapt.

The following steps will help you as a travel brand to improve customisation:

  • Identify how your USP and customer-centring come together. Communicate how you specifically serve them and their preferences.
  • Transform business related KPIs to customer related KPIs.
  • Unify operations, marketing, sales and IT to work to these objectives.

Closer technology consolidation and specialisation.

The number of software companies increases and modern software development languages and practices evolve, creating an expectation of technology that can integrate with other systems simply. We see two trends in creation, seemingly contradicting each other at first glance: Technology consolidation and specialisation.

Technology consolidation.

For businesses, it’s hard to grow with an infrastructure of large, complicated, poorly integrated technology stacks and many different systems. Modern software offers flexibility and diversity and is applicable to different uses. It’s likely we’ll see a move towards companies valuing fewer providers, offering high functionality on each platform.

Services like Zapier are helping with time-saving workflow management, for example. The objective for core systems is to share data in real time. Applied, we are looking at the phone line, website, reservations system, email tool and CRM all working together.

Blockchain is a move to an even closer integration of technology, moving it from an API level to a data level. When people think of blockchain, most think of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. However, the underlying technology focuses on the idea of decentralising data storage, with all data being held by each party in the chain. An interesting implementation of this is with Travel Ledger, which is using blockchain technology to power a billing and settlement platform for the travel industry. This lets different entities involved in travel planning hold and amend data in a decentralised system which applies the changes in the chain.

Technology specialism.

 Different from a broad integration of multiple features, this means tapping deeper into a specific area. Following the simplified collaboration of different software, the idea of focusing on a specific area in one of those software systems is the route to success. We can see an increasing trend towards companies adopting new tech for each business challenge. For example, disrupters like Monzo, Revolut or SofI are making huge waves in the banking space.

Data consolidation, refinement and exploitation.

Data, for many years, has been a key company asset. Tesco was one of the first companies to pioneer in the use of mass consumer data, improving performance from 1995 with their Clubcard. The figures collected were used to measure performance, client buying habits, and trends over time.

Google takes that a step further. For millions of people worldwide, Google knows:

  • Where they’ve been (with incredible accuracy).
  • What they’ve searched for.
  • Buying preferences, taste in music, the books they like to read.
  • Apps used.
  • Contacts saved in their Google account.
  • And perhaps more. Google users can check their Google Dashboard or request insight into their data records for further details.

The possibilities for data collection are grand. To be useful and future-proof, however, data processing must evolve. The following trends will likely affect companies from SMEs right up to large corporates.

Data consolidation.

One attempt that GDPR has certainly accelerated is in trying to bring disparate data sources into fewer data repositories. Many companies use multiple systems to store details about clients, purchases, marketing, analytics and trends without a system between them that shows a single customer view. Similar to technology consolidation, we’ll see further consolidation of data within these systems.

Data refinement.

We are almost past the motto of “the more data you have, the better”. Large amounts of data certainly open doors to new possibilities around analytics, trends and personalisation - but each of these can be negatively impacted by poor quality. Looking forward, refinement will be essential.

Data exploitation.

Without providing insight, data is useless. Rather than conducting far more measurements than can be analysed or merely for the sake of it, we will see efforts to make more use of the data that is collected. New channels of communication, smarter analytics and innovative exploitation techniques will work towards a higher value of available data.

Automation.

Automation is certainly a hot topic at the moment and its applications are diverse. The basic purpose is to delegate simple tasks to an automated instance, so a human can perform higher-value work. In the software field, examples include:

  • Automated data checks, letting a human focus on improving data quality on the macro scale.
  • Automated basic software testing so a human can work on the overall quality strategy.
  • Automated price yielding so human time is freed for trend analysis.

Automated Processes.

Automation of processes is usually designed around three goals:

  • Scalability
  • Efficiency
  • Consistency

As technology advances, many companies are approaching automation with the view that any process that can be automated, should be automated. However, factors such as future objectives for your company and keeping control over the system you’ll be working with need to be considered. This Forbes article contains a good selection of tips to make process automation a success – in short:

  1. Fully understand and define the current process.
  2. Define what you want to automate, how you would like it to look long-term and ROI.
  3. Start simple, go slow and get the team on board.

Automated Customer Service.

Automated or semi-automated customer service is becoming more and more common. Customer’s drive for on-demand services, self-service options and their desire to engage with a company at any time, day or night, will accelerate this progress. A lot of simple customer queries can be automated, leaving more complicated ones for humans to resolve.

Conversational systems are becoming more and more common. These fall into two general (but in no way isolated) categories:

  • Chatbots - On Facebook Messenger alone, there are more than 100,000 chatbots active to gather information, give product guidance and take orders. The efficiency and engagement stats of a well-purposed chatbot are impressive. Though chatbots are increasingly used and automated communication promoting omnichannel consistency is valuable, human interaction is still needed and won’t be replaced completely.
  • Assistants - We can imagine simple systems such as bi-directional voice or text conversations, i.e. asking “what is the weather today”. However, there are more complex interactions such as collecting feedback from customers to generate a recommendation for the next trip or leading their holiday booking. This video on Google Duplex shows how quickly this technology is evolving and how humanlike it seems.

Also, we increasingly see sentiment analysis and other pattern recognition technology being used to pre-empt customer service issues and automate interactions with people before an issue arises or progresses.

Evolution of “user interfacing”.

Way back in March 2015, Tech Crunch reported that the ‘battle is for the customer interface”. Examples listed can be seen in everyday life:

  • Uber owns no vehicles but provides rides worldwide.
  • Facebook, as a popular global media company, doesn’t create content.
  • Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory.
  • The most widespread accommodation provider Airbnb owns no real estate.

Interface owners are the fastest growing companies in history. They provide thin layers that sit on top of vast supply systems (where costs are) and are known by a huge number of customers (where the money is).

Similarly to augmented and virtual reality transforming the way people interact with one another and the world around them, software systems could create immersive environments. The idea of “try before you buy” holidays could become reality in the near future.