How the Internet of Things is transforming travel

Tim Sherwood, vice president, mobility & IoT solutions, Tata Communications, talks how the Internet of Things can be harnessed for greater results in the travel industry

Sherwood: IoT brings ease to all partners in supply chain

The travel industry is in the throes of unprecedented change. There’s a trend towards leveraging mobility services, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) to automate services. Process management and cloud-based applications are revolutionising the sector too. We’re also seeing new competitors in this space, with many organisations introducing more customer-centric, digital business models, while industry stalwarts play catch-up.

Arguably, technology has already revolutionised the travel sector. Consumers are used to checking algorithm-based curated websites and apps to make their travel decisions. And, checking in for a flight online or using electronic travel documentation is already second nature.

As the IoT has the potential to change the travel market again, businesses need to embrace a strategic approach to their own digital transformation. That means understanding what the opportunities are, and how to capitalise on them while also protecting the business from risk. Let’s take a look at four key things that are going to usher in this next evolution.

Sherwood: IoT brings ease to all partners in supply chain

Growth across borders
The travel industry is global, so the infrastructure that supports it needs to be global too. To identify and achieve successful digital transformation, the industry will require best-in-class global infrastructure and information tools.

Getting the right connectivity services up and running is particularly important. Looking at the IoT and airlines, for example. One of its biggest benefits is that it brings visibility to areas that might otherwise be in darkness. Yet, in order to maximise visibility, airlines need a very reliable network infrastructure to act as the foundation for and underpin a huge range of IoT-enabled sensors and devices, connecting the aircraft itself, as well as baggage tags and everything in between.

Furthermore, to move into new geographies, travel businesses need to focus on new technology, competitive new services and the right business models to generate incremental revenue. That means having connectivity services that deliver not just on a domestic basis, but on an international one.

But to do this, a business could end up having to negotiate with hundreds of mobile communications service providers to enable mobile access for IoT services in each country. For most businesses, this is simply not viable.

The better alternative is to contract with a single provider that’s able to negotiate all the access agreements, provide end-to-end mobile and cloud connectivity, and data management services. This approach ensures cross-border connectivity, without the headache.

More productive, more efficient flight crews and stress-free travel for customers
It seems almost incredible to think that in this digital age, many flight crews still rely on hard copies of passenger manifests and other mission critical documents day to day. This creates not only inefficiencies, but also leaves room for human error. Something as simple as a tablet, connected to central airline and airport IT systems, could eliminate the need for binders full of print-outs, and provide flight crews with the most up-to-date policies, procedures and alerts, making the flight experience smoother for passengers too.

But that’s just the start. Travel companies are already using the power of big data to create ultra-personalised experiences, analysing traveller data across preference, social behaviour and buying patterns. By harnessing the power of the IoT, hotels are able to make their rooms ‘smart’ by enabling guests to adjust the temperature, lighting and even entertainment based on their personal preferences before they even check in.

There are travel businesses already taking the technology and running with it, both simplifying and enriching the travel experience to make truly personalised offers to their customers. And, this mindset is winning business and generating revenue. One medium sized hospitality company recently leveraged big data to achieve 50 per cent more repeat visits and a 15 per cent shift to direct bookings. Organisations across the world are beginning to offer seamless, multi-platform collaboration to employees, partners and customers – and they’re reaping the rewards.

Similarly, airlines can incur huge costs from time delays or unplanned maintenance. In fact, it’s estimated that just two hours of unplanned maintenance on the tarmac can cost an airline as much as US$150,000. These delays can hit margins hard and damage customer satisfaction. So it’s perhaps no surprise that aviation companies are taking action – using technology to help manage predictive maintenance and avoid breakdowns and technical delays.

World-class customer experiences
The IoT doesn’t just let travel companies give customers a seamless experience. All partners in the supply chain can get involved too. Imagine an integrated travel package, involving airlines, ground transportation, hotels, insurance companies, all linked for a seamless end customer experience. The IoT removes the manual intervention to make a seamless experience both possible and considerably more efficient.

Let’s take the example of a baggage handling team at a busy airport: give them the ability to access real-time information about missing luggage, and they will be able to operate more efficiently, while also introducing transparency into the delivery chain. In addition to supporting this key partner, the business will also be helping to enhance customer engagement and loyalty.

To make a success of an integrated supply chain, organisations need to provide a consistent experience across different channels and platforms, adopt a connected communications system to avoid information silos, and have the ability to scale solutions as demand fluctuates. Critical for all of this is to invest in an IT infrastructure that supports these new services and capabilities.

Getting rid of the risk
As businesses invest in digital business services, they also potentially increase their exposure to malicious hacking and cyber-crime. Addressing potential security vulnerabilities is crucial to ensure that a digital transformation programme won’t expose the business or its commercial supply chain partners to security threats.

Minimising risk isn’t just about securing data and applications against external threats. It is also critical to ensure service continuity and near-zero business disruption to avoid disruption to customers’ travel arrangements.

Sound risky? It’s not as risky as avoiding the digital transformation altogether – and being left behind. In terms of device and cloud connectivity, businesses need to access the IoT data over a secure, private network and ensure effective asset and policy control. Robust security services will protect the business from a range of cyber threats, but a secure mobile connectivity environment provides an extra layer of security for data to keep travellers and reputations safe.

A journey to somewhere new
To expand into new markets and across borders, travel companies need to take a global view, where a global network infrastructure, with global connectivity options becomes an integral foundation for a digital transformation programme.

For those organisations equipped with the right tools and support from technology partners, the opportunities to enhance their business and gain global market share are significant. Manage the associated business risks well, and those opportunities could be outstanding. Deploying IoT as part of a global digital transformation strategy can optimise productivity, maximise efficiency and enhance the customer experience. Now that’s a trip worth taking.

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