Tech guru Brian Sheerin is Chief Technology Officer of CTM Tech Hub Europe established a year ago to ensure that the company and clients are ahead of the curve when it comes to travel technology development. Read on for his views on how we’ll be booking travel in the future…
1. When and why was the tech hub set up?
CTM’s Award winning technology was originally born in our Sydney technology hub. As our global footprint has grown and the need to develop local solution for clients in every corner of the globe has emerged, we soon responded to this change in landscape by setting up a further three technology hubs. Since early 2017 we are now able to offer consistent technology platforms and products which cater to local market nuances in Europe, Asia and North America.
2. How will it benefit CTM customers?
CTM now have direct local input and control over software development and reduced reliance on third parties. This allows CTM to innovate, to be different and to really drive change within the sector and to differentiate their offering from that of other TMCs.
3. How important is technology to managing business travel in your view?
Technology is the key to managing business travel. The traveller expects to be able to book and review their own travel arrangements from multiple device types, and to be assisted by their technology during the trip. They demand a wide range of choice and the ability to book multiple products at the same time and without having to book with multiple sources. Business expects to be able to control spend, manage approval processes and manage risk. The technology provided by CTM meets all of these requirements and with the tech hub we are ideally positioned to react to any changing needs of CTM clients and to bring new innovations to the market quickly and effectively.
4. How will it expand the level of resource CTM is putting behind this area of business? How many staff are in the tech hub?
There are 30 staff in the tech hub and CTM are adding extra resource as we move forward into 2018. CTM are committed to both providing solutions for today’s travel sector and to investing in the creation of an innovation platform designed to bring new initiatives to market quickly and effectively.
5. Does it mean that 100% of technological offerings to clients will be developed in-house now?
No but our aim is to be as self- sufficient as is possible and to have control of key technology areas. In this way CTM will be able to provide the bespoke offering that others cannot.
6. Will it be an end to CTM white labelling technology for third parties?
CTM maintains key relationships and are valued partners of many third party providers, which are all in place to support the needs of our clients. We always ensure we are bringing as much diversity in the tech space as possible and the continued work on our proprietary technology is only increasing client choice.
7. Would you say that CTM is ahead of the curve in terms of ground breaking technology for your clients?
With the work already undertaken by the global team in Australia and the production of the SMART Portal and Concierge, yes I would say CTM is ahead of the curve. We are working now to bring further groundbreaking technologies to market and the tech hub is already working on a number of exciting innovations and initiatives which clients can look forward to seeing this year.
These innovations will simplify booking processes, enhance traveller experiences and ensure the very best in choice across all product types. The planned changes will provide a fresh approach to booking travel and will look to enhance experiential in-trip services.
8. In your view, will self booking tools ever be able to handle anything other than simple point- to-point journeys?
We have just released our first multi- city module breaking the mould on self- booking tools. I can’t think of another self-booking tool that offers this facility and this demonstrates our desire to be different and challenge the norm. We want to make sure that we are ready for any changing client requirements and that clients are not held back by the technology.
9. Thinking of other travel technology, do you think virtual payment cards/systems will ever catch on?
I think they already have. We make tens of thousands of bookings a month using virtual payment cards and are currently enhancing our self-booking tools to add further functionality around this area.
10. What areas of technology are you focussing on at present and why do they have priority over others?
We are focusing on making everything as touchless as possible whether this be from online booking to back office fulfilment, or the number of clicks a client needs to make to complete a booking. Our aim is to automate as much as we can and in the CTM Bradford office we have already achieved around 93% touchless transaction processing. We are now working on simplifying repeat booking processes and driving out “clicks” wherever we can. Another area being focused on is the CTM APP which offers not only in trip facilities but also the ability to book air, hotels, rail and taxis with additional product types being added in the coming months.
11. Will the next big technological development be AI and if so, how do you think it will impact on business travel?
Personally I think this will apply more to the in-travel experience than the booking and fulfilment processes. A robot meeting you at reception, or serving your snacks or a ticket on a train will become the norm but we already have the ability and technology that could interact with the AI. It’s one to watch as I am sure there will be a lot of AI that comes into the market and disappears just as quickly and we need to make sure we are working with those elements that add value.
For our part, using computer technology, which is in effect the same thing without the smiley face and the voice, to achieve touchless simple transaction booking and processing remains the key for the TMC.
12. Are clients sufficiently tech savvy to appreciate these developments? Or does any new launch require encouragement and education?
Due to the wide range of industry sectors we service, so too are the types of user. With varying abilities on using technology, it is always essential that CTM are on hand to provide education on how to get the best out of our products, and to assist in driving the positive impacts it can have on a travel programme. This education is standard across our Business Management process and along with the ethos that our tech hub lives by of always creating easy to use and ergonomic products, means that we always have a high online adoption rate.
13. Does the fact that more and more Millennials are entering the workforce equate to greater demand and more challenges in terms of what you can provide?
I think it’s a myth that Millennials are driving change more than anybody else, though technology is definitely targeting this group. Almost every age group is using technology proactively during their daily lives and they all have expectations and demands that need to be met.
14. What do you see as the biggest challenges in the future in terms of the use of technology in business travel?
The ever-increasing popularity of technology means that the sharing of data is also growing. This brings a whole host of new challenges and with the introduction of the new GDPR standards I see further data rules in the future being key in how technology is shaped.
Also the merging of business and leisure travel could have a huge impact, this does however create the biggest opportunity for increase in market share for TMC’s. The key is to keep tech advances in line with what clients require.