5 AUGUST 2013


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Article from BTNews 5 AUGUST 2013

ON THE SOAPBOX: Paul Campion, IBM Director for Travel and Transport

Paul Campion leads IBM's business in the Travel and Transport industry sectors in the UK and Ireland and sits on IBM UK's Diversity and Sustainability boards.  Externally, Paul is a member of the "Think Tank" tasked with helping the Technology Strategy Board to create a Transport Systems Catapult, as announced in the Budget in early 2012.  Paul has been in the IT industry for over 25 years.  Before his current role he led the IBM UK and Ireland software sales teams.

Most of you will be accustomed to the best in travel experiences: seats that lie flat and endless champagne...  And more importantly, your personal assistant will have dealt with all the arrangements: chauffeur-driven car to drop you off and pick you up from airport terminals – leaving you with nothing to do except formulate corporate strategy en route to your glamorous destination.  Not you? In reality, I expect most of us are subject to ever more stringent company travel policies that bear down on the little luxuries that make travel more pleasant.

And unless, bizarrely, you are starting and ending your journey at a station or an airport, you will have to juggle an increasing number of possibilities for each segment of your journey – according to how many different modes of transport you need to use.  What's more, getting a good overall price that is consistent with an efficient journey takes time. And if you want to make it pleasant as well... then that's a very time-consuming task.

To compound the problem, this is at a time when most companies are trying to reduce the number of secretaries and assistants they employ – so all this work ends up on your lap.  You, the poor business traveller, find yourself acting as your own travel assistant, taking care of the little details to ensure you actually get there on time.  How will you ever find the time to think about that corporate strategy?

The problem is not that there is a lack of information; in fact, quite the reverse.  Every transport operator publishes timetables and pricing information online; and most of them will give you live arrival and departure information as well.  There are also aggregators on the internet who will enable you to look up the best match to the parameters you give them; but where, oh where, can you find out about an end-to-end journey, one that really takes you from door to door?

My smartphone is, I'm afraid, not as smart as it claims to be.  It knows where I am going and when (after all, I keep my schedule on it).  It also knows what I like (it goes everywhere with me and knows how I travel).  Why is it not making suggestions to me?  Why is it not helping me to find the right deal, that matches my needs and is aware of preferences? Why is it not advising me when I get off a plane or a train by guiding me to the taxi rank, or the bus, or the metro?  Why is no-one helping me to stitch together all this operator-centric timetable information into a journey that makes sense for me – the passenger buying the tickets?

This is an information problem and at IBM we believe it is solvable.  Increasingly everything (trains, planes... and even you by virtue of your phone) is instrumented.  This means that information about position, movement and travel conditions is captured in real-time.  Of course, nowadays everything is also interconnected, which means that information can be captured, collected and collated.  As a result, we now have the opportunity to apply intelligence.  The intersection of instrumentation, interconnection and intelligence in the transport domain is what we call Smarter Transport.  However Smarter Transport not only signals a better experience for the passenger but for the operators too (and other players in the travel value chain, such as hoteliers, or agents), who can improve their competitive position, revenue and profitability as well.

I want my electronic assistant to give me the joined-up, carefree journey I deserve.  I want it to think about the practicalities of getting me to and from the airport, to the hotel and then to the office.  I want it to manage check-in and baggage check for me, and, even more, I want it to warn the airline when I am on the way so they meet me at a convenient point (the car park or the station) to take my bag away from me so I am free to use the time to work, relax or shop and don't have to worry about lugging a boat-anchor-with-wheels around with me everywhere.  I want it to learn what I like and to make sensible suggestions, having already done the donkey-work of sifting through all the options.  And I want it to keep my CFO happy as well by keeping the cost down.

Of course lots of companies have already begun to implement part of this vision, recognising that in this little wish list are a host of opportunities to make more revenue, more margin or to differentiate against their competitors with better service.  However, speaking as a traveller myself, it can't come soon enough.  Until then, the corporate strategy may just have to wait.

Paul Campion

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