Interview: Conducive Technology CEO Jeff Kennedy On FlightStats' Mobile Development - Business Travel News

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Interview: Conducive Technology CEO Jeff Kennedy On FlightStats' Mobile Development

November 22, 2011 - 10:15 AM EST

Jeff Kennedy

Jeff Kennedy

Conducive Technology's FlightStats last week released its first iPad app. The BTN Group editorial director Jay Campbell recently spoke with Conducive CEO Jeff Kennedy about the development and monetization of the popular day-of-travel information provider's mobile offerings.

What's different about the new iPad app?

In terms of mobile apps, this is an airport-centric view of the travel day. It combines flight information—whether you're waiting on someone or your connecting flight, or you're departing—with rich airport information, so while you're at the airport you can find restaurants, restrooms, retail outlets, etc. It lays it out as an interactive map or in a search capability where a coffee shop or your gate is. It's the first time we have taken an airport-centric view of the world other than on one particular section of our website. We think it will be very useful for people when traveling to or connecting in an unfamiliar airport.

Do you expect to look into merchandizing partnerships?

We think if we get a large install base, we'll have a lot of opportunities like that with local or national concession companies as well as off-airport things like ground transport, limos and town cars, or nearby hotels, in case you miss a connection.

Is that the main idea for monetization?

Straight advertising. A lot of those will probably be targeted to the airports. We might also choose to offer advance capabilities in some kind of an in-app purchase. We haven't determined all the areas we might generate revenue. We think offering a lot of the content for free will be a big help to travelers.

There is an Android app. Is there an iPhone app?

There is not an iPhone app. That Android app is FlightStats Traveler, and it's a trip-centric view of the day of travel, whereas [FlightStats iPad app] AirportZoom is an airport view. We intend to take those two brands, Traveler and Zoom, and address the mobile web as well as other platforms. We're in discussions right now about what to prioritize, whether we move to more of a mobile site ... we get a lot of traffic on the main website and it's fairly simple and straightforward. Traffic continues to build, so maybe an HTML5 app would be a good way to go.

It seems like mobile web would be more up your alley because you're often querying your data and need to be online for all that functionality.

Well, airport data can be cached, like services and amenities, and it is also possible to cache some flight information like gate details. Inflight Wi-Fi is becoming more common. One of the reasons we might prioritize mobile web over an iPhone app is that we already serve the iOS community pretty well through our developer partnerships. Most popular day-of-travel focused apps use us as a data source, whether it be TripIt, Kayak, Mobiata or WorldMate. So we have the iPhone covered pretty well in terms of our developers, but we will be making some decisions about what the next mobile initiative is.

What about for other tablets?

We're looking pretty carefully at the Android ecosystem and also at what Amazon is doing. It could improve the install base, so we'll be evaluating all that, and I think it's likely we'll provide Zoom and Traveler on the Android tablet as well.

Do you see much growth opportunity with travel agencies building their own apps and using your info for them?

We serve quite a number of agencies; we have several product offerings we provide to them. We have a flight alert messaging service, Trip Alerts, that takes the passenger itinerary from the agency, and we manage message delivery profiles—cell phone numbers, email addresses—and can push branded messaging on behalf of the agency to those travelers. We also have the TripAssist trip disruption service that shows agents which travelers' itineraries seem to be in trouble, whether because of delay or cancellation, so agents can provide a higher level of service, proactively. And we provide data services for agencies that want to build their own apps. Agencies don't always control where the traveler will look for information, and we're in hotel signage, airport display boards, third-party applications and our own mobile properties and websites, so FlightStats data has become very pervasive. If agencies use our data, there's a really good chance that if travelers look elsewhere the information will be consistent.

Are a lot building their own mobile apps and looking to you for feeds?

Well, it's a big endeavor, so the small agencies are not in a position to do that; maybe mobile web. Larger ones have partnered with some of our partners, whether that be TripIt, Mobiata, WorldMate or Sabre's TripCase, and we're pretty happy serving that community either directly or through a third party. It's hard to support multiple [mobile devices] and keep them up to date.

FlightStats in October announced it expanded geographic coverage of the core flight status information to 77 percent of global flights from 64 percent. What was required in order to do that?

Over the last year and a half, we retooled data collection and analytics at the front end. First, we measured coverage, accuracy, [scope and] timeliness. We looked at where we were weak, then went out and improved our ability to capture. We negotiated more direct feeds. We started capturing some airline stuff through Sita. So we put in new sources to address geographic and carrier-based holes. The United States is nice because you do have a pretty comprehensive positional feed from the Federal Aviation Administration. We combine that with flight schedules and carrier data, and that gives you a holistic view of what happened on a flight. We're trying to replicate that around the world with similar sources as FAA's. The plan is to get positional data, gate data and the flight schedule. On collection, we're beginning to address the fact that when you get a piece of flight data and it's by itself, it may not make sense relative to other information you may have collected about the flight record. We're going to be able to validate the data and ask if that makes sense or if we should corroborate. For example, if you have a flight departure and you get information that the flight was canceled, you may not want to send that cancellation message until you confirm. So we're trying to make our data collection smarter in terms of looking at all the data we've got, and adding more intelligence in the collection end of things.

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