17 experts advise on what’s to come this year. Spoiler: Data factors big.
The Innovate Conference for the Advancement of Business Travel offered business travel executives the opportunity to articulate priorities and recommendations.
Oliver Quayle, VP of product marketing & innovation for
American Express Global Business Travel & KDS, talks:
When Oliver Quayle joined KDS to lead product marketing in
2010, he didn't want to "market a terrible product that's just the same as
everyone else's." So, Dean Forbes, CEO at the time, told him to fix it,
Quayle told BTN payment and expense editor JoAnn DeLuna. By 2012, KDS had launched
Neo, a reimagined, mobile corporate T&E booking tool that dealt with
the entire trip, door to door. Then American Express Global Business Travel acquired
KDS last year. After years of criticizing travel management companies, Quayle now
finds himself working for one of the biggest as VP of product marketing and
BTN: What will you be doing in your new role?
Quayle: For the
last five years, I was a little less than polite about TMCs' need to innovate. Now
I find myself in a position to do something about it. I still keep my KDS hat,
but I'm also working with Evan [Konwiser, digital traveler VP] on the GBT side
to provide the product marketing leadership across the portfolio and also work
on innovation on the GBT side. The parallels are quite similar. It's been an
eye-opener for me to be product marketing to 12 different products that do different
things across the TMC customer base. It's been a gas so far, and I'm hoping it
continues this way.
BTN: Before KDS
CEO Dean Forbes left, he insinuated there would be a shift in priorities at KDS
from developing innovative products to integrating the platforms. Was he right?
Quayle: It's easy
to think that innovation is all about cool stuff, gadgets and buzzwords. If you
look across the business travel [industry], the basics aren't even there. The
first innovation is doing what should be "the basics." The core
platform [has to be] able to support incremental improvements for the traveler
experience by integrating suppliers, consistency of on- and offline supplier
choices, the trip records and profile management so [agents] know who they're
speaking to, what their preferences are and what trip they're on. That [effort]
started before I joined, but it's necessary to make sure that's a reality
before building out the innovations on top of that platform. We're
experimenting with the cool stuff—natural language and artificial intelligence—but
we're using it on specific use cases. You won't really see the wow factors
until that core platform is in place. But that's this year. It's a good investment
that allows us to step up change for the second half of this year.
BTN: Once the
core platform is set, will KDS maintain its pre-acquisition pace of releasing
new products and features?
Quayle: It could
go either way. When you're part of a big company, sometimes there's a lack of
courage to put out [new products]. At KDS, we were putting out stuff when the paint
was still wet because we needed the feedback to make it work. As part of a bigger
company, there are more checks and balances and governance. That said, GBT
wants to be more like KDS in their approach and find more of a healthy balance
so we don't release something that needed one more iteration but put out enough
stuff to get customer feedback so we can keep innovating. GBT has stuck to
their word [in terms of] wanting us to be the company they bought and not changing
how we develop [products]. If anything, we've been infecting the GBT side more
than vice versa.
For the last five years, I was a little less than polite about TMCs' need to innovate. Now I find myself in a position to do something about it."
BTN: KDS already uses machine learning on the travel side. What else
can we expect?
difference now is that we have access to GBT [data]. With machine learning, the
more data you have, the better. They can put in card swipe and spend data, as
well as on- and offline data. In terms of an AI/machine learning playground,
that's a much richer experience than anything we were dealing with before at KDS.
GBT already has a team looking into [for example] trip recommendations based on
previous behavior, which is very similar to what we were doing at KDS, but the
difference is the scale. … They have global data from tens of thousands of
customers, a volume that we simply didn't have before.
BTN: It's early
on, but have you seen any traction in terms of KDS tapping Amex GBT customers?
seen a lot of traction very quickly. When GBT customers see Neo for the first
time, they still have that wow effect. When we [shifted existing customers]
from Classic to Neo, the change management took a while. New customers have 80
percent adoption online within two to three weeks because there's no training. Even
though we had a lot of great customers before, there wasn't much outside of
France, the U.K. and a bit in Germany. Now there's a significant volume of customers
coming to us for Neo.
BTN: Has KDS lost or gained any TMC partnerships following the
Quayle: All of
our largest customers are on active multiyear reseller agreements. There will
be other TMC opportunities, as well. It's definitely not the end of us having independent
reseller partnerships. It just changes the nature of some of them. There are a lot
[of TMCs] that really don't care.
BTN: There are
several interesting expense startups. Would KDS consider acquiring one now that
you have bigger pockets?
see a lot of really exciting and interesting technology partnerships and
service providers in or around what we're doing today. I can't say anything
about what I've been looking at myself, but a big part of my role is looking at
things that can supplement either the technical or service-related part of our
offer. It's a whole different ball game making an acquisition as part of GBT.
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