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ConTgo, a company that helps corporations track and communicate with
travelers through mobile SMS messaging, plans on Saturday to launch MTA
MapCast, a geo-coded mapping tool originally developed both for and in
partnership with Microsoft's security department. The United Kingdom-based conTgo
also is poised to announce new worldwide reseller agreements with a global
distribution system and a large multinational travel management company, who
would join existing partner American Express, which plans to launch later this
year a version of MapCast.
By adding bidirectional communications, MapCast goes beyond conventional
GDS-based tracking tools that already offer mapping features that display
travelers' locations, officials from Microsoft, conTgo and Amex said. As a
result, a security department can send automated text messages to travelers located
within a defined area on the map. Additionally, it can send a message to all
travelers, asking them to respond to such simple questions as whether they
require emergency assistance. Dots on the map representing travelers can be
color-coded according to their text responses, showing in red those who require
assistance, for example, and in green those who do not.
"We believe we are the first ones to integrate communications into
mapping," said conTgo CEO and co-founder Johnny Thorsen. "The days of
looking at lists of travelers are gone."
Microsoft director of global security operations Mike Foynes said Mapcast
will help his security team focus on travelers who need help in an emergency. "Now
we can see data that means something, and we can interrogate and communciate
with that data," he said. "We can query a location and make a radius
search, and restrict our communications to people within that radius. If we
require answers from them, the color coding will change on the map according to
Foynes added that Microsoft is "not looking to commercialize this.
We are looking to improve our own operational picture. We brought our domain
expertise to the table." A third partner on the project was Lansing, Mich.-based
IDV Solutions, which provided the mapping technology.
ConTgo is planning a second release of MTA MapCast later this year,
which would map the location of travelers not according to their GDS-based
travel itineraries but through GPS positioning of their mobile phones. MapCast would
send travelers a message asking them to text back the word "LOCATION,"
thereby authorizing the transmission of their position. Thorsen said the
company eventually would produce a dynamic map allowing security managers to watch
as dots representing travelers move around on their screen. He warned that though
such development is technically possible, there are numerous data privacy
issues to surmount, and said he expects such tracking only for travelers
visiting high-risk countries.
ConTgo and Microsoft started working more closely after the volcanic ash
crisis of April 2010. At the time, the Microsoft travel department was testing conTgo
in four countries, but after being more impressed during the emergency with the
performance of conTgo's Mobile Travel Assistant product than GDS-centered
rivals, the relationship was taken over by the IT giant's security department
and expanded to 60 countries.
Thorsen said the ash crisis experience also prompted negotiations for
conTgo's two new reseller agreements. The company now is looking to target
corporate clients mainly through resellers in an attempt to keep conTgo's headcount
small, he said. There currently are 17 staff members. Thorsen claimed that
conTgo handled three times as many transactions in the first 10 days of 2011 as
during the same period last year.
ConTgo's relationship with Amex also has been progressing. In August
2010, conTgo became the first partner to connect with the TMC via Amex's
Digital Travel Record system, which aims to strip processes unrelated to booking
and file-finishing out of GDS-based passenger name records and route them
through a separate extensible mark-up language-based architecture. One of the
chief benefits of DTR is that Amex would be much better equipped to offer
mobile applications. Amex vice president of global IT strategy business travel
Michel LaBianca told BTN that his
company is testing iPhone and BlackBerry apps for its version
of MapCast and also plans to start trials on Android and Microsoft mobile
Thorsen said conTgo this quarter would launch its own full mobile app, offering
an enhanced version of its existing SMS-based tools. "Until now, we have
always been seen as the people who send SMS messages, but our customers have
not had the capability for an aggressive rollout of a large application,"
Separately, conTgo launched a meetings-based application called Mobile
Meeting Assistant. It is now commonplace at conferences for delegates to be
handed a device on which they respond to multiple choice polling questions from
the stage. Mobile Meeting Assistant enables the same process by using texting
to and from participants' mobile phones.