James Hughes qualified as an accountant in 1999 working for a stockbroker in the city. Having qualified, James wanted a new challenge so joined Global Crossing and worked his way up to a Senior Finance role. Two and half years ago he was promoted into Sales to lead the Transport Sector which has now been rejuvenated under his leadership, re-establishing Level 3 as the number one telecoms provider in UK bus and Rail.
Communications is ‘democratized’ in very much the same way as air travel was in previous decades. This is due to lower smart device prices and growing ubiquity of Internet connectivity. The travel Industry’s main interaction mode with customers is now digital. Content is made available anywhere via the Cloud, to allow for full mobility. Connectivity that facilitates travel information flow is now perceived as one of the basic amenities for any venue. All this needs to be supported by global IP network infrastructure that provides appropriate capacity and quality.
With the advent of cheap air fares and increasingly easy consumer and business travel, moving around the world has become relatively painless. The late 20th century saw the gradual dissolution of many international borders and the travel industry helped drive globalisation by shrinking the physical world. However, the travel industry is not unique in this, technology is now a major force in this process.
Travel and its impact on globalisation is not a new process. It has been taking place since the Mongol era when traders started using the newly opened spice route for trading purposes, spreading ideas on politics, culture and commerce across what was then considered the civilised world. This phenomenon has gradually evolved throughout human history, driven by industrialisation and the creation of trans-national political and economic organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century the introduction of airline travel for the masses truly opened the world up to the common man. Previously something that was considered a luxury, literally spurning the term ‘high-flyers’, was becoming gradually available at a price that everyone could afford. All of a sudden people could go on holiday in different continents, and just as importantly, travel to business meetings many thousands of miles away.
There are parallels here with the technology industry. Not only because technology is helping to create, and to some extent homogenize, the global village but also because one of the key drivers is that connected devices are becoming democratized in very much the same way air travel was. One reason for this is the decreasing price of smartphones, laptops, tablets and other internet ready devices has opened them up to a truly mainstream audience. The fact that shoppers can now pick up an Internet connected tablet along with their bread and milk for £30 is proof of this. Not so long ago a desktop computer with 16GB of memory and built in Wi-Fi would cost thousands of pounds. Nowadays, such functionality is squeezed into the average smartphone. Just as important is that the promise of truly ubiquitous high-speed Internet connectivity is gradually becoming a reality. An ever-growing footprint of public Internet hotspots and high-speed mobile data infrastructure, backed by increasingly consumer-friendly price points, means that people with connected devices now have the access they need.
So how does this impact the traveller? People’s main interaction with the travel industry is now largely digital. Driven by a desire to decrease cost and to provide people with increased flexibility, companies in all sectors now host a vast range of content, services and customer interactions in the cloud. This sea change in the way that companies do business now means that the travel industry as a whole has to adapt. Airlines, hotels and agents now have to provide tickets, vouchers, booking references and other documents in the Cloud. It is now commonplace for people to be able to change their airline seats, request new rooms, see rich media of their chosen hotel and even have questions answered by a customer service representative using online chat, Twitter or Facebook.
This means an additional layer of complexity for these organisations, as they are forced to react to the seemingly convoluted world of technology standards and a growing number of online platforms. Nowadays, websites and associated digital services have to be coded for a variety of different web browsers, mobile optimized, and even made into apps for a number of different operating systems. This can initially be daunting to say the least. Embrace these changes and it opens up a whole new realm in terms of customer service and loyalty. The company who provides the technologically savvy customer with the ability to engage with them in the manner they desire can be well rewarded. With some companies, this can be the only way of relating to their customers, so it is crucial to get it right.
Technology is also serving to continually disrupt established industry norms, as it does in many sectors. Whereas during the dotcom boom a range of start-ups served to disturb established travel industry business models, largely by reducing the cost of booking last minute deals, a new wave of start-ups are pushing this even further. Spurred on by the availability of cheap and flexible mobile and web-platforms, a mixture of social media and geo-location technology means small innovative companies are now seriously starting to re-invent the way that travellers behave. Smartphone users, for example, simply have to press a single-button nowadays to find a last minute hotel deal within ten miles of their current location. They don’t even have to know where they are.
Whilst these disruptive influences typically sound unsettling, they can be an immense leveller for any industry. Right across the board, connected companies which embrace these ideas are usurping established global hegemonies, typically because they provide consumers with choice, flexibility and a service which offers the best possible experience at the best possible price. Whilst many hold out against such developments, moving too slowly on an emerging trend can often be at the expense of market-share. Driven by the ever increasing valuations of the so-called Internet ‘subscriber giants’, companies are competing hard to either claim this position in their sector, or dispense with the halo effect created by these companies which have an innate viral appeal to consumers.
Aside from the growing use in travel-specific connected services, there is a second, much wider usage trend afoot related to the growing adoption of connected devices. People now expect to be able to access and consume content wherever they are from the Cloud. With more and more devices in people’s hands, an increasing number of companies are now moving towards hosting all content online. This is true for everything from leisure content, such as music, film and TV, to business documents, calendars and even meetings.
The fact that this has become mainstream means that travellers expect to be connected wherever they are. People expect travel hubs, hotels, restaurants, conference venues and other locations to have access to a high-speed data connection. Whereas previously this might be seen as a novelty, and provide an opportunity for these locations to differentiate, a lack of connectivity is now perceived as a lack of basic amenities.
An increasingly mobile population means the need for widespread connectivity is paramount. As the digital world becomes more and more imbued in the everyday activities of the physical world, the importance of reliable, high-speed data connectivity is vital. At no time in human history have more people had more of a need to access content, information and services from the web.
This means the need for scalable global IP networks is more important than ever. The technology underpinning this massive growing demand for content and services is continually being augmented to support the tidal wave of demand for data. With more users, more requests per user, longer session time and highly demanding content such as video streaming, web-conferencing and IP voice calls now common-place, the infrastructure simply has to be up to task. This means ensuring that local points of access, whether they are cell-towers, Wi-Fi routers or good old-fashioned hard connections, are optimised. In addition the appropriate backhaul must be in place to cope not only with the current demand, but also with future activity.
Technology is helping shrink the world in a very different way to which easy international travel did in the latter part of the 20th century. As opposed to bringing places closer, it allows travellers to take their home with them, whether this is social interactions, information, media or documents. Embracing this and allowing people a seamless interaction with the content and services they desire, wherever they are, is a hugely valuable tool for any business. Travellers now expect to have the world in their hands, literally.