Executive Interview: Aidan Brogan, CEO, Datalex

Real-time retail decision-making  - is tech ready for it?   

How challenging is to make use of multiple data sources to turn customer insights into real-time retail decision-making?

This isn’t a technology constraint anymore. Airlines today have options to manage all pre-trip, during-trip and post-trip operations, and manage a record of all offers and purchases at all touch points via a central hub.

As a specialist, Datalex recommends omni-channel fulfillment and trip management options while effectively managing the interaction across all channels and throughout the customer journey.

For a passenger, this means when an offer is presented it would likely match the profile/ the intent, the stage of the journey, and shouldn’t be just restricted to the airline website. For instance, you opt to check-in via airport kiosk, and what if you are given an option to upgrade or buy a seat at that point of time. Essentially, there is control of all product content in one place, including products syndicated from multiple sources.

“The effort is in combining all valuable data sources into one customer hub and ensuring that the commerce system can turn an insight into an offer,” says Aidan Brogan, CEO, Datalex.

There are some interesting developments that are emerging in the arena of personalisation. The emergence of branded fares with optional extras stands out. For instance, you may want to travel economy class but your desire of a premium meal experience can be fulfilled !

As an active participant in IATA’s NDC Working Group, Datalex has refined its offering to support the multi-channel capability to distribute products into every sales channel.

Brogan interacted with Ai’s Ritesh Gupta about personalisation, and how to set up required infrastructure for the same.

Ai: How are airlines looking at recognizing passengers, offer them relevant options and yet being in control of what they are selling?

A personal observation is that historically the airline industry was designed with the airline operation as the focus as opposed to the passenger or more importantly the customer as the focus. This is changing and changing rapidly, from what I am observing in the industry and from our customers, I would say that airlines are putting their customers at the centre of their business and changing their operations to give the customers control. 

Ai: So how challenging is to embrace change?

We do note that airlines require significant investment in re-platforming their digital commerce suites to enhance their ability to dynamically price, promote and reward customers across all channels and devices.    

Future proofing their retail systems is a business-led priority and the catalyst is the revenue opportunity and the acknowledgment that customers demand an increasingly sophisticated self-service ‘digital’ experience.   Our customers are also keenly focused on using multiple data sources to turn customer insights into real time retail decisions which optimize what is offered, when and at what price across the travel journey. Constraints remain to extend this capability to intermediary channels, but that’s not a technology constraint, rather an evolving business model to be tied down with airlines partners. IATA is leading this transformation with their NDC initiative which is gaining momentum across the airline world.

Ai: Can you share a personal example or any observation of any travel booking that depicts progress in personalization?

The emergence of branded fares with optional extras is one of the biggest changes taking place at the moment. The reality is that ‘one size does not fit all’, consumers want the ability to personalise and tailor their travel experience.

A great example is the ability on the Aer Lingus Trans-Atlantic flight to personalise your food and beverage by selecting from a range of personalised gourmet meals, I may want to travel economy class but I do want a premium meal experience. It’s just the beginning and airlines as retailers are still experimenting but they are doing so at great pace.

Ai: What do you find really time consuming when it comes to booking all requirements of your trip?

The inability to self-service in real time is a huge obstacle and particularly when I want to personalize my travel experience to meet my immediate needs, such as priority boarding or change to an earlier flight or sit at the front of the plane.

I love the JetBlue automated check-in – such a simple thing but one that makes my travel so much more convenient.    

Ai: What trends would you like to highlight in the manner in which airlines are meeting digital shopping needs of travellers?

The omni-channel capability is gaining momentum and is the future. This allows customers to engage with the airline across multiple digital devices with the airline having a single view of the customer. Customers want the choice to decide how they engage and in fact they want real time, immediate, relevant information on any device they decide to use.

The other trend is the ability to sell products and service via any channel going forward. For example, at Air China, our commerce platform enables channels such as WeChat (Chinese equivalent to WhatsApp);  Qunar  and Ctrip (the two biggest online travel agencies) and TMall marketplace (Chinese Amazon) to access tailored offers.  

Ai: Can you explain what can airlines in the Asia Pacific region learn from their counterparts in other markets when it comes to targeting new revenue opportunities offered by ancillary product selling?  

Datalex already has a significant footprint across Asia Pacific  and it is a core markets for the future growth of the business, particularly because it’s the fastest evolving digital marketplace for travel.   I believe airlines in the Asia Pacific will very soon lead the airline retail transformation however they do lag behind in terms of investment required to future proof their commerce platforms. 

There are some legacy system constraints but I believe they will accelerate investment and innovate at pace because their digital customers are already well ahead.

How should airlines in the Asia Pacific region go about selling an optimal mix of air and non-air products – any practical way of building up resources and infrastructure?

Put simply, it must be unified.  The pricing, offer and order management components for all products must be controlled through one unified commerce platform.  Only then, can the airline dynamically price and promote air and non-air products  in an optimal way.   Many airlines have opted for non-integrated pricing and merchandising solution providers which are difficult to integrate and have competing priorities.

The Global Mega Event, held on 04 & 05 November 2015 in San Diego, covered gearing up for personalisation and omni-channel strategy. Personalisation will also be a hot topic in may of our upcoming events listed at: www.AiConnects.us