Wireless` Air Apparent

The travel industry`s inherent right to lead in Wireless Applications
By Justin Hart, Director of Multi-Channel Computing


Imagine the magnitude of fear that would strike in the heart of a CEO if he or she learned that Clayton Christensen’s addendum to his book The Innovator`s Dilemma focused solely on their company! Christensen describes a scenario where initially inferior technologies overtake or displace existing technologies and then threaten to topple well-established companies that had hedged their bets on the latter. Case in point: a recent Goldman Sachs report revealed how PDA devices are chewing away at laptop usage. If this trend continues, what will happen to the famed laptop revolution? Which industries are ripe for the next wave of “displacing technology”?


Andy Grove, the founder of Intel has said, “All companies will be Internet companies, else they will die.” This maxim set traditional business models on their ear and overturned established assumptions in almost every industry. The travel industry was particularly affected. The Internet curbed traditional value chains, created new revenue-driving opportunities, and primed a host of customer-driven initiatives—truly revolutionizing travel services. In a similar fashion, wireless has all the earmarks of becoming a displacing technology, but none of the milestones—at least not yet.

We do know two important things about emerging wireless technologies. Wireless adoption rates are exceeding the rates of personal computer proliferation, and there is an essential difference between the wired and the wireless Internet. That difference is wireless’s unique relationship to location.


When we examine the ways in which the Internet has advanced traditional business models, we can readily identify some common themes: information, communication, notification, transaction, automation, personalization, presentation, innovation, availability, and location. The comparable wireless Internet list augments all of these, with the possible exception of presentation, but the effect of wireless vis-à-vis location-based services is unparalleled. What industries will benefit from high adoption rates and location-specific wireless applications? Certainly, the travel industry is near the top of the list.

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What kinds of applications will produce a viable business solution in the travel industry? The first rollout of wireless applications very much mirrored the first applications on the Internet, namely, content and directory services. Unlike the Internet, however, there has been a distinct and immediate push toward B2B and particularly B2E (business-to-employee) efficiency applications. Email has arisen as the pioneering “killer app” for employee-centric wireless solutions. The rise of “always-on” devices, together with the cost savings aimed for in “email-centric” jobs, has brought on a huge demand for internal efficiency applications.


Of course, many e-travel services focus on the business-to-consumer channel. It is likely that travel players will have definitive needs for both consumer-facing and internal efficiency applications. It is also likely that two different internal groups will own and develop these applications. The wireless consumer solutions will likely be seen as a natural extension of existing wired B2C applications, generating additional work for the web team. The efficiency apps will likely be owned by enterprise-dominated workgroups looking to extend B2B and B2E applications.
If a travel company has the right infrastructure in place, extending its reservations system to wireless devices should be fairly simple; akin to formatting an application for a new browser with distinct restraints. However, uptake and location are the critical wireless differentiators. For example, there has been a glut of travel reservation portals over the last five years, but only recently do these portals include functionality that can alert a passenger leaving for the airport that his flight has been delayed.

 

As the travel industry caters to growing demands for convenience, automated wireless services will become the norm. Hotels in Canada are already prototyping automatic guest check-in via phone. Imagine using a wireless device to receive information about hotel accommodations and services; or even using an infrared or Bluetooth application that can enable a device to act as a room key. In short, the travel industry has a definite, if not a primary stake in developing location-based services for all of its various customers.

Wireless device uptake is profound, but wireless PDA and browser-enabled phones account for a scant nine percent of all “messaging-capable” wireless devices. This nine percent is typically comprised of business travellers. Initially, this is the prime audience for pure wireless browser applications. Roughly another sixty-four percent of users have simple text-messaging devices. The rest are considered pure analog cell-phone users. Surely there are deep multi-device and multi-channel considerations to uncover here. Multi-device refers to the ever-growing number of unique devices that account for all wireless applications (roughly 6000 to date). Multi-channel refers to the various mediums through which users connect (WAP, voice, telematics, interactive TV, web).


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