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BTN Spotlight: Richard Thorne, Innovata

BTN Spotlight: Richard Thorne, Innovata

Travelling the world is becoming easier with revolutionary booking tool developed by Innovata. BTN caught up with Richard Thorne, who heads up its Aviation division, to find out what new technology the company has planned.

BTN: How do the new Round the World booking tools work?
RT: For both oneworld and Star Alliance, Innovata has used its market-leading route network mapping software to enable users to plan and validate a round the world trip segment by segment.

oneworld and Star Alliance each have their own complex and extensive rules and conditions for these products. Innovata has coded these rules to tie in with the mapping software so that the user is guided step-by-step in constructing an itinerary. Warnings and hints flag up if the user tries to add a segment that is invalid or not permitted under the rules. At the end of the planning session the user is invited to save the itinerary and return to it later or carry on to check availability, obtain a fare quote and then book the trip online.

Innovata’s tool links into the Amadeus e-retail engine for the availability, fares and booking elements of the Round the World service that we provide to both alliances.

BTN: How do the tools make life easier for the traveller?
RT: The traveller is in full control of planning RTW itineraries now and does not need to spend time trying to interpret or understand the complex rules of these products; nor do they need to visit or call up a travel agency anymore. The user can plan a trip in the safe knowledge that any itinerary constructed is fully validated and permissible, and within the mileage allowances for such trips and the fare class chosen. And to make life even easier for the user, the tool works out which destinations in the entire alliance networks are valid and which and not valid as a possible next segment destination and are colour coded accordingly.


BTN: What else are you currently up to at Innovata LLC?
RT: 2009 has been a very busy year for us with product launches and product updates. This summer we have introduced new timetable services for our airline and airport customers for iPhone and Blackberry devices. We have added more third party functionality and content to our affiliate based timetable service - we have relaunched our travel portal for US Govt employees and we are just about to launch v6.0 of SRS Flightmaps - our route mapping software for airlines and airports.

BTN: How would you describe Innovata LLC in a nutshell?
RT: Innovata is a very dynamic, very ambitious and very customer-focussed database management and software services company that serves the aviation and hospitality industries with high quality data and compelling electronic distribution services.

We are easily the market leader in providing timetable and mapping services to airlines and airports worldwide; and we are one of only two airline schedules data aggregators serving the aviation industry and provide some 95 customers worldwide with our data.  Innovata’s data is rapidly becoming the default source for airlines. airports conducting online schedules analysis – for example, 16 of the top 20 airlines in North America subscribe to online analysis services that are powered by Innovata schedules data and well over 100 airports worldwide use Innovata data for their business planning.

BTN: How is the current market influencing how you operate as a business?
RT: For us it is not much change. Our business focus and approach has always been to offer innovative products and great customer service at very competitive prices. That is what has enabled us to build our customer base year on year and achieve almost 100% client retention. Many of our clients are under pressure this year and our flexible approach to partnering with them and finding ways to provide an imaginative and cost-effective package of solutions that either saves them money, helps drive revenues, or both certainly strikes a chord and is welcomed by our customers.

The outcome of this approach is that we managed to achieve double digit growth in 2008 and will do so again in 2009. And we also continue to steadily add to our client base in these difficult times. The most exciting and satisfying piece of news in recent weeks has been our announcement that we have signed a long term contract with Sabre Holdings to supply our worldwide schedules data, worldwide minimum connect time data and our full range of reference support files.

Our data will be used to support the Sabre GDS business for reservations made by all Sabre-connected travel agencies around the world, including both Abacus and Infini with effect from Q4 2009 replacing Sabre’s current supplier -OAG. Innovata data is already the source of schedule data for use within the tools and services supplied by both Sabre Airline Solutions and Sabre’s Airline Consulting practices.

BTN: What plans do you have for the future?
RT: A key strategic areas of focus for us in the future, especially as we expect to be announcing some more distribution contracts along the lines of Sabre in the coming months, is to look at ways to help second and third tier airlines in particular to improve their scheduling management processes and capabilities and to help them achieve greater synchronisation and consistency in the distribution of their schedules to the industry.

A significant amount of manual work and associated costs would be driven out of the industry as a result and we have a number of ideas for tools and services that we want to develop and take to market over the next 18-24 months to help facilitate this.

Another key area of strategic focus for us is to build on our mobile services platform through our own product development and through strategic partnerships. Mobile technology is going to be a very hot item for the industry in the coming years and more and more airlines will be using the capabilities and opportunities that smartphone technology presents to interact with and to service their customers. We see some exciting opportunities for Innovata in this area in the next few years.

BTN: Which new areas of technology interest you most and why?
RT: It’s got to be mobile for the reasons stated above. Also, one of the exciting things at the moment is that relatively small companies such as Innovata who own compelling content and provide innovative services around this content can now adopt B2C business models and strategies in addition to its B2B business. The advent of online mobile stores run by the likes of Apple, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft means that small companies no longer need to invest heavily to build up a distribution network and channel and to build a brand franchise. The marketplace is in effect already there, already primed and eager to try out compelling content and applications. Any situation where the key differentiators and price, compelling content and innovative applications is one that Innovata embraces and welcomes with open arms as those are exactly the conditions under which we are more than happy to operate and compete in.