With eWeek reporting that 70% of the Fortune 500 are evaluating iPhone for the enterprise, the corporate travel industry needs to take note. From my view the debate is over regarding download verses mobile Web. Transcoding your Web page for the mobile browser is still important, but the value of a downloadable app for a company’s brand and the ability to personalize the interaction with the customer is unmatched. The phone is becoming more and more of a sensor (accelerometer, compass, temperature, etc..) . The penetration of the iPhone in the corporate market is making a downloadable iPhone app for travel companies a priority. Apple has announced record profits and the iPhone is a big part of this. Apple’s success in the corporate market is directly due to the consumer acceptance of the device.
For years a familiar theme heard throughout the business travel industry concerns the evolution of TMCs from order takers to true consultants for their corporate clients. I often classify TMCs into three groups- mega (Amex, CWT, BCD & HRG), 2nd tier and third tier. This is based on size of the company and their regional or global reach.
Late last year I gave a presentation to a group of TMCs who were part of a business travel consortium. The group was comprised mostly of 2nd tier and 3rd tier TMCs. As is my nature I talked about how technology was driving new business practices in the corporate travel market. This included my passion around mobile technology and its approaching impact on the business travel experience. I have given many talks over my 31 year business career and I pride myself on being able to read my audience. There I was prognosticating on how advanced technology would change the role of the TMC, when I looked out at the audience and I suddenly realized they were not getting it! So I paused and asked a simple question, how many of the TMC executives had at least 50% of their reservations being done online. No one raised their hands. Ok I said how about 25% of their volume online? Again only one agency owner raised their hand. Then it hit me. This group represented the famous “laggards” segment of the technology adoption curve.
Let’s face it, corporate booking tools have been around for over 10 years. The cost savings of these tools have been well documented, but here I was talking to a group that could not see their value. One of the more progressive agency owners (the one with 25% adoption) whispered in my ear that the current economic downturn might actually thin the herd eliminating those who don’t embrace technology. The bottom line is simple. If you don’t adopt productivity tools such as CBTs or BI dashboards, you will be left behind. More importantly, if you embrace these tools, the opportunity to move from a transaction processor to truly a consultant that helps corporate clients identify areas to reduce their T & E spend is significant. During 2005-2006, I worked with one of the mega-TMCs on overall technology and service strategy, recommending that they build a comprehensive dashboard for their clients and that they expand their consulting offer beyond the consulting unit within the company to make a part of the account manager’s core offering. I was pleased to see this mega embrace my advice, too bad this group of laggards is still clinging to the old way of doing business.
Yesterday’s announcement concerning the availability of the iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit) is significant for potential travel application developers. The iPhone has shifted the focus from cell phones to mobile Internet devices with the first full function mobile Web browser. Applications written for the iPhone can be downloaded directly from the Internet bypassing the traditional walled garden of the wireless providers. The announcement specifically emphasized application development for the business market to compete with RIM’s Blackberry, the leading corporate smartphone. Venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced it was creating the $100 million iFund to help new developers for the Apple handheld platform. As a result there is a lot money on the table to encourage developers to create corporate oriented apps. Are you listening travel software vendors? That’s the good news.
The bad news goes to the heart of what Apple is about: proprietary software. Though the iPhone design is truly revolutionary, the corporate strategy of a proprietary operating platform environment may constrain development. There is fear among developers that Apple will limit the ability for third-party developers to distribute apps, in the same way they did with the iPod gaming market In addition the ability to write the application once and have it shared across devices is impossible with this proprietary approach. For example many of the current mobile applications are written in Java which can run any device that has a Java Virtual machine (JVM). This week Apple also announced that they will not support a Flash Virtual machine on the iPhone limiting the use of Macromedia’s Flash, a very popular way developers have added animation and desktop functionality to Web apps. In addition, the Telcos are not happy with Apple as the iPhone has eliminated the revenue associated with the control over application distribution that has been a driver for the walled garden approach. A slew of new iPhone like devices is already hitting the market with many more on the near horizon. Apple has again been pivotal in the development of new platforms as it was in the creation of the personal computer, but may fall victim to the same low marketshare fate if open applications environments such as Google’s Android platform take hold allowing a more practical path for cross platform mobile application development. I don’t believe we’ll see the iPhone’s share of the mobile market diminish as it did in the early days of the PC, but limiting third party application development is never a good thing in the age of open source computing.
The recent Orbitz for Business survey results regarding the value of Internet connectivity on the plane continues to produce headlines like this ” Most Business Travelers Don’t Need Wi-Fi On Planes”. Conclusions such as this based on this research are very misleading. According to news reports (as I have not had access to the actual survey results) the question asked whether the traveler would take a less convenient or more costly flight to get Wi-Fi. This is obviously a loaded question. Wrapping the issue of in-flight Wi-Fi adoption with flight selection is absurd. Business travelers are on airplanes for one reason only, getting to their destination so they can conduct business. In my view business travelers and the corporations they work for, will embrace in-flight broadband connectivity when it is available. In fact I would go farther to say that connecting to the Internet while on the plane will become as common as connecting in your hotel room is now. Whether the traveler will use the connectivity for business or pleasure is a different issue. Having logged thousands of miles over the years I frequently see business travelers both playing solitaire or watching a movie on their laptop or portable device as well as working on business. Let’s not draw any conclusion until wireless ubiquity in the air becomes a reality.
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