Innovation elbows its way forward at IATA WPS

Ben Hunt

Group Communications Director, Amadeus IT Group

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Armrest peace with Arthur and Grace Chang, Soarigami

Proof that innovation comes in all shapes and sizes - and needn't necessarily come with an API - was on display in Hamburg yesterday at the third and final day of the World Passenger Symposium.

Arthur Chang, the CEO and founder of Soarigami, showcased his product which looks a little like a paper aeroplane model of Concorde, is made from recycled plastic and is designed to stop the battle for the armrest in the air. 'It is a beacon of hope,' he said. And so it is. Soarigami proves that you don't need to be able to code to innovate.

Chang and his wife, Grace, carried off the winner's check of $25,000, beating off the strong challenge of three Irish companies -Indigo Connect,LikeWhereand MTT. They may not have won, but Dublin's 'Silicon Dockyards' is clearly firing on all innovation cylinders.

Coming soon

Passengers should be encouraged that further solutions to their inflight grievances are on the way. IATA and Tnooz also showcased the results of their weekend NDC Hackathon. One finalist showed their 'Seat Treat' app which would allow passengers to buy upgrades during their flight to allow them to flee drooling, snoring or screaming neighbors.

What was clear from most of the non-recycled-plastic-based innovation on display is that the industry is absolutely on board with the idea of providing contextual, personalized services to improve passenger experience.

The day's key note presentation was given by Terry Jones, currently the chair of Wayblazer, which uses IBM's 'cognitive intelligence' platform Watson to help hospitality and other brands to make deeper connections with their customers. As founder of Travelocity, founding chairman of Kayak and a CIO of Sabre, he is uniquely placed to commentate on the industry's development.

Jones focused his presentation on the proliferation of data in the industry and the fact that much of this is now being generated by the customer rather than the company, irrevocably changing the dynamic between brand and consumer. Successful companies, he said, can turn their technology systems from being 'systems of storage' to 'systems of insight'. And then use this to provide a personal offer and service addressing people as individuals rather than as part of a demographic.

Own The Edge

Companies that can do this he said would be able to 'own the edge' - which today means the edge of the glass on the customer's smartphone, the modern intersection of customer and company.

'Who owns the edge in the travel industry now?' He asked. 'Nobody yet.'

His final advice was simple: 'Dream Big! The tools are here and the future is a foreign country and they do things differently there.'