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Ask most people what innovation means to them, and I'd be surprised (beyond some broad consensus around the idea of it signifying something 'new') if their focus wasn't almost entirely on R&D – whether it’s shining a light on the latest products, services, and apps, or more generally referencing the serious investment and man hours required in trying to create and shape tomorrow's world.
Amadeus Data Processing GmbH in Erding, Germany
But actually, the spirit of innovation - in other words the premise of a good idea - can come from, and happen, anywhere. From the way we recruit our staff to how we communicate. In this sense the notion of innovation to me goes far beyond technical invention. There is more to innovation than simply coming up with a new product or a new appliance – it has to have a commercial aspect to it in that it creates or enhances customer value.
At the same time, innovation is emphatically not just a technological issue, nor is it the exclusive realm of new applications. In fact, innovation is required, and often quietly delivered, at every level of running a business. Take the area of management techniques. At Global Operations, we are currently implementing a Lean IT approach, which will help us to focus and continuously improve our entire business operations.
Someone asked me recently if it was possible to truly innovate in Operations…my answer was ‘absolutely, or else I wouldn’t be doing the job in the first place’! As a matter of fact, the Lean IT approach we are introducing in Global Operations is part of a wider change programme involving innovation and continuous improvement across the organisation, aiming to achieve success across three key values: maintaining and indeed enhancing the stability of Amadeus’ Global Operations, improving our agility, and driving customer value.
If we think for a moment about future innovations, and what will shape our industry in the coming year and beyond, I believe that innovation will chiefly affect two-and-a-half dimensions, as it were. The first is the area of mobility and availability of information, possibly augmented by virtual reality, as exemplified by the Google Glass project. The second is the micro-segmentation of the travel market based on the on-going personalisation of information. The extra half-dimension is complementary to the latter in the form of data from the customers’ social environment. For instance, when looking for a travel destination for your next summer vacation, today you still have to pro-actively narrow down your search or else you get drowned in an avalanche of suggestions.
To get meaningful results, you need to provide information upfront - that you want to stay at a lodge in Tuscany, say, rather than go on a trip to the Australian outback. In the future I think there will be a vastly reduced need to run active searches like this. Instead, you will get bespoke offers at the push of a button according to information that is automatically streamlined and contextualised in line with your generic preferences, past experiences, and data you have posted on social media such as Facebook. “Smart” applications are going to make a well-informed guess about your demands and requirements and present you with already highly refined search results to begin with. This is where “shaping the future of travel” might lead us to.
As a commercial enterprise, if you lack the capacity for innovation, or if you don’t innovate for any other reason, you’re as good as dead. There is a fundamental need for continuous improvement in order to raise your productivity and create efficiency gains. If you don’t meet that need, your customer basis is likely to erode very quickly, simply because someone else will do a better, more efficient job and beat you at your own game.
Viewed from this angle, innovation is a paramount concern of any business operation, which is why all of us should not just care about it but in fact place a premium on it.
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