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Next-gen technologies driving big changes for car rentals and ground transportation

January 31, 2018
Adam Hancox
Adam Hancox

The past few years have witnessed a rapid acceleration of next-generation technology in the mobility space.  The ‘API economy’ powers a global marketplace which, when coupled with rich, relevant content, can open new markets, grow market share and differentiate your brand to drive bottom-line performance.

In order to be at the forefront of delivering the right content to the right places with the right technology, companies must invest time in three key factors—the effective usage of application programming interfaces (APIs), the role of relevant content (from a B2B platform perspective) and the scalability and performance of cloud which drives the global marketplace.

Mobile traveller

Leveraging the API economy to communicate with customers

The “API economy” is a buzzword term used a lot these days however its impact on today’s commercial environment should not be underestimated. APIs enable apps to communicate with each other and power all real-time interactions. Business partners can also leverage APIs to connect applications for joint-selling opportunities. This approach has driven some of the largest scale disruption in the world today – from the rise of cloud and the likes of Amazon web services, the future connected home and the app eco-systems we take for granted today on our mobile devices. Specifically, for car rental, the API is a driving force for creating a frictionless customer experience. 

It’s important that this customer experience is front and center in technology decisions which should be tailored towards consumption via mobile devices, where according to research, 40% of online travel bookings were made in 2017. It’s critical that the experience on mobile devices provides relevant, easy-to-consume content and makes it easy for travelers to book services—particularly when in transit.

So what does a good API strategy look like?  What are the key considerations for your business?

  • Performance - APIs need to deliver the right content and work fast. Your end consumers do not accept waiting times, especially on mobile and have an attention span of eight seconds (according to this study from Microsoft). Instant is key – if it is not instant it is not relevant these days. Slow APIs resulting from bloated data structures impacts the end-customer experience, where loading delays directly translate to lost revenue. Studies have shown that 40% of shoppers abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, and one-second delay in page response can result in a 7% drop in conversions.
  • Standardization - to be sustainable, APIs need to be built on open standards; otherwise, the effort to develop and maintain different APIs for many business partners and customer segments will present significant challenges and overhead for IT teams. If APIs are built on open standards vs. bespoke software, the maintenance effort is reduced significantly.
  • Architecture – Even with a mobile friendly, standardized API, companies can still run into issues if the right infrastructure is not in place for scalability.  The impact of cloud and the steady reduction of prices for computing power has resulted in great opportunities to scale a business for global commerce – be that via their own cloud strategy or through strategic distribution partners. 

Within mobility, selecting the right technology and network partners in your value chain is critical to ensure your integrated APIs deliver a consistent customer experience across all channels.  The focus should be on who can provide a cost effective and well established network which can expose your content for you to monetize it quickly.

The role of relevant content

Connectivity and content can help strategic growth in emerging markets, a key focus in mobility at this time.  For instance - China is the world’s biggest purchasing market and it is also one of the key emerging economies.  Car rental companies steering towards new content and capabilities via new platforms, can do so without the high investment often brought along by setting up subsidiaries or operations in new countries like China and instead can operate with a light satellite operation. The building of brand awareness can be driven through connectivity and content. The right platform can give companies a fast track market validation and allow them to get ahead though connectivity.

Where API technology helps you deliver real-time content, artificial intelligence (AI) enables you to deliver more relevant and personalized content so you can deliver the right mobility options to customers. This improves your services and increases the likelihood that customers will buy from you.

Natural language processing (NLP) is a great example of AI and operates by parsing content and inferring the proper context of the content in relation to each customer. For example, NLP can scan the terms and conditions of a contract, identify the most relevant information for the customer (such as extra fees), and display the information to make the customer aware. Functionality like this goes a long way towards improving customer experiences and avoiding angry renters, enabling a frictionless customer experience.

This type of NLP utility can be applied to any type of content to extract relevant context. There are plenty of other use cases for NLP as well—from powering chatbots for customer service and handling booking questions to sentiment analysis of customer calls to drive call center performance.

AI is not a silver bullet—its applications are wide but the direction a company takes in this space needs to continue to focus on addressing customer or business pain points. Once the key pain points are identified, we recommend looking at proofs-of-concept on how the AI approaches referenced in this article can be applied to your business. For many companies, working with the right partner will be important given most companies will not have these skillsets in house. It’s best to restrict your initial efforts to a manageable data set, and then expand based on measurable progress towards your business goals. Start small with one goal, go to market with this proof of concept and expand from there.

Utilizing the cloud to run technologies smoothly

Today’s cloud technologies serve as the underpinnings that enable APIs and AI to work their magic. And thanks to the relatively low cost of the distributed global IT infrastructures provided by Microsoft, AWS and Google, the playing field has been leveled for just about every size business in the car rental and ground transportation industries.

You can now rapidly scale your IT infrastructures to support the API Economy and connect with a global customer base. Cloud computing costs have also continued to decrease year-over-year, and the growth of the cloud is helping drive innovation. These factors are leading to high adoption rates.

The cloud makes it possible to move away from the model of significant upfront investments in data centers and infrastructure to maintain your ecommerce platform. You also gain the ability to tap into competitive on-demand pricing models with worry-free application availability and consistent performance for the applications you provision to customers around the globe.

Another key aspect of the cloud is that it’s very portable and enables platform-as-a-service business models. The GUI-driven infrastructure as a service allows CIOs and CTOs to consider many more off-the-shelf components to fit into their enterprise strategies—moving people away from the “build first” mentality.

Gone too are the days of extensive upfront builds and application rollouts. Most of today’s services are cloud-based for scale and use APIs for easy integration into existing platforms with a wide range of AI services now available as well as cloud services for consumption.

While the upside is significant, we recommend assessing your current infrastructure profile and applications for their ability to operate on a cloud infrastructure. There can be significant costs in this migration effort, particularly for legacy bespoke applications. However, the benefits to long-term IT costs are significant.

Empowered apps reach a larger audience

In today’s digital world, a well-designed website backed by search engine optimization is not enough. Google ranks websites poorly that are not Web responsive, and getting customers to your site is only the start of the journey. You need to deliver intelligent content to customers through a myriad of channels. It’s also important to ensure your communication is consistent and synchronized with complex customer itineraries which keep changing and with intricate rules for booking, rebooking and adding services.  

When it comes to solving these challenges with next generation technology, Travelport is constantly innovating to help transportation companies deliver information to their customers. Recognizing that booking and engagement patterns for mobility have shifted away from workflow towards “in the moment” customer needs, we have applied the principles and technologies in this article into our next-generation platform. We now have a cloud platform that handles more than two billion transactions (searches and bookings) per month and delivers relevant content passed through Natural Language Processing techniques, around the globe in less than half a second.  

In addition to providing API development and integration services, we help you manage your cloud computing platform to deliver scaled performance on-demand. By partnering with Travelport, you won’t have to worry about scale or traffic—we make sure the traffic is managed so as not to overwhelm your current infrastructure set-up.   

We focus on a seamless on-boarding experience and allow the ease of delivery of your relevant content to improve your reach to new customers and drive existing customers back to your website. A partnership with Travelport also puts you at the forefront of the API Economy—using mobile-friendly connectivity to empower apps that make it possible to reach a larger audience.

For more information on how to leverage next-generation technologies that deliver relevant content to your customers and make it easier for them to do business with you, please click here.