Many software builders during the past several years moved toward a development process that involves clients in more steps along the way. This “agile” method allows them to prove the utility of smaller components of the technology, avoiding the commitment involved with major releases. This can increase speed to market for top-of-the-list features.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel shifted to this approach starting last year. Now clients will see shorter development cycles and more frequent informational updates. With mobile, for example, customers this year can expect quarterly communications about the development roadmap. They should see the next bulletin in March.
Amir Kirshenboim, chief technology officer for CWT’s digital division, offered some glimpses of the mobile plan in a Feb. 13 phone interview. Clients can expect better design continuity with other CWT systems, more personalization and more global hotel content. CWT is considering air bookings, too.
Mobile app development isn’t cheap, so it’s important to be confident about development priorities. Kirshenboim noted that the digital strategy under relatively new leadership in CEO Kurt Ekert and CTO Andrew Jordan means the CWT To Go app would no longer be funded particularly by hotel booking revenue.
“Our mobile channel is part of the overall digital strategy,” said Kirshenboim. “Our CEO and shareholders believe a best-in-class customer experience eventually will fuel a more successful business for us. There will be KPIs, but the reason we’re building it is that it will benefit clients.”
That means delivering on what they want. Kirshenboim said identifying that is fairly easy, for now.
“The basis of every product management exercise is trying to find the widest common denominator (not the lowest). What will achieve the most impact?” he asked rhetorically. “Wherever we can, we’re trying to avoid specific customizations because that would not scale. Scalable solutions have to be relevant to as much of our client base as possible. At this point, it’s not very hard. We’re pretty much at the beginning of the journey. We’re now still finding capabilities that 70 to 80 percent of our clients want.”
He said a few dozen large clients specifically anticipated one of the app’s latest enhancements — hotel rate caps and justifications for travelers exceeding them. A CWT press official said that about three in four large clients have defined hotel rate caps.
“Clients are setting caps and daily budgets, and there are lots of complicated rules that differ by city and country and currency,” said Kirshenboim. “As part of this, when they book over policy, they need a reason. Maybe the other hotel was booked or they need to be close to the airport. So we’re supporting that to the full extent now. It’s important to make sure we’re working toward client priorities. We’re trying to make travelers happy but also balancing client requirements.”
Is it hard to determine what to build when traveler desires and their employers’ needs differ? Yes and no, he said.
Mostly it’s a no, because a lot of features help both. He called this overlap the “golden circle.” Hotel bookings, for example, please travelers for productivity reasons. They also help companies maintain compliance and comprehensive reporting.
Kirshenboim said clients can expect to see more small features such as the rate caps and reason codes. “They will seem minor, but they will be very important to clients,” he noted.
Down the road, Kirshenboim said chatbots would “probably” become a mandatory mobile app feature.
“Bots and artificial intelligence will facilitate a better user experience — quick answers and productivity,” Kirshenboim said. “It requires significant infrastructure changes.”
In an earlier interview, Jordan had described Carla, CWT’s chatbot that has been trialed in China. “If you read the science, we are nowhere near as far forward as the world would like to think we are,” said Jordan. “AI still is nascent. If we can liberate agents and surface those [requests] in To Go, the useful time with which agents can do more complicated things goes up. We see that as an intersection between online and high-touch.”