Want Data Insights? Travel Inc. Says Ask Alexa

By | August 2, 2017

Voice-assisted search is exploding, and along with it comes the opportunity for traveler service and transactions. What about data?

A number of companies are looking into this, but Atlanta-based Travel Incorporated aims to be the first corporate travel provider to release a working product.

Building off its proprietary reporting tool, Evolution, a new Travel Inc. “bot engine” allows travel managers or other authorized users to pull information from itineraries and spending data by asking a question. “Who is traveling to London today?” “What was cost center 1045’s spend in July?” They can then say, “Send that to my inbox.”

Travelers might ask, “When is my flight?” or say, “Send me my last three invoices.”

To be made available initially on Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices and new Android and iOS apps coming out this quarter, the Travel Inc. service has been tested with clients during the past six months.

The project required only an investment of internal developers’ time. “We haven’t had to expand staff,” said senior vice president Tony Peter. “Our developers are really engaged, interested people. Many are from outside travel.”

Travel Inc. VP of marketing and partner engagement Tracie Carillo said the company’s leadership has not yet decided whether to charge clients extra for the technology.

Image: Amazon

Travel Inc. of course is not the only entity watching voice.

Business intelligence firm Domo — which last month made its first appearance at the Global Business Travel Association convention — is “absolutely” investing in this area, according to chief strategy officer Jay Heglar. “We’re looking at all ways of interacting with data,” he said. While one of its partners works with voice technologies, Domo isn’t offering the functionality natively at the moment.

Pi Inc. has been demonstrating a prototype it aims to beta with a client by the end of next month. “Using our technology companies will be able to kick off an information request via voice or free form text and then the underlying data sets are queried for a near-instantaneous report or metric,” according to managing director for North America Tom Tulloch. Natural language interfaces like Alexa, he said, “will massively streamline how people consume and receive data.”

Pi also “recently added the capability to create dynamic automated insights on top of travel data for several launch partners, and will be releasing this to the wider market by year end.”

Grasp Technologies also is building proactive alerts for data insights. The company plans to incorporate voice prompts. “I’m sure there’s a place” in travel management for voice technologies, said Grasp president and CEO Erik Mueller. “When the assistants start talking to you, that will open up a while new opportunity.”

At Data Visualization Intelligence Inc., “We believe that voice integration will increase in importance over the next few years and we have a research and development effort ongoing to see how it can add the most value to our customers,” according to DVI president Brian Beard. “For answers to simple questions, voice will overtake traditional interfaces within 24 months, but for complex queries we believe that data visualization is still the way to go.”

Cornerstone Information Systems is focused on “intelligent data acquisition and transformation and getting customers data ready for interaction with a variety of platforms,” according to CEO Mat Orrego. “Preparing data for a conversation requires more context in order to make it relevant and effective.” He said that asking how many company people are in London, for example, “might require a response like, ‘You don’t have anyone in London at the moment. However, in two hours there will be three people arriving at Paddington from Manchester.’ Poorly staged data and programming might not have produced the latter part of that answer, which is key.”

At Prime Numbers Technology, “While we internally discuss voice integration, artificial intelligence, bots, etc., our current roadmap is focused on workforce optimization with our Insights module, in which our development was driven by our customers’ engagement and requirements into our product,” according to VP and general manager Mark Bresnahan. “As our customer base looks to work in that way, we’ll be there. That hasn’t been what matters most to them, yet.”

That’s more or less how Travel Inc. views using voice technology for bookings. Carillo said bookings would not be in the first release, “and probably not the second. That doesn’t mean we won’t go that way.”

Some providers are.

Sabre Hospitality Solutions “is building a chatbot prototype that would allow travelers to shop, book and engage with hoteliers through the most common messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter and SMS text messaging, as well as voice assistants, such as Amazon’s Echo (Alexa), Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Home,” according to a July statement.

Avis last month announced car-rental bookings on Echo devices. Demonstrated at GBTA, the technology is expected to roll out by the end of August. This week, Avis said it also would offer an application on Google Home. Planned for this month, it would be the first such Google Home software from a rental car company, according to Avis.

Expedia, Kayak, Lyft and Uber are among the providers of what are now more than 600 travel and transportation applications (known as skills) on the Alexa platform.

Avis cited Gartner, Inc. research indicating that by 2018, 30 percent of consumer interactions with technology will be through voice assistance.

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