You are senior vice president Airlines and Executive Committee member at Amadeus IT Group. You are not from the Travel industry. Tell us how you started your professional journey and joined the airline & technology industry?
I studied Mathematics and Economics at the University of Cologne, and when I finished my studies it felt natural to join a high-tech company where I could apply my academic background and at the same time gain experience in the distribution of high tech services and products. It was the perfect timing, and companies such as Toshiba and AEG were extremely attractive for a person with my type of profile.
The travel industry, by contrast, was at its infancy. People weren’t travelling as much as we do now. Flying was even considered somehow a luxury and everything was manual, from reissuing a ticket to boarding your flight. As an industry, it was a white canvas, but one with a huge and exciting potential. This was very attractive to me.
I joined Amadeus in 1995 as director, Markets Europe, Middle East and Africa. I was responsible for consolidating and building up Amadeus' position throughout Western Europe, while expanding the travel distribution activities of Amadeus in the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. It was the pre-online era, but we could already see new entrants doing things totally new and innovative. In 1996, a small division of Microsoft called Expedia launched its website offering online bookings for air, hotels and car rentals. A year later Travelocity launched its own site to help the “do-it-yourself traveler.” It was the start of the travel industry revolution and the customer empowerment as we see it now. And this is not the end, we are now entering the fourth Industrial Revolution and the digital transformation era, and I’m sure we will see new and extremely innovative ways of travelling or “experiencing travel” (AR for example).
Business stakeholders are demanding the speed to market, agility and innovation of digital natives from airlines. How can airlines cut through IT complexity, accelerating innovation and time to market?
The travel industry is one of the most technologically advanced industries. But the world is changing at an extremely fast pace and this industry needs to adapt and evolve at the same speed. As we’ve noted, we are now entering the fourth Industrial Revolution, in which technology will become embedded in many new ways within societies and even our human bodies: new forms of machine intelligence, blockchain.
In Amadeus we see Digital Transformation as the next big story in travel. Moving to digital platforms that offer infrastructure, products, data analytics and consultative services. For example, we started in Amadeus with the Digital API that allows airlines the freedom to work with partners whenever and with whoever they want. This means flexibility and agility for airlines which is exactly what they need.
But it also requires us to change, reinvent ourselves and the way we work. It means a fast decision approach, agile working models, digital tribes and working much closer to our customers.
Accenture Tech Vision for Airlines 2017 identifies AI as one of the key technology trends. How can Airlines Leverage AI as a key differentiator to enhance traveler experience?
Over the last 100 years technology has helped airlines improve air travel and customer experience, but I’m sure AI will revolutionize air travel and air travel experience beyond limits we can’t even imagine.
For example, AI and analytics are already helping airlines to personalize emails, social channels and mobile apps to help them engage with different customer types and ensure they receive relevant content. Another good example are chatbots. Customers want to have real-time interactions with airlines and this type of intelligent technology will allow airlines gain new customers and strengthen brand loyalty with existing ones.
There is one thing for sure, AI will revolutionize the travel experience and all of us in the travel sector will have to embrace it.
Accenture research shows 37 percent of women who reach senior management positions, for example, studied STEM or computer science and used their digital experience to advance in the workplace. How can we encourage more women to embrace technology?
In my opinion this is something that starts at home. Parents are hugely influential in a child’s development, they have to support and encourage their children to follow the career they want. Schools are also an important element in this process and, in particular, teachers. A teacher makes the whole difference. A good and engaging teacher can definitely trigger the decision for girls to follow a science and technological path. And finally, society is another really important element here. Girls need to have role models they can look at and aspire to.
There has been much talk over the last decade about work/life balance and we see that moving toward a “truly human” idea, in which people are encouraged to bring their “whole,” most authentic self to work. In your eyes, how has the approach to work/life balance changed over the years?
I believe we are definitely changing and adapting the way we live to one in which work and life are balanced. This is not only about new policies in a company, I think it goes beyond that and it also needs for us as individuals to change and adapt.
Flexible hours in the workplace are important for employees; they are a good way to attract new talent and retain existing, as well as having a positive impact on engagement.
The goal in our society and the corporate world should be to evolve to a world in which flexible hours are not considered a privilege but part of our culture. I’m sure we will get there.
Your favorite holiday spot to unwind is?
Thanks to my job, I’ve been able to visit many different countries and I have also been really privileged to experience countries like Japan, Germany, France and Spain, but when it comes to my favorite holiday spot I truly enjoy a break up in the mountains. It allows me to have quiet moments, enjoy nature at its best, and fuel and replenish my body.