As we get ready to wave goodbye to a busy 2017, tnooz asked Finnair chief digital officer CDO Katri Harra-Salonen to share her views on the top developments in digital for travel this year, what she learned from Slush, and her predictions for the dominant tech trends for 2018.
tnooz: What would you say was the most significant development in digital for the travel industry in 2017?
Harra-Salonen: The travel industry as a whole is developing very fast at the moment. The market is growing and the importance of design and technology as a competitive advantage is better understood. We are increasingly thinking about the individual as a consumer, not just as a traveler or a passenger. From a holistic perspective we can see the industry boundaries blurring and actors repositioning themselves as well as new actors entering the market. I would say digital is changing our opportunities to create value for the consumers.
tnooz: What technology trends did you observe at Slush which have the greatest likelihood of benefiting travel over the next five years?
Harra-Salonen: Slush is filled with a lot of topics and technologies, companies have very different time frames in mind when they prepare for Slush. Some showcase actual consumer products, while others display long term future thinking. If last year the talk was about VR and AR, this year that was replaced with another acronym—AI.
Artificial intelligence is something everyone is trying to figure out and this subject was approached from different angles by different speakers and companies. We can be sure that the development of AI has an impact on our industry in the future. Today we test and develop it with chatbots, facial recognition and preventive maintenance use cases for example. In the future, we think we will see AI utilized as part of everyday operations everywhere, but how long it takes to mature and what use cases come first is still open.
We at Finnair experienced surprising readiness for example for the facial recognition proof-of-concept that we showcased. Another technology being discussed there of course was blockchain, what will its implications be for the travel industry and where can we utilize it first?
tnooz: What digital accomplishment at Finnair during 2017 are you most proud of having delivered and why?
Harra-Salonen: The most important achievement is the team itself. We today have a Transformation and IT team comprising of experienced IT professionals, new digital and data professionals as well as digital service product owners. We have been able to take more direct responsibility for the services we offer to our customers and employees in terms of design and development. We have made significant improvements within our customer facing digital platform; from customer friendly design improvements to new payment alternatives. But we have also been able to launch mobile services that have changed the everyday life of our employees, like the Skypay solution that our crew is using inflight everyday.
tnooz: What would you predict will be the top digital and technology trends to look out for in travel during 2018?
Harra-Salonen: In short term, I expect to see a lot more mobile services and new personalized ways of supporting the consumer during the customer journey. I also expect to see new AI use cases moving from pilot stage to production. From our perspective, wifi onboard is a big focus as we are bringing it to our short-haul as well in 2018. But there are many areas we will see innovation and development if not major production launches in short term—biometrics and voice interfaces, for example.