CONNECTING 1.6 BILLION PEOPLE

Saudi Arabia 2019-2020 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Nashat Bukhari, General Manager of Amadeus Saudi Arabia, on digital transformation, IoT connectivity, and research and development.

What role does Amadeus play in Saudi Arabia's digital transformation and how are its priorities aligned with vision 2030?

Amadeus is a global technology company, listed in the Spanish Stock Exchange with 19,000 employees connecting over 1.6 billion people a year to local travel providers in over 190 countries. The company started more than 30 years ago as an IT system provider for airlines to then evolve into a leading company providing advanced technology solutions for the global travel industry. Technology has always been critical to developing global travel, increasing scale and access. Mobile devices, artificial intelligence and data analytics are continuing that evolution, giving people ever more ideas, options and control over their journey. Thus, today we are positioned at the heart of the country's digital transformation, and as a key enabler of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030. The country is adopting the latest technology and is committed to lead in the IT segment rather than to follow. Organizations must keep up with the extremely fast pace of changes powered by cloud technology, and this also means being open to new sectors that are currently being digitalized, such as Hajj and Umrah, entertainment and sports.

How do you expect demand for the Live Travel Space to evolve and what will be the key drivers?

Today, our Amadeus Travel Channels business embraces the concept of Live Travel Space, a new concept powered by cloud technology called “Amadeus Travel Platform” - a robust platform built on open systems, harnessing intelligent use of data, integrating new interfaces and architectures to provide our travel channels B2B and B2C levels (retail, online travel agencies, business travel and corporations) access to all global travel content in one single place. The world is changing, and so as the behavior of travelers as 80% of consumers worldwide own smartphones and expect information on demand for new content, destinations, and better booking travel experience that they can manage themselves on any digital platform. At Amadeus, we develop technology every day, harnessing intelligent use of data, integrating new devices and architectures to deliver personalised and integrated journeys. Our technology ensures transparency, choice and simplicity for travelers and gives our customers the tools to drive growth and efficiency. These are created, under our Live Travel Space concept to serve the country's path towards Vision 2030. Indeed, the creation of new cities and new attractions, for either entertainment or business, and the increase of education and knowledge demand is transforming the country, and we have to cope with this.

How has customer experience demand changed and how do you seek to adapt this for the business?

The internet and big data completely changed the rules of the game, even in the travel industry. Today, everything is available on the Internet, and the digital technology provides intelligence and analysis about customers' experiences and views. At Amadeus, customer support is one of the key pillars of our service offering simply because we want to be the technological partner that contributes to the success of our customers. For example, we provide a 24 hours one-stop shop customer service portal called “Amadeus service hub” that enables our travel agency customers to train and service themselves online via multiple platforms while providing access to how-to and troubleshooting articles, view videos and download technical guides. We also rely on the user experience to develop all of our products, so we are sure that there is a demand for whatever we are developing. The user experience and artificial intelligence and knowledge that has been increasing day by day will all be fed within the Live Travel Space and will be available for the customer.

How do you expect artificial intelligence to impact 5G and IoT connectivity to impact the Saudi business environment?

AI has been around for a while, but the leap, which started only a few years ago, will be tripled or quadrupled in the next few years. There will be increased dependency on AI especially for IT companies where customer support is an important service of their business. In user experience, AI is important because once the system sees a profile they will immediately come up with suggestions and anticipate your needs. AI will be at the heart of our technology and user experience. It will increase user benefits through agility and flexibility. Additionally, 5G networks will demand AI because they are far more complex than previous-generation networks. IoT is a huge market with far-reaching implications for several industries and travel is no exception. That being said, the advent of IoT is both a challenge and an opportunity. Thus, we are also pleased with the recent partnership with the world's leading IoT service provider, “Sigfox”, a global network operator together with our Amadeus global expertise, to explore use cases where IoT technology could solve some of the challenges faced by travelers throughout their journeys.

How should Saudi Arabia balance fundamental R&D efforts that expect result in the long-term projects and applied research to solve specific issues?

Increasingly there is a tendency to work in 'agile' mode meaning develop faster with shorter product lifecycles getting sooner to market with pilots etc. This won't happen obviously in every scenario but it is becoming common to bring new features or test new technologies. Using the agile approach, Amadeus has already built live features for 20 different airlines, covering mobile, web and messaging. The quicker something is live, the quicker it can start. Products are built over a number of program increments, consisting of six two-week sprints. Concentrating on agile benefits in terms of “time to value” means some projects are carried out so quickly that they hardly warrant being called a project. To give an example, recently, we have also taken another step towards the creation of a common, centralized industry platform for biometrics at Ljubljana Airport, reducing the average boarding time by approximately 75%. The biometric technology enrolls passengers using an Amadeus smartphone app that captures a 'selfie' alongside their passport photo and boarding passes, which are all stored securely on a remote server. Photos of the passengers are then captured at the boarding gate and matched against those stored on the server to validate passenger's identity and flight status. Upon successful matching, a message is conveyed to the Departure Control System for every passenger to board smoothly. All biometric data is deleted within 48 hours ensuring GDPR (General Data protection Regulation) compliance. The new technology promises to enhance the passenger experience by making boarding faster, simpler and more secure.