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Travel commerce platform looking to blockchain, virtual reality in 2019

In 2019, Travelport's CIO is looking to build out the company's travel commerce platform with help from emerging tech like blockchain, machine learning, virtual reality and more.

To maintain its position as a leading travel commerce platform, Travelport keeps a close eye on potentially game-changing emerging technologies, said CIO Matt Minetola.

In part one of this interview series, Minetola detailed Travelport's three-phase digital transformation journey and the cultural and organizational barriers the company overcame along the way. In part two, he laid out the travel commerce platform's top five "technology enablers" that have been crucial to Travelport's digital transformation.

Here, in part three, Minetola previews Travelport's 2019 tech priorities, which include blockchain, machine learning and virtual reality. The goal of these investments: to become an all-encompassing, end-to-end travel commerce platform that gives its clients the ability to deliver a superior customer experience. In addition to explaining why blockchain, machine learning and virtual reality loom large for 2019, Minetola hints at the benefits to come from Travelport's recent partnership with IBM.

Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Matt MinetolaMatt Minetola

What are Travelport's IT priorities for 2019?

Matt Minetola: First, there's continuous learning and growing and building and refinement of the core capabilities. The other part that's very important for us -- or any technology company in today's world -- is to keep your eyes out on the horizon. As the emerging technologies come or as new technologies come -- or even as existing technologies come but are evolving as they need to -- it's important for us to continue to look out at those.

This year, we've done our blockchain pilots. We understand and have proofs of concept running across multiple places that are using blockchain capabilities. We're working with our partners, our suppliers and our customers trying to figure out where those solutions may be best deployed. That continues to be something we see opportunities for in various spaces.

Travelport recently announced a partnership with IBM in the travel manager's space. What do you expect from that relationship?

Minetola: Just think about what [Travelport] has: We've got large global data, we have the ability to process it, we have the ability to distribute it and we have the machine learning and data analytics capabilities to move and mine that in many different ways.

When we partner with a company like IBM and merge their data with our data and have the ability to run it in anybody's cloud, anywhere and embed it as needed, we now have the ability to start really providing some key analytics and key differentiators to see the patterns that are going on with spends and various other things. You'll see continued announcements, products and investments in that space.

Blockchain, machine learning and AI in the cloud -- any other emerging technologies you're investing in?

It's important ... to create a virtual or augmented reality [feature] that allows people to experience the vacation or the hotel room or whatever that is. We believe that's where the world will be.
Matt MinetolaCIO, Travelport

Minetola: The third thing that's kind of still evolving and maybe a little bit more on the shiny side and maybe not the delivery side -- but it's going to be there -- is really around virtual and augmented reality. We partner with a lot of our suppliers and vendors and even have a lot of proofs of concept trying different things around how we create or evolve the experience. We're a tech company, but our end user is not a device -- it's a human. So, it's all about the [customer] experience.

Our ability at the back end to drive scale, our machine learning capability and our ability to process in the middle and do the analytics [is critical], but it's also important at the front end to create a virtual or augmented reality [feature] that allows people to experience the vacation or the hotel room or whatever that is. We believe that's where the world will be and so our ability to have that expertise is what we're building and working with today. We're working with some targeted folks in alphas and betas to make sure that as those things become real, we'll have the ability to process that through our entire [travel commerce] platform.

So, whether I'm a supplier of hotel rooms, airlines or cars, or I'm the agency that wants to sell the experience, we will have the platform that will enable that experience all the way through -- from pulling the content through to experience, as well as then booking it and giving customers the handheld device on day of travel to manage whatever it is they want to do. That really is the vision; that is what we are building. I took on the job about four years ago and you talk about a transformation and you start building up these capabilities, but this year and next year, we're starting to see it all come together.

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