CTO Question Time

This year’s CTO Question Time at the UK’s foremost travel technology event, Travel Technology Europe (TTE), saw standing room only, with yours truly moderating a lively discussion in which travel tech leaders expressed absolute confidence in the ability of their companies to be GDPR compliant by the May 25th deadline, but also their greatest, most nightmarish, fear: losing their best employees.
This year’s panel line up comprised industry big hitters Andrew Metcalfe CTO of Guestline; Rajat Dhawan, CTO of Contiki Holidays; Andrew Jordan CTO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Jonathan Midgley Director of Engineering of Trainline. Each at the top of their game. There was enough knowledge and insight in that one space to give a fascinating view as to what the industry has in store, and what it’s thinking.

Topics under discussion included AI, cyber security, Big Data, digital transformation retention of technology talent, and GDPR.

Not only was the panel high-level, so was the audience. Their questions kept the discussion moving at a lightening pace. I love it when these events go well. They’re a substitute for a week’s reading in an hour.

On GDPR, so widely flagged towards the second half of last year as the nightmare of whole sectors, these tech leaders were clearly not phased. They all maintained they had their house in order – strong statements, I thought. On AI, the panel agreed that machine leaning had now come of age and companies should no longer be excused for not deploying technologies which could significantly help enhance the user experience. Mobile development remains key as “easy to use” preferred tool. Customers expect a seamless experience when interacting with travel brands, one which mirrors the experience they get from, say, retail.

Technology talent retention was a big concern for all in an area that is now crucial to competitive advantage. Ideas flagged for keeping good IT people were the provision of a vibrant working environment, creating a culture of openness and giving developers room to grow, be themselves and feel valued. Communicating changes, sharing long term vision, and keeping engagement throughout the digital transformation process, which for many employees was often unclear. “Lack of strong internal communication can cost you the best people”, commented Andrew Jordan. Other factors impacting retention were decent salary levels, the option of flexible working and showing respect towards employees.

When asked what advice these senior CTOs had to a CTO of a start up, Jonathan Midgley of trainline articulated what all agreed on “Data is at the heart of everything we do. Get the data model right!”
Another issue for the panel was data breach. The panel agreed this was an area of concern however all maintained their businesses were highly focused on data protection and appointing staff to mitigate risks were key priorities all round.

I was delighted to once again chair this session at Travel Technology Europe. The discussion was extremely engaging and we had many questions from the audience and excellent feedback afterwards. What a brilliant industry to work in. A few years ago it was stuck in the dark ages – now it’s leading the technology conversation!

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