OpenJaw, an Irish firm acquired by Chinese state-owned GDS TravelSky, is now looking at developing its offering in areas including big data. That makes efforts to eat a slice of the enormous Chinese airline market a bit easier. In May, the company announced it had added four new Chinese airlines to a customer base already including British Airways, Iberia and Cathay Pacific.
"The vision is to substantially scale our operations. We've been investing in our platform substantially. We've been making a whole range of new product announcements. It's not just in traditional e-commerce," says CEO Kieron Branagan. For example, the company has been working on a cognitive computing platform with IBM Watson, designed to conduct customer service via Facebook Messenger. It wants to have customers talk to a chatbot rather than somebody working in a call center.
"That chatbot has been loaded up with thousands of questions and answers that a normal call center would receive. It responds to people using all of the learning that it has from the past and then also learns from the current interaction. It's a way of really automating, servicing and ultimately selling without human intervention. In China, we think that this is really important because the scale of the travel market there is so vast. Anything that can reduce contact centers or call centers is really valuable."
Via its relationship with TravelSky, the company has access to the last seven years of booking data for the Chinese airline market which it wants to leverage to enable it to target customers more effectively. It has an office in Dalian in North-West China, a major IT city, which it is looking to grow to 100 people by the end of 2019.
That's where the company's R&D for the Chinese market will be carried out.
"[TravelSky]They're outward looking, they're looking to expand their business outside of China but also leverage the asset that they have within China. I think we have a good relationship," says Branagan.
"I think TravelSky recognize and they certainly have taken advice that they should not impose their own culture and business practices on a western company. So they kept our company separate to a large degree, we have our own culture, we operate as an independent brand within the group." Branagan's ambition now is to double the company's workforce to 450 and increase annual revenues to more than €40 million over the next three years.
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