18 April 2017
Mark Hardy (CEO TouchStar Technologies) discusses the recent
history and future direction of the Group’s OnBoard Retail division
changed at TouchStar Onboard Retail and how has your approach evolved over your
30 year history?
2016 saw Novo IVC start the
year with a new website and a new brand. Since the unveiling of our new brand
identity “TouchStar OnBoard Retail” in January 2016, we have continued to
develop our product suite to deliver pioneering and innovative on-board systems
to our clients within the Airline and Rail industries.
We continue to align ourselves with the needs of our end users. In today’s
price driven market, our end users face increasing challenges to drive down
costs, increase ancillary revenues and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Delivering an efficient
onboard service and exceptional customer satisfaction is key, however it is the
ability to deliver a personalised service that now drives the all-important
revenue opportunities. As such, our goal is not only to provide an
onboard retail system, but a portfolio of optimised system components for our users to manage the on-board retail
experience and management of passengers and flights.
2. Why have you decided to build your own back
At TouchStar, our goal is
to provide our customers with the tools to access and manage data more
efficiently. In doing so, crew are able to optimise their inflight operations,
proactively responding to passenger queries as well as providing the
all-important personalised service.
We developed the NovoStar back
office to provide the all-important ground support to help Airlines to manage
the logistics behind the operation and control and support the functionality of
the POS. Whether an airline is looking to provide an onboard food and beverage
service or simply add new products onto their duty free POS, the objective was
to provide a familiar interface that can be deployed in a desktop or tablet
By providing a single
point of contact between the back office and POS, and the ability to customise
the functionality of the POS using the back office, our NovoStar adaptors allow
airlines to integrate with core systems
to optimise the data collation and reporting process for both pre and post
flight operations without redevelopment of the POS.
3. Why have you decided to use the cloud and
what benefits can these deliver to your end users?
our development is based around delivering optimised system components. When we
first started looking at the use of Microsoft Azure, it was clear that the
cloud offered a lot of potential to revolutionise on-board retail in the
fact that for the most part, the system is offline – Azure provides an
inherently flexible platform, incorporating system attributes that are of
tangible benefit to the airline industry whether the system is offline, online
or anywhere in between.
By use of the cloud, infrastructure
can now be delivered at the click of a switch within single or multiple
geographies. Cloud based systems offer the flexibility to match varying
bandwidth requirements, automatically aligning itself to take account of seasonal
fluctuations or organic growth.
One of the most significant advantages the
cloud offers is reliability and cost. Compared to traditional systems, which
are continuously consuming resource even when they are not in use, the
optimised running of a cloud-based system only transfers updated files. Reliable
transmission of data can be achieved even in instances where connectivity is
intermittent or unreliable.
With most onboard retail systems requiring
integration into other systems such as an airlines HR, ERP or Warehouse
systems, cloud connectivity also means that all the traditional point to point
connectivity problems disappear by use of secure VPN tunnels over the internet.
These systems also provide a lot more resilience, by leveraging the Azure cloud
automatic backups to multiple geographies can take place even with intermittent
connectivity between the POS device and the internet.
4. What importance do you place on delivering
a positive crew experience?
Crew team members are key in
driving the strategy to increase on board revenue. It is essential that they
have the tools and knowledge in place to optimise the service they deliver. Integrating optimised system components including
electronic form applications and automated feedback mechanisms, NovoStar
reduces paperwork significantly enhancing the crew experience. By
reducing the amount of paperwork and administration, our goals is to make it as
easy as possible for the crew to perform their jobs. Most importantly, by delivering key sales
target information (gameification) and key passenger information, crew are both
motivated and able to allow time for more personalised face to face selling.
5. How are your systems helping airlines
exceed the expectations of the modern day airline passenger?
Enhancing the passenger experience is at the
heart of today’s airline operation. The modern passenger demands fast and
reliable service. At TouchStar Onboard Retail, we recognise that by providing
an optimised service, the crew can exceed these expectations by delivering a
personalised experience. The ability to respond to queries quickly, react
pro-actively to travel issues and provide personalised product offerings result
in both a greater propensity to spend and passenger loyalty.
6. What impact has big data had on the airline
industry and how can they capitalise on it?
The emergence of big data, low
cost storage and advanced analytical tools means that our users can capture
even greater value from such information, provided they know how to analyse and
interpret it. Although some leading
airlines have gained a reputation for clever data handling, most airlines have
not yet built the operational capabilities and internal processes necessary to
take advantage of the information that is available to them.
Facing the challenges of
personalisation means that learning how to master big data is important today
and will become increasingly important over time. The best way for an airline
to get started is to look at very specific areas that will fuel growth rather
than trying to build a fully comprehensive solution. Each segment of data
should be considered, but only in respect to the areas that will drive real
value into the business.
Ultimately, big data needs to help people make practical
decisions faster and more accurately: Should we promote a product for an extra
week? Should we offer a two-for-one deal? Which promotions should we continue
and which should we stop? Information needs to be made available to those that
make the daily decisions in retail, if people in those roles can’t get the
information quickly enough to act on it, they will ignore it.
7. Do you believe inflight Wi-Fi will bring
more competitors to the market?
The advent of inflight Wi-Fi is certainly attracting other players to the
market, however, that will be short lived. There are some fundamental problems
with airlines moving to an online retail model that re only just starting to be
realised. With the
functionality of Wi-Fi varying dramatically across the industry, reliable and
consistent connectivity is key to moving to a fully online retail model and
without this in place, Airlines are at risk of losing the all-important
ancillary revenue opportunities. That said, Wi-Fi will open up
opportunities for new retail channels such as IFE integration and BYOD.
8. What predictions do you have for the future
use of OnBoard Retail Systems?
I believe passenger,
crew and airlines will be experiencing a lot of changes to their journeys in Passengers will benefit from a smoother transition between various legs of their
trips. Airline employees will have new tools, equipment and technologies to
learn and use on the job and airlines will be able to stake a claim in the
fully mobile, internet-connected, customer-focused marketplace. Not only that,
retailing will become finally become multi-channel will delivery available on
outward or inward flight, or at destination.
Underlying many of the changes
will be airlines' greater adoption of Wi-Fi connectivity,
together with the passengers' heavy reliance on mobile devices. Airlines will
embrace new ways of identifying, selling to, serving, communicating with and
transacting with their passengers.
With flight attendants and crew
members increasingly relying on mobile technologies, devices and new payment
methods, onboard systems will be fundamental in supporting these changes to
make sure retail is seamless, fast, efficient and more personal than ever