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In an attempt to keep up with the times and stay relevant, are some airport retailers falling foul of a ‘digitalisation mania’ in which they are implementing costly and unfocused solutions? Corporate digital transformation specialist Kai Schmidhuber thinks so, and is calling for a more precise, coherent and financially disciplined approach. Martin Moodie reports.
Introduction: Two years ago, in the stand-out presentation of The Trinity Forum 2016 in Mumbai, then-Fraport Senior Vice President Kai Schmidhuber (today Chief Digital Officer at French beauty products giant L’Oréal and owner of digital consulting firm ai-retail.com) wowed the audience with a compelling insight into how one of Europe’s leading airport companies was embracing the digital world.
Schmidhuber showcased his creation of the airport world’s then-largest and most comprehensive multi-channel online shopping ecosystem at Fraport’s flagship location, Frankfurt Airport. The platform was underpinned by a pioneering – and hitherto unlikely – tripartite cooperation model between airport, airline and retailer.
Schmidhuber has now unveiled a workshop programme designed, he says, to ‘Demystify Digital’.
Kai Schmidhuber during his riveting address at The Trinity Forum in 2016 in Mumbai. “Don’t get me wrong – I think there are great technical solutions available,” he says. “But I also think the gap between ‘Fear to be last mover’ and ‘Digitise everything at a price of millions’ is way too big.”
Kai Schmidhuber’s Trinity Forum presentation in 2016 marked a watershed in travel retail’s previously slow and often reluctant move into digitisation.
Several respected industry voices say that Schmidhuber, today Chief Digital Officer at French beauty products giant L’Oréal and owner of digital consulting firm ai-retail.com, effectively opened the floodgates to the flurry of airport digitisation efforts that ensued.
Much has happened since then. Many airports are investing – or plan to invest – millions of dollars in the digital transformation of their travel retail business. Millions, Schmidhuber says, in new IT and infrastructure, human resources and organisational change.
Now, two years on from that landmark Trinity Forum address, Schmidhuber is posing an unexpected and polarising question: Is it really worth it?
“Is there a real business case?” he asks. “Or is it rather magicians and jugglers who want to sell you extensive solutions involving stately budgets with at least dubious benefits?
“With regard to airports, I am watching with increasing concern the unfocused ‘digitalisation mania’. I believe that the solutions adopted today are sometimes extremely over-dimensioned and a great malady potentially arises here.
“Don’t get me wrong – I think there are great technical solutions available. But I also think the gap between ‘Fear to be last mover’ and ‘Digitise everything at a price of millions’ is way too big. Airports need our support to bring reason again into the game.”
Kai Schmidhuber: “With regard to airports, I am watching with increasing concern the unfocused ‘digitalisation mania’.”
Surprising stuff, perhaps, from a man so intrinsically related to the airport world’s embracing of what he now calls “omni-channel hype”. After all, didn’t he help start it? Schmidhuber is not dismissing digitisation, however, but instead calling for a more precise, coherent and financially disciplined approach.
He is now launching a workshop concept called ‘Demystify Digital’, a programme he calls “unique and absolutely results-driven”.
The programme involves one-day workshops designed to enable participants to “identify the maximum solution in digital consumer-centricity with minimum effort”.
“The programme is handcrafted, personalised, agile, focused and purely business-driven,” Schmidhuber says. “It will help companies and individuals identify what role their travel retail business will play in the ‘digitisation madness’ that is happening.
“It is a one-day ‘Make it or break it’ workshop. We use innovative and agile methods to clarify which degree of digitisation really makes sense for the respective airport.”
What will participants get at the end? “A clear view on the digital options, what works and what does not work according to me and my team’s extensive experience,” Schmidhuber explains. “All that topped with a concrete action plan. Save millions – and still do the right thing.”
Footnote: Kai Schmidhuber will be a keynote speaker at the Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) Conference and The Trinity Forum, in June and October 2019, respectively.
About Kai Schmidhuber
Kai Schmidhuber is a founder of multiple businesses. He has been a senior executive in four Fortune 500 companies within the last 13 years and is a renowned corporate digital transformation specialist.
He has extensive experience in business development, innovation, marketing, internet technology and e-commerce, especially in the fields of logistics, transport, tourism, aviation, travel retail and FMCG. Prior to joining L’Oréal as Chief Digital Officer, he served as Senior Vice President at Fraport, with specific responsibility for the group’s overall digitalisation strategy, acting as thought leader for digital airport transformation.
He is a regular speaker at conferences, where he talks about successes and failures of digital transformation projects, allowing his audience to look behind the scenes of big corporates. What is a PR story, what is real? What were the challenges to overcome when it came to organisational setup, IT development or e-commerce operations? He describes expectations, focusing on monetisation, ROI, and creating customer experiences.
“Disrupt yourself or get disrupted” is his message. Schmidhuber claims that the world is entering the “third phase” of digitisation, one in which artificial intelligence will raise the bar in terms of customer experience. “Customer experience is evolving from a mobile-first to an AI-first business,” he contends. “For customers this is the start of the most exciting phase ever. They will enjoy benefits like hyper-personalisation, faster than real-time customer service and the most user-friendly interfaces ever seen.”
It’s about identifying and investing in the customer experience of the “day after tomorrow”, he says.
The Moodie Davitt e-Zine | Issue 252 | 16 November 2018