The five-minute CIO: Marko Javornik, Comtrade Digital Services

2 Dec 2016

Marko Javornik on the future of mobility at a TEDx talk aboard an aeroplane. Image: Comtrade

“This is an industrial revolution that is being driven by data,” said Marko Javornik, vice-president and general manager in charge of mobility and travel at Comtrade Digital Services.

Marko Javornik is an expert in software technology innovation and digital transformation. With more than 20 years of experience, he has led large-scale software technology projects developing global business solutions in various industry verticals, including financial services, energy management, automotive and travel.

Currently, he holds the position of VP/GM of mobility and travel at Comtrade Digital Services, one of the largest IT companies in south-east Europe, where he is leading Comtrade’s partnership with Ryanair and other key accounts.

Javornik’s specific area of focus is on reinventing car mobility by bringing advanced back-end technology to the market to enable new concepts of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), such as car-sharing, ride-sharing and shuttle services.

The sharing economy is changing everything, particularly turning businesses in traditional industries into digital businesses. How is Comtrade facilitating this change, especially in your domain area of travel?

The key trend here is mobility. We are investing in our own innovation around the concept of MaaS. We believe the future of mobility, especially in the cities, is not to own a car but actually to change the business model into a subscription-based model, in which you consume mobility as a service.

We believe that apps like Uber and Hailo are just the start of this huge transformation of mobility within cities.

We are involved in innovation but also [with] organisations like the Mobility as a Service Alliance, which was formed last year, but now the first serious meetings are taking place to define the speed of this transformation.

In terms of digital transformation, trends like Ryanair becoming a kind of Amazon of air travel, are traditional businesses engaging sufficiently in the digital world?

To be honest, they are inspired and they are threatened. These traditional companies are under attack by newer digital-based companies that come up with platforms and they are moving 100 times faster. It could be a very small company – FlixBus, for example was only established four years ago – that can disrupt many traditional industries. FlixBus is a new platform-based bus company that is eroding business from established players in Europe.

Europe is really lagging behind in this disruption of mobility but FlixBus is one of the rare companies that has set up a model, and in just three or four years, has become one of the largest bus providers in Europe. And, of course, like Uber, they don’t own any buses and don’t employ any drivers.

It’s one of the rare examples in Europe where digital mobility, not focusing on buses but the platform, is making all of the difference.

This is happening throughout the travel business. Ryanair recognise this and [it] can either be part of this or be stuck as an airline company only. Ryanair doesn’t want to suffer that and the only way is to develop their own digital offering.

The key is to be early, be on top of it and understand that the digital world moves at a different speed than the traditional business.

In the traditional world, an airliner is buying planes every two years as standard procedure. In the digital world, you are making weekly decisions and you need to decide to integrate with partners or compete with them, and these things are happening at faster pace.

This is a challenge for many traditional businesses. In traditional companies, there is a six- to nine-month procurement process to execute on an idea, but Uber have launched hundreds of different products that they are launching on a weekly basis.

Do you have a large in-house IT team?

We have 1,000 engineers, which is a very solid base. That enables us to quickly assemble teams of five, 10 or 20 people to take on projects.

The second thing is we understand this business very well. We do our own innovation, we study in detail what it is Uber is doing differently than some traditional companies, or Airbnb or Spotify – the leaders of digital disruption. And we understand what kind of technology stacks they are using, and these are typically not the same technology stacks that traditional companies would use.

These are stacks that allow really fast experimentation, and if something is really successful in the market, they allow you scalability and growth to millions of users.

Traditional companies are building huge systems that are not so flexible, that are not meant to be used for experimentation in the market.

We have specific knowledge and building blocks, so we don’t need to reinvent everything from scratch, but that we can base on existing layers, and we just focus on the technology.

Traditional companies will argue they don’t have the skills or the expertise, what advice would you give them in a world being transformed by digital?

This is an industrial revolution that is being driven by data. That is the essence of it. Some of the companies are beginning to realise that the data from what they are doing is more valuable than what they are doing [itself].

For some hotels, the data points they are getting is more important than the hotel itself. Data about travellers enables airlines to create more value than the planes themselves.

Airlines are becoming a commodity business and it is hard to make a margin on it. Most of the margins come from additional services in the physical world, but I think it will be much more in future from the digital world.

They will start monetising the data. If you know someone is on a plane and who is travelling with them and so forth, this is so valuable, because you can create additional services on top of that.

If you are able to stay fast and agile and connect other APIs, it is a business model that works for everybody. This is the essence.

Businesses need to understand that even though they never thought of themselves as digital in the past, they will be in the future. The second notion is complexity and speed of digital is different than before, and if you move the IT from being a supporting role to being “we are a technology company”, you need to adopt this speed.

Then you are talking about agile transformation internally, it really goes deep.

This is where we help, by helping them to do the first projects and get the first success.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector?

Digital transformation is very real and this is happening. The internet of things and connected devices – cars are one of the most complex devices that you can ever connect – are leading to very different business models.

When you do MaaS, you can generate a lot of data. We are convinced that the challenge of the future will be how to use this data in the correct way, using predictive analytics.

Here, the competition will be around how smartly you handle the data and it will be around digital intelligence.

This means identifying patterns – you should already know when people are going to work. The future mobility systems will predict this in advance, and have a car ready to go to you.

It will all be much easier to consume than it is today. It is all about data-mining algorithms and so forth.

For us, we are focusing on MaaS because this is where we see the future.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years