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CWT’s Chief Architect Matthew Newton on Gen AI and a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

May 01, 2024

CWT’s Chief Architect Matthew Newton’s unconventional career has seen him transition from hotel management to business change management and eventually into IT. “My unconventional career is testament to the symbiotic relationship between hospitality, travel, and technology,” he says, “From my very first day at a hotel reception desk to my current 30-year tenure, technology has been a constant companion, shaping roles in finance, operations, and food service.”

Newton joined CWT in 2017 as Chief Architect and member of CWT’s Traveler Experience & Customer business unit, having held national and international leadership roles at glh Hotels and Hilton International. He is now responsible for modernizing core systems and enhancing differentiation for clients in 139 countries. An “API evangelist,” Newton architects enterprise tech environments to deliver customer-centric digital solutions providing guidance and governance across enterprise architecture, digital strategy, technology investment planning and portfolio delivery.

Matthew Newton

We ask Matthew what led him to his role, what the future of AI means for travel managers, and what we can expect in the future.

What led you to a career in enterprise architecture?

The turn of the millennium marked a pivotal shift as I moved into IT, driven by a major financial system implementation. Surrounded by forward-thinkers, I discovered a more rewarding discourse - one that envisioned the future rather than dwelling on the past. This alignment with technologists sparked a profound realization: technology’s true value lies in its capacity to enhance our lives and work. Embracing this insight led me to enterprise architecture, where I’ve since honed my expertise since receiving a TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) certification a decade ago.

How is AI changing enterprise tech for customers?

As Chief Architect within our enterprise architecture fraternity, my role extends beyond mere oversight; it’s about vigilance and strategic foresight. In a world brimming with disruptions - be it geopolitical tensions like the war in Ukraine or transformative innovations like cloud computing and AI - it’s imperative to remain ahead of the curve. Being an enterprise architect is about identifying the currents of innovation and steering the business ship toward the most promising horizons, aligning emerging capabilities with qualified business needs.

CWT has been working extensively with AI for more than six years – particularly in our virtual assistant and intelligent display products – and with GenAI and large language models since the start of 2023.

My fascination with AI stems from its potential to redefine our business and began in the whimsical pages of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where fantastic devices captured my imagination as a teenager. Today, these once-fictional ideas are not only feasible, but they are also actively shaping our world.

The fusion of advanced cloud computing, powerful processors, cost-effective storage, and widespread internet have paved the way for AI’s growth. My team and I have since embraced AI, leveraging it to transform our enterprise architecture. Looking ahead, AI will become a business staple, driving industry innovation, especially in business travel.

How does AI benefit travel managers and travelers, and what future advancements can they anticipate?

I can easily give you a few examples. The first one is related to our advanced messaging chatbot. This innovative tool ensures that interactions are not only quicker but also more personalized, allowing customers to receive immediate, contextualized responses through our chat channel.

Our hybrid messaging channel blends a Virtual Assistant with live counselor support allowing travelers seeking assistance via myCWT web and mobile apps to engage in a unique, unscripted conversation with a GenAI-enabled virtual assistant, which hands over seamlessly to a travel counseler when needed.

The enhanced messaging service has now been rolled out to customers in 56 countries. There's little waiting with messaging compared to the phone. 85% of CWT messaging interactions are answered in less than 3 minutes.

While the chatbot currently handles simpler tasks, such as providing flight information or processing cancellations, its skill set is expanding. In time, it will be able to manage more complex travel arrangements, maintaining a consistent standard of service, which is key.

Another example is related to intelligent displays we’re integrating to sift through the increasing volume of options, presenting the most relevant choices to our customers. This isn’t about deciding for them; it’s about empowering them to make informed decisions quickly and efficiently. As AI becomes more embedded in our daily lives, the synergy between our technology and the tools our customers use in their professions will deepen, leading to a seamless integration of AI across all facets of business and travel.

What’s the ideal human-technology relationship, and how can both sides benefit?

In today’s information-rich world, AI has emerged as a conversational partner that can offer instant feedback. It should never replace human judgment but act as a brainstorming companion and sounding board for innovation stimulating thought and refining ideas. Just as we’ve adapted to smartphones, AI will become an indispensable resource, not just in answering questions but in shaping the very questions we ask. It’s a dynamic journey, and we’re just at the beginning.

Within the next year, we expect to have GenAI technology deployed for multiple applications – both in proprietary solutions developed in-house, and those from our strategic partners.

In July 2023, we completed a worldwide GenAI hackathon across our operations and technology teams where we brainstormed 110 ideas, prototyped 25 of them in 12 hours, and we identified several for productization. One area of promise is in Sales process optimization – using GenAI to speed up the completion of RFPs, client proposals, and client onboarding by summarizing and systematizing client travel policies.

AI is here to make the human experience better. While its impact is not always immediate, the intent behind AI is to improve our lives. Of course, a strategic approach is key, requiring safe implementation, active use, and ethical, un-biased handling of data.