KDS’s new Neo platform brings door-to-door to corporate travellers

Following initial announcements about a “killer app” and pilot testing last year, travel and expense management software house KDS has officially launched its door-to-door corporate booking tool Neo.

This is an edited version of my post originally appeared on Tnooz: Door-to-door killer app for corporate travellers unveiled

The “new” Neo is different from what was initially planned (see 2012′s initial promotional video) and CEO Dean Forbes admits door-to-door was more complex than expected.

Having brought back CTO Stephane Le Cam from startup world to lead the project, the result is quite promising given the short time-scale.

Sleek, user friendly and fast

Neo was demonstrated live this week with a pretty good quality of results and impressive speed, very close to the target of five seconds response time, thanks to both smart caching and artificial intelligence to identify relevant itineraries.

The user experience provides many common consumer-driven features, with heavy leverage on Google’s infrastructure like real-time predictive text input, live StreetView and map overlays.

Door-to-door itineraries are displayed as a timeline with steps including walking, driving, biking, rail, hotel, flights and dining.

Users can then select and change key component like hotel or flight, and evaluate the impact on the overall cost.

Built on a proprietary framework based on HTML5/JS/CSS, the user interface adapts itself to the display size and has shown excellent rendering on desktop, iPad and iPhone browsers.

The development team has rebuilt the whole application architecture in order to ensure speed, scalability and device independency – and this could raise concerns from corporate customers, used to wait years for new travel code stacks to stabilize.

And here comes the a-ha moment

Estimating door-to-door expenses takes the process very close to total trip cost control. Neo assigns cost estimates to every step and provides a breakdown of booking costs (air/car/hotel) plus additional costs (bus/dining).

The itemized trip budget is nothing else than a skeleton expense report, which once approved can provide a benchmark for detecting variances with the post-trip expense claim. Highlighting variances or allowing automatic approval tolerance could seriously help streamlining the expense claim process, and it would be interesting to measure user testing sessions to prove this.

Although usability can be further improved, the engine looks stable and in all live demonstrations, definetely fast.

Major gaps like hotel map search are already in development. However, deployment will be decided on a case by case basis with corporate clients.

And this is where the rubber will hit the road: sources with early access to the new tool think it’s not fully ready for prime time, and expect another three to six months before the quality of the results (read: fares) will be accurate enough to allow real bookings.