The BBC and GLH aim to get more personal with APIs

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman March 13, 2016
Technology leaders explain how using APIs to integrate new digital services with existing back-end services will help them deliver a more tailored experience to customers.

Almost 70% of marketers say personalization is very important to the customer experience, but only 40% are unifying data across channels to fuel that personalization, according to recent research carried out by marketing industry publication The Drum on behalf of San Diego-based customer engagement and marketing software company Tealium.

The biggest barriers, say respondents, are constraints in budget (28%) and technology (25%)

That said, there’s a definite push in this direction, so it was interesting to hear two executives from the BBC and hotel group GLH talking about this topic in a customer panel session at last week’s Apigee customer conference in London.

When it comes to digital disruption, there are few sectors that have experienced this more than the hospitality industry, with the rise of online travel agents (OTAs) and lodgings listings site AirBnB, said Chris Hewertson, Chief Technology Officer at GLH, which operates hotels under the Amba, Every and Thistle brands, as well as four luxury London hotels.

Personalization is the number one topic in the hospitality industry right now. Unless we own you, the customer, in a more holistic way, we’re going to pay far more money to online travel agents. We have to make the most of the bookings that come direct to our website, as opposed to those that come from OTAs where, every time, we’re paying transaction fees and commission. So it’s much more beneficial to us to take a booking direct.

That said, OTAs are clearly here to stay: most hotel chains only take around 10% to 15% of their bookings directly today, according to Hewertson. So with that in mind, GLH has been honing its API strategy, using Apigee as the underlying management platform, in order to more directly link to intermediaries such as This opens up customer information that wasn’t previously available to the company, he explained:

One of the issues for this industry is that all the OTAs have entirely different integrations, so it’s hard for hotels to integrate with all the different ones out there. A whole industry of intermediaries exist to do this, to provide hotels with the mechanism to integrate, but what tends to happen is that the hotels lose a lot of visibility around booking information.

So one of the things we’re working on is our own APIs, connecting directly to OTAs, that suddenly give us the transparency around what people are booking - or not booking. Now, we can get more information. We know when someone’s looked at something but not booked it. We know if they’re repeat booking. All of this was hidden from us in the past.

As a result, GLH is now able to run more sophisticated analytics on the data gathered from its APIs, giving the company deeper insight into guest’s buying behaviour and requirements.

At the BBC, meanwhile, personalization is all about being able to mash up and re-use programming content from the company’s back-end systems and deliver it to individual audience members in a way that is tailored to their habits and preferences, explained Jon Billings, the Corporation’s Head of Platform API.

A lot of work has focused on taking all of the bespoke content back-end systems that we’ve built over the last decade - for iPlayer, BBC News and so on - and making them reusable, so it’s possible, for example, to make a children’s iPlayer app without actually having to commission new bespoke back-end systems.

A lot of this is about reducing the work that product managers and their development teams have to do to create new, personalised services. BBC content comes from a huge range of sources, with many thousands of new items published every day,  explained Billings, so it’s vital that the BBC’s API strategy focuses on being able to respond to a large variety of requests from many different websites and applications.

At the same time, APIs need to expose the relationships that exist between content items and individuals, so that personalised recommendations become the norm across different services, he added:

So that’s my kind of day-to-day job - working on that aspect of the platform and ensuring we have the right level of APIs and services. They need to be rich enough to not push too much development work to the front-end team and allow them to go and do whatever they want with content, without interrupting our platform architecture.

Travel technology start-up bd4travel has just announced it is working with TUI Group on the real-time personalization of its website, so that visitors’ search filters such as preferred departure airports, destinations and hotels are stored automatically and presented to them on subsequent visits. According to a statement from TUI Group’s Director of Digital Commerce Dirk Foste:

Online customers today don’t want a standard, ready-made website that everyone has access to - they want a personalised experience with content and offers tailored solely to their requirements.

Other companies on the personalization track include fast food giant McDonalds, where the growth strategy is pinned on “mass personalization” and UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, where one of Chief Executive Mike Coupe’s goals for 2016 is to

fulfill our customers’ needs on a more personalised basis.