ConTgo to debut bidirectional mobile mapping communications


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ConTgo to debut bidirectional mobile mapping communications

  1. 1. ConTgo To Debut Bidirectional Mobile Mapping Communications<br />January 13, 2011, 3:5 PMBy Amon Cohen<br />ConTgo, a company that helps corporations track and communicate with travelers through mobile SMS messaging, plans on Saturday to launch MTA MapCast, a geo-coded mapping tool originally developed both for and in partnership with Microsoft's security department. The United Kingdom-based conTgo also is poised to announce new worldwide reseller agreements with a global distribution system and a large multinational travel management company, who would join existing partner American Express, which plans to launch later this year a version of MapCast.<br />By adding bidirectional communications, MapCast goes beyond conventional GDS-based tracking tools that already offer mapping features that display travelers' locations, officials from Microsoft, conTgo and Amex said. As a result, a security department can send automated text messages to travelers located within a defined area on the map. Additionally, it can send a message to all travelers, asking them to respond to such simple questions as whether they require emergency assistance. Dots on the map representing travelers can be color-coded according to their text responses, showing in red those who require assistance, for example, and in green those who do not. <br />"We believe we are the first ones to integrate communications into mapping," said conTgo CEO and co-founder Johnny Thorsen. "The days of looking at lists of travelers are gone."<br />Microsoft director of global security operations Mike Foynes said Mapcast will help his security team focus on travelers who need help in an emergency. "Now we can see data that means something, and we can interrogate and communciate with that data," he said. "We can query a location and make a radius search, and restrict our communications to people within that radius. If we require answers from them, the color coding will change on the map according to their status."<br />Foynes added that Microsoft is "not looking to commercialize this. We are looking to improve our own operational picture. We brought our domain expertise to the table." A third partner on the project was Lansing, Mich.-based IDV Solutions, which provided the mapping technology.<br />ConTgo is planning a second release of MTA MapCast later this year, which would map the location of travelers not according to their GDS-based travel itineraries but through GPS positioning of their mobile phones. MapCast would send travelers a message asking them to text back the word "LOCATION," thereby authorizing the transmission of their position. Thorsen said the company eventually would produce a dynamic map allowing security managers to watch as dots representing travelers move around on their screen. He warned that though such development is technically possible, there are numerous data privacy issues to surmount, and said he expects such tracking only for travelers visiting high-risk countries.<br />ConTgo and Microsoft started working more closely after the volcanic ash crisis of April 2010. At the time, the Microsoft travel department was testing conTgo in four countries, but after being more impressed during the emergency with the performance of conTgo's Mobile Travel Assistant product than GDS-centered rivals, the relationship was taken over by the IT giant's security department and expanded to 60 countries.<br />Thorsen said the ash crisis experience also prompted negotiations for conTgo's two new reseller agreements. The company now is looking to target corporate clients mainly through resellers in an attempt to keep conTgo's headcount small, he said. There currently are 17 staff members. Thorsen claimed that conTgo handled three times as many transactions in the first 10 days of 2011 as during the same period last year.<br />ConTgo's relationship with Amex also has been progressing. In August 2010, conTgo became the first partner to connect with the TMC via Amex's Digital Travel Record system, which aims to strip processes unrelated to booking and file-finishing out of GDS-based passenger name records and route them through a separate extensible mark-up language-based architecture. One of the chief benefits of DTR is that Amex would be much better equipped to offer mobile applications. Amex vice president of global IT strategy business travel Michel LaBianca told BTN that his company is testing iPhone and BlackBerry apps for its version of MapCast and also plans to start trials on Android and Microsoft mobile platforms. <br />Thorsen said conTgo this quarter would launch its own full mobile app, offering an enhanced version of its existing SMS-based tools. "Until now, we have always been seen as the people who send SMS messages, but our customers have not had the capability for an aggressive rollout of a large application," he said.<br />Separately, conTgo launched a meetings-based application called Mobile Meeting Assistant. It is now commonplace at conferences for delegates to be handed a device on which they respond to multiple choice polling questions from the stage. Mobile Meeting Assistant enables the same process by using texting to and from participants' mobile phones.<br />