Sabre recently cut the ribbon on an Innovation Lab in Boston that will serve as headquarters for Sabre Labs. It is there the company plans to improve on its existing technologies as well as enable collaborations with other industry players to develop new and improved technology solutions.
The Innovation Lab, a 10,635-square-foot space, is located in Boston's up-and-coming Seaport District. There, software engineers will work with product development teams and customers. The company has other product development offices in South Lake, Texas, where Sabre is headquartered, as well as in Krakow, Poland, and Bangalore, India.
Sundar Narasimhan, president of Sabre Labs and product strategies and a Boston resident, said Sabre was drawn to the location for a number of reasons.
"The opportunity to take advantage of the immense university talent here that provides a pipeline of technology talent is one of the key drivers for locating it in Boston," Narasimhan said.
There are also a number of travel and technology companies in the area, including Kayak and Hopper.
Narasimhan joined Sabre in July 2018. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he previously held positions at ITA Software, which leased its technology to Orbitz. When ITA was acquired by Google, Narasimhan continued to work in travel under Google's ads organization. He knew Sean Menke, Sabre president and CEO, from his days at ITA, and they had a discussion about the future of Sabre last year.
"I suddenly saw an opportunity where I think the industry is in a crossroads both in terms of air travel as well as hotels and what's going on in the marketplace with alternative accommodations," Narasimhan said.
The Innovation Lab in Boston employs about 60 people, and Sabre plans to build up that number. Narasimhan said the space is designed to be a place where Sabre employees come to collaborate on innovative projects and invite others in the travel industry to do the same.
For example, the lab recently held a "hackathon" with Flight Centre, whose programmers used Sabre application program interfaces to create solutions for agencies and travelers alike. Sabre judged the competition.
Sabre Labs is tasked with enhancing Sabre technology in three fundamental areas: retailing, distribution and fulfillment.
"What we are really focused on in my group is that we've had these products for a while," Narasimhan said. "How can we take the next-generation leap with them?"
For example, Sabre is working to make its airline-shopping engines 10 to 50 times faster.
"If you make the core engines faster, then we give capabilities that you can use the remaining time to figure out what ancillaries the supplier may want to sell," Narasimhan said. "You can use that extra time to figure out what kind of prices may be appropriate for that particular customer."
Narasimhan also said Sabre Labs has been working on its SynXis Central Reservations system for hotels, exploring the ability of hotel companies to sell proximate experiences such as spa treatments or theme park tickets.
With SynXis, he said, the company is "bringing together that kind of content into our platform, making the platform richer, not just for the suppliers, who gain more revenue from it, but also for the agency consumers who are able to sell more and recognize better revenue."
In addition to developing solutions, Sabre Labs also tracks technologies of interest, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. While both are already used in many of Sabre's technologies, Narasimhan said, they have great potential, especially in analyzing large swaths of data to improve products.
Sabre was previously investigating chatbots, but it found that they didn't generate much engagement. But that's OK, Narasimhan said, because "part of innovation is learning what might not work, as well."
Blockchain is another example of that kind of trial and error: While early tests didn't yield very promising results, Narasimhan now says the technology has potential uses in areas such as agency-airline contracts. Narasimhan is also bullish on creating the ability to offer the differentiated content that has become standard on airline and hotel websites.
"I think that's very exciting," he said, because when it comes to "comparison capabilities, I think we've gotten fairly far along on individual supplier websites in terms of sophisticated user experiences. But comparison shopping, comparison of these kinds of attributes, still doesn't feel to me like we've reached the end game."