Women in Tech Q&A: Michelle Noonan | Digital Strategy Lead at Avvio

The Women in Tech Awards is Ireland’s first annual celebration of women and diversity in the technology industry. The goal of the Women in Tech Awards is to drive diversity and narrow the gender gap in an industry which offers opportunity and success to anyone with ambition, passion and a strong work ethic.

As strong promoters of gender equality in the workplace, we’re delighted to sponsor the Disruptor award which will recognise a leader from a company whose innovation has led her teams and organisation to break traditional ideas and excel. We need more inspirational role models to encourage and inspire future generations to reach their full potential – wherever their interests may lie.

To mark this and showcase some of Ireland’s most talented “disruptors” we’ve asked the nominees for the Disruptor award about their careers to date, and what it’s really like being a woman in tech in Ireland. Our final interview in this series is with Michelle Noonan, Digital Strategy Lead at Avvio, which partners with hundreds of independent and group hotels across Europe and North America to grow direct bookings.

What is your background? How did you get in the technology sector?

I have always had a passion for technology and innovation and have worked with leading technology companies such as O2 and Oracle in the past. My educational background is in Business & Marketing with continued learning in more advanced areas such as management, digital marketing, and revenue management and I have never stopped learning since.

The technology sector, coupled with the need to understand how it improves efficiency and performance, has always fascinated me. Utilising its capabilities to maximise revenue and growth has been pivotal in each of my positions. It has given me the opportunity to develop creative innovations through a wide range of digital based solutions.

After working in Oracle, I knew It was my passion to work in the technology sector. I began to research technological advances and innovations avidly on a daily basis. This led me to Avvio, where I have worked for the past four years.

Avvio combines the key areas that motivate me as they produce a full in-house solution from booking engine and web development to digital marketing and UX. I am responsible for leading the digital strategies for not only Avvio itself but also their 600 customers. The strategies I have devised and initiated have played a major part in positioning Avvio as one of the fastest growing technology companies in the Hospitality sector.

Can you describe your current role – what are your main responsibilities?

I currently work as Digital Strategist for Avvio where I lead the strategy for over 600 customers through a team of Ecommerce specialists.

I am responsible for devising challenging customer strategies and implementing said strategies via the E-commerce teams. Leading, training and mentoring individuals within these teams is a core function of my role in addition to attending the latest technology and hospitality events, as well as speaking publicly on behalf of Avvio.

The hospitality sector can be a challenging industry especially for hotels who are constantly competing against Global OTA’s (online travel agents) such as booking.com, Airbnb and Expedia. My role at Avvio, as Digital Strategy Lead, is to cause disruption within this sector by growing the hotel’s own direct channel/website, allowing it to compete.

Over the years, I have done this by working with hoteliers to implement our latest software, alongside strong ‘Book Direct’ strategies and digital campaigns which seek to grow direct website traffic and revenue.

We average around 270 million in direct revenue a year for our portfolio of clients, which is growing year on year. We are renowned as digital disruptors within the industry and I have continued to introduce transformative digital strategies to allow hotels to protect and grow their brands. My data-driven approach will continue to drive our innovative, fast thinking strategies.

What do you attribute your success so far to?

Success can take many forms and from my own stance, I would attribute my success to determination and a passion to exceed expectations. Being in a position of leadership, I like to lead by example. I am a strong believer of setting goals and objectives and aligning key strategic planning techniques to ensure we achieve same.

To date, the digital department alone has generated over 55 million a year from our online paid campaigns using channels such as Google Ads, Bing, and Metasearch. Metasearch alone created a huge opportunity for hoteliers as it allowed them to compete in an area that was previously only available to OTA’s (online travel agents).

I attribute my success to the people I work with as it takes dedicated team players to ensure true success. I also firmly believe that success has been a direct result of the work partnerships I have built up and the opportunities I have been given. To me, receiving a nomination in awards such as this is an achievement in itself.

Being recognised as a woman for work within an industry that is predominantly led by males has been a fantastic accomplishment for me and I would hope that I can share this success with other women to show the recognition we are receiving.

You’ve been nominated for the disruptor award – what has been your biggest business risk to date?

The hospitality/technology sector is an extremely fast-moving and competitive marketplace which requires making decisions on a daily basis. Our key challenges within this industry involve taking risks in order to compete against global competitors at an international level.

Such competitors have access to the latest technological advancements and endless investment. For the independent hoteliers, this means higher commissions and a challenge to protect their own brand and website. As part of my role, I develop and lead strategies to offer ways in which the direct hotel can fight back. It has meant challenging the norm in brand protection, but we have had some really strong success stories!

One of the biggest risks to date would be one of our latest developments, Allora. Allora has been one of the first ever artificially intelligent booking engines to reach the market and has dominated the travel industry from media to events globally.

Part of the risk was recognising the leading trend towards AI over two years ago which gave time to develop the product and technology to what it is today. This risk paid off and we continue to develop the product to allow for an innovative and personalised way for hotels to compete with competitors. So much so, we made the bold statement that we guarantee we will grow any hotels revenue by 25% in the first year, a daring statement which has made a strong impact within the industry.

Taking risks and continuously challenging the marketplace with new and innovative digital strategies while not accepting the status quo is a fundamental component of my work philosophy.

What trends are you noticing in your industry now? What do you see being the next big disruptor?

The main trends I’m noticing are leaning towards an increased personalised approach online. Technologies such as AI have continued to dominate the market with a growing need for personalised content online. This is an area we have researched in-depth for our own AI-based technology Allora, and we are able to see the impact that artificial intelligence is bringing. Allora shows content specific to the needs of the user dependent on what they have searched for in the past.

We have seen some fascinating trends around different behaviours and country-specific needs through our online learning models. These models learn the behaviour of the user and roll out winning variations. We have seen this with various platforms such as Google Ads whereby their latest responsive search Ad campaigns test variations of ads until it achieves an optimal performance, all based on learning behaviours.

Facebook Dynamic creative ads also allow advertisers to show different versions of ads based on learning behaviours as with Bing Audiences which focuses on intent. The key takeaway here being the ever-growing need to show consumers the right information at the right time to enhance conversion.

Personalisation will continue to grow as will Chatbots and the need for “one on one” assistance. Mobile is another area that will continue to flourish as we saw this year when it surpassed desktop searches for the first time ever. More people are booking online with the need for speed becoming increasingly apparent. User’s want a seamless experience when it comes to technology and speed and usability are at the forefront. Structured data and AMP will continue to allow companies and users to compete from a speed perspective.

I predict a strong lean towards security in the technological field. The need for a HTTPS/secure site and to comply with GDPR regulations has meant challenging times for SMEs in 2018. Voice search and assistance will continue to grow as will video and cloud. It is predicted that voice searches will dominate by 2021 which is already key to some projects we are working on. We are also seeing increased use of AR (Augmented Reality) as an extension to VR.

Intelligence will continue to be key to UX improvement. UX has evolved over the past couple of years with clear indications of what segmented types of users are looking for. In terms of Digital developments, campaigns will become more self-sufficient through the use of AI. Intent will play a big part in targeting users versus the previous keyword-based targeting and attribution will continue to evolve and help marketers make data-driven decisions.

Finally, I see a growing trend for women in technology with more opportunities than ever being highlighted. Flat, decentralised structures will continue to evolve with a growing focus on mentoring and nurturing teams. I would hope to see the gender gap close with more women in technology continuing to grow and prosper.

In what way is your company leveraging new technologies successfully?

In October 2017 Avvio launched Allora, the world’s first booking engine powered by artificial intelligence. Allora is the next evolutionary step in booking engine technology. It is more advanced, more adaptive and more intelligent than any other direct booking engine. By orchestrating better online interactions between accommodation providers and guests, Allora focuses primarily on driving direct bookings and guest loyalty through a dynamic user experience.

The functionality and innovation that we have been able to offer hotels, has allowed hoteliers to grow their direct channel and compete with large global companies.

Hoteliers are now causing disruption within this industry with our key clients taking on the bigger OTAs. We now see on average, 25% of business come through the hotels own channel in a market that was predominantly led by the high commission based OTA’s. We will continue to lead in changing the way people book online and offering the latest technology for hotels to do so to ensure year on year growth.

In terms of pitching innovative or new ideas effectively in business, what are your tips?

Do your research, and then deliver your ideas boldly and passionately.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt over the years?

The biggest lesson I have learnt over the years is to never give up. My motto at the workplace which is posted on my desk is quite simply “Solutions Not Problems”. Every day people are challenged with problems, my approach is to face every problem with an opportunistic mindset. In achieving a solution you have gained invaluable knowledge and insight that is second to none.

How do you stay current in a constantly evolving industry?

I am a slight tech nerd and I’m always looking for the latest technological developments. I attend a multitude of events which you can see from my blogs and social media platforms. The technology sector is incredibly fast-paced and changes on a daily basis so keeping up to date is essential. We partner with some great companies who share industry led insights.

Digitally, we are always at the forefront of the latest technological features working on ways to integrate them into our work systems. We stay ahead through our partnerships with companies such as Google who give us access to beta programs before they are launched publicly, again, allowing us to be ahead of the game at every step of the way.

I always recommend keeping up to date by joining forums and signing up for relevant newsletters and blogs. I love listening to Inspirational women and leaders for the latest thought-provoking talks and hope to join them as a recognised speaker one day.

It’s well reported that women are underrepresented in the technology industry, what has your experience been like? Do you think it’s been more challenging for you to succeed as a woman?

I believe that while it has certainly been more challenging for me to get to where I am, such challenges have enabled me to become the person I am today. The technology industry is typically a male-dominated environment with few female mentors. Within the digital department where I first began my career, I was one of two females.

I view myself as a mentor to women within my company which is why I decided to enter these awards. It can be challenging at times for women within the industry. Such awards highlight the current gaps in the industry and amplify the need for a voice.

This year, some of our sites have won the most recognised awards in the industry. Both site builds were led by females within Avvio which shows the evolving changes and opportunities for women in technology. Our clients winning awards such as Ice House Hotel being named the winner of the Best Hotel Website category at the recent Gold Medal awards, shows the impact we are making in the industry.

What is the best thing about working in tech in Ireland?

Despite many hurdles that still exist, I feel Ireland is at the forefront of empowering women to succeed in tech, something that I personally will strive to promote. I have seen firsthand the level of skills we as a country have, as well as having some of the top universities from a SMEC point of view.

If you were beginning your career now, what would you do differently?

I feel every experience I have learned throughout my work life has been an invaluable lesson in obtaining the knowledge and diverse skills that I have today. While I have faced many challenges during my career they have helped me to become the individual I am today.

Cpl Technology

Over the years we have established strategic partnerships with clients across all IT industry sectors, from startups to large internationals.

If you are working within the Technology sector in Ireland and would like to speak to one of our specialists about hiring, outsourcing or current workplace trends please get in touch.

Technology Careers

If you are interested in a new career within the technology industry you can view all live tech jobs on cpljobs.com, alternatively get in touch with Libby Kelly, libby.kelly@cpl.ie or Lisa Holt, lisa.holt@cpl.ie