There is a lot of talk about overhauling aspects of the managed travel ecosystem. Decades-old technology in some cases is giving way to open systems meant to more efficiently connect buyers, suppliers and intermediaries. There’s no shortage of ideas, but there isn’t as much action as some would like to see. TravelCast Consulting managing partner Pedro Ceron states the case for a new approach.
The managed travel industry should look outside the box to break away from legacy technology and legacy thinking. The ability to deliver on “traveler of the future” expectations is here today. Yet, despite the evidence, our industry collectively acts as if it is not.
New calls to action should help us move beyond talking about innovation to delivering on it. They include Jeff Klee’s guidepost challenging the industry to deliver on “capabilities” and Sabre’s recent announcement supporting NDC integration. Another vision, as described in the Microsoft Corporate Travel Manifesto, is the traveler’s expectations for an experience based on their use of “sophisticated leisure travel tools” along with “rich travel content and mobile access.”
Over the past few years, our industry has reflexively pointed to Amazon as the reference for what to expect from an online shopping experience. Except there is one problem — or four to be exact — and they are attending to the needs of four personas: suppliers, providers, distributors and, last but not at all least, the corporate traveler.
Sure, Amazon has suppliers. It is the provider. It relies on delivery mechanisms (distribution). However, Amazon only need concern itself with the end buyer experience. The rest are masked, made as opaque as possible, creating the illusion of simplicity in the purchase and delivery process. Everything serves the buyer persona. It boils down to a two-party transaction. Seen from this perspective, it’s no wonder airlines want to have a direct relationship with their customers.
In managed travel, the personas are all unmasked. Each one demands its own experience while in some way serving the others. Suppliers service corporate buyers, and work with distributors while pleasing end-customer travelers. TMCs service corporate customers and their travelers while managing suppliers, technology providers and the various connection points.
The challenge to deliver on the visions of the future is more about change management than technology. But because technology is at the core of every possible solution, we really must start there.
I know this is inelegant, but let’s just refer to the fundamental building blocks of a 21st century value chain as content, EDIFACT, XML, NDC, JSon, database, non-database, structured data, non-structured data, relational database, graph database and user interface.
Each of these exist today but they have not been tied together in a commercially viable way to be future proof. We are viewing these capabilities through 20th century optics of business layers and processes, which obscures our ability to define more elegant solutions. Put another way, we can recognize new and innovative “round” capabilities but keep trying to force them into existing operational “squares.” That will only get us to where we are right now — stuck.
Rather than cooperating to integrate new round pieces into evolving new models, we tend to view the status quo as reliable while all the new fancy stuff is not. It’s the wrong dialogue if you are claiming to be innovative.
How do we move beyond this stage? We should move to agnostic components like universal profiles and database-centric trip records. Many other opinions and ideas need to be heard.
Rather than focusing on who is right or wrong, this industry needs a practical R&D approach, much like open source development. That approach would encompass our four stakeholders in a multi-faceted, cooperative, hands-on methodology to reinvent processes. We only need refer to the three Red Hat principles for Open Source Change paraphrased here:
1) Replace planning with configuring for constant change
2) Replace prescription with enablement
3) Replace execution with engagement
Each of these involves collaboration.
A functional effort to deliver on the vision of an open-source, 21st century managed travel platform is within our grasp. This approach is not about building a new commercial enterprise. Rather, it is the founding of a collaborative industry group that coordinates and contributes to innovation by stripping away business and process constraints. This would allow for a ground-up reinvention of value and supply chains. Like an open source project, the goal is to accelerate progress and share learnings. This is a call to action in support of the spirit behind the Microsoft Manifesto and the promise of NDC.
This may sound too idealistic to ever get off the ground. But I am pleased to say that as of this writing, there are significant, influential parties in our industry that have expressed their willingness — even eagerness — to contribute time, talent, resources and funds in support of this pioneering approach.
There is much to gain. If we at least learn to manage change with less pain, that alone has tremendous value. But really, we should be aiming for more, and that is to deliver on the expectations we have set for ourselves through a proof of concept showing these visions can today be a reality for our shared customer, the traveler.
The door is open for those holding a piece of the puzzle and are willing to share in the interest of progress. Please enter. Let’s not talk, let’s do it.
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