Op Ed: Pedro Ceron On Creating The 21st Century Managed Travel Platform

From The FieldThere 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.

Pedro Ceron, TravelCast
TravelCast Consulting managing director Pedro Ceron

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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Pedro Ceron

Author: Pedro Ceron

Pedro Ceron is managing partner at TravelCast Consulting. Early in his career Pedro worked in various purchasing roles. He then worked for travel suppliers including airlines, a global distribution system and enterprise technology companies. His expertise is in change management, disruption management and innovation facilitation. Throughout his career Pedro has focused on business and market development, channel development and management with emphasis on client relationships, sustainability and community interaction. He currently advises on strategic approaches to the changing landscape of travel distribution, with an emphasis on IATA's New Distribution Capability. A frequent presenter at industry events, Pedro continually engages with non-travel startups and web-based projects to keep current with the ever-changing web and e-commerce fields. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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Ron DiLeo

I think Pedro is spot on with his points in this piece. We need to expect our industry to actually grow into the technology that already surrounds us rather than expect technology to litter our path with new solutions. In order to get to what Pedro is saying, however, one needs to peel another layer. I certainly don’t want to incur the wrath of any of my many procurement friends but one of the big reasons why we find ourselves managing pieces, as Pedro suggests, rather than managing our process more holistically is because over the years procurement principles distracted… Read more »

Caroline Strachan

May I challenge the “procurement” reference? Yes those procurement with a small p buyers may have negotiated every hair on the dog but those Procurement with a capital P buyers have added structure, co-creation, mutually beneficial financial deals, etc. I know you know your stuff so no doubt you were not generalizing but it’s easy to blame “procurement.” There are always two parties in a buy/sell and the sellers could have taken a stronger/different position too.

Kurt Knackstedt

Great piece Pedro – indeed we have known the technology has existed for ages yet it’s never about the technology, it’s about the willingness to try new things and have a culture which can cope with such efforts, along with an ability to be able to recognize and quantify the business benefits from leveraging new technology. A key challenge our industry has created for itself is the idea that working with a smaller number of suppliers is more cost-effective. You note this in your point that “Each of these (the building blocks of modern technology) exist today but they have… Read more »

Darren Farr

Good talking points Pedro. Having been in the industry for a while now (technology was a telex machine) change is happening at a considerably fast pace now largely driven by new technology and new wants. Whether everything is the “right” change remains to be seen but by: removing fragmented systems (often legacy approaches) and approaching this with the principles mentioned — and I would add a changed mind-set for all — I believe we have a lot to look forward to over the next few years and we should all be part of the change. Lets do it!

Caroline Strachan

Thank you Pedro for so eloquently explaining the difference between Amazon and the managed travel space!