Developing better understanding between travel companies and technology suppliers
If you are reading this, it’s likely you are involved in travel technology projects of one sort or another. Maybe you work for a travel business that is implementing a piece of technology, or maybe you represent the systems supplier working on the other side of the relationship. As a consultant, I am involved in travel tech on both sides of the equation – splitting my time between holiday companies and technology providers. I should say I am not generally involved in the procurement or selling of systems.
I’m the one who gets deep into the detail of analysing the business requirements and the technical possibilities to make the solution work. I have found that relationships between tech suppliers and clients have a habit of becoming quite strained once the implementation phase starts. I come across customers who find the supplier slow to fix issues, displaying a lack of understanding and interest in helping them to resolve problems. Conversely, I often hear suppliers lamenting customers who raise vague issues and poorly described requirements, demand unreasonable turnaround times and show a lack of understanding of how the systems work. No doubt the complexity of the travel industry and the relatively low margins are contributing factors in this, but for me it is simply a lack of detailed understanding between the two parties that is causing this friction.
And the effects of this lack of understanding reach beyond plaintive emails and awkward conference calls. I believe if the supplier and the customer held deeper detailed knowledge of each other’s operations and approaches, it would save a great deal of time and effort for both sides. For example, less time wasted on following up incorrect assumptions and misunderstandings, and vastly reduced feedback cycles, project updates and reporting. It’s also likely to lead to better designed, more successful and more holistic solutions being generated. Too often solutions fail not because it was the wrong solution for the problem, but everyone was trying to solve the wrong problem. Better detailed understanding and communication between the organisations would help avoid this happening.
So what practical steps can we take to tackle this situation? When I am working with technology companies, I find I spend a lot of time explaining how tour operating works, shedding light on why their customers are asking for certain functionality, and helping to design the best way to handle these requirements. When I work with travel companies, I often have to explain the development and bug-fixing processes and timelines, challenge requirements and the perceived ‘best way’ to design processes, as well as helping them to put more logical structure around their specifications. It feels like both the supplier and customer need to immerse themselves more deeply in the other’s business and operations to be really successful.
I have often thought that this is easier for an independent person like me to do, operating at arm’s length and with a balanced portfolio of different types of clients, than it is for an existing employee of either the technology supplier or holiday company to do. So on a small project perhaps sharing the cost of an independent person to understand both businesses and to liaise and help communicate between supplier and holiday company would help to focus more quickly on efficient communication and efficiency. My concern is that this may not scale up well for larger projects – you could end up making things worse by introducing a third party organisation, halving the understanding and doubling the amount of communication needed.
I have experienced examples of technology suppliers having ring-fenced teams for particular clients, and even cases where individual developers or analysts are located in the client’s office. This all helps to improve knowledge and understanding between organisations. But perhaps the real solution for larger projects is to create a truly collaborative, co-located team that is joint-funded by the supplier and holiday company. Or at least contains representatives of both businesses who are empowered to prioritise the needs of the project above the needs of the company they work for. I suppose this is really just an extension of the matrix model of cross-functional teams within organisations. This way greater efficiency, quality and success can be achieved through a project-focussed approach with team members who understand both organisations and communicate effectively.
Have you come across this way of working in travel technology? Do you think it works? Please share your thoughts and experiences.
This article was written for the Travel Technology Initiative and is appearing in their summer newsletter, available from tti.org/newsletters.html