One of my guilty pleasures is trying to adapt processes when systems don’t do what you need them to. Sadly this situation comes up more often than it should. For the most part, the travel industry operates on relatively low margins and its activities and processes are fairly complex and in some cases regulated. It is a challenge to make IT budgets stretch to buy or create systems that cover all the business processes effectively, or even the majority taking an 80/20 view.
Travelink and Travel Studio
I’ve got to know two major pieces of tour operator software in detail –Travelink from Comtec and Travel Studio from Open Destinations . Whilst these systems are highly configurable, they never seem to quite do exactly what you want them to. They have both grown organically from a well designed core that has undergone a series of sporadic and often narrow developments funded by specific customers. A sense of central product management has been added a bit too late in the process and as a result, both systems have many idiosyncrasies and gaps in their functionality. For small to medium sized tour operators, the cost of developing new functionality in these systems can be prohibitive, so this is where the creativity comes in…
Designing processes can be a complex exercise. It can be fairly straightforward to mirror existing processes in a new system, but my goal is always to optimise my clients’ operations. I usually identify what we are really trying to achieve with a particular process and ask:
- Is the process actually necessary at all?
- Can the process be completely automated using tools within the tour operator system and other external tools?
- Can the process be changed to be more in line with the system’s natural behaviour?
- How does the function relate to other processes? Can the process be intergated into others, or even absorb other related processes so that it actually becomes more complex, but cuts work elsewhere?
- Can we do something completly different to fulfil the objective?
- Are the right people carrying out the process?
I worked on a project recently with a low budget but the aim of taking ‘manual’ processes run out of spreadsheets, Word documents etc and transfer this to an existing instalation of a tour operator system. The product and operations were so different to those already running on the tour operator software that it required a bit of creativity to migrate the processes. There is always a risk that more work could be created by forcing a square peg into a round hole, and this is why I went through a number of iterations of designing processes, creating proofs-of-concept and trialling the workflow with users. In the end the whole approach to the work was turned on its head and quite an innovative process was created that will save considerable amounts of effort and free users up to take on a larger volume of business. And needless to say I secretly enjoyed the guilty pleasure!