I have worked with many travel companies across the years, helping them to buy new systems. It is very important to buy the system that will best suit your business. Select the wrong system and it is a certainty that you will suffer some serious business disruption. Get the decision right and you will still need to live with business disruption, but just while implementing the new system. After that you could have for many happy years of system use ahead. I usually suggest to my clients that they should be prepared to change systems every five years but that it will be likely that their newly purchased systems will last for eight years or even longer. One travel company I am working with at the moment was one of my very first clients several decades ago. The system we chose all that time ago is still being used today, so we got that purchasing decision right!
A question I am often asked is whether to build or buy. Should you get a developer or two to build your new system or should you buy a system from a respected travel technology provider. The former approach, building your new system, sounds very attractive. You will be getting technology that does exactly what your business needs it to do. It will suit you perfectly. Moreover, as the system will be the nervous system and brains of your company, from a business perspective, building your own has to be good. You will own the intellectual property rights and no competing company will be able to use it.
This seems great but reminds me of a travel company I worked for some years ago. It needed a new system and the Managing Director had to decide whether to buy or build. He hired a new IT Director to work full time on the project. The IT Director was very enthusiastic about the idea of developing the new system in-house. He did some financial planning. His plan was to build the new system and then recoup the cost by taking the system to market. He drew a sales chart on the blackboard. By year 4, he was projecting system sales outstripping travel sales. I did point out to the Managing Director that, as a business plan, this was rather in the area of ‘pie in the sky.’ The IT Director was not long in his job.
On the other hand, I am writing this blog sitting on a train on the way to visit a tour operator that has actually built its own system. I have been asked to give my opinion on whether it has been developed to a sufficiently high level that it could be put on sale to other travel companies.
In summary my starting point to answering the ‘buy or build’ question is always to buy. Developing a travel system is a major undertaking. I would estimate that a good system needs at least twenty man years of development.
If you are buying rather than building, you will be getting a system with good all round functionality. This is due to the fact that the system will have been developed across the years to reflect the functionality requests of all the companies that are using the system, rather than one travel business building a system in isolation.
There can be valid reasons for travel companies to develop their own systems and I do sometimes recommend this, but if it is something you are considering, think long and hard before starting on such a project. You may end up just re-inventing the wheel but with some spokes missing.