Complexity and openness - why big IT vendors are missing from travel technologyNews / TechnologyBy Viewpoints | July 21, 2014Share This article was originally published on Consumers have always shopped around for the best deal on travel and vacations. The Internet simply arms the travel customer with the ultimate weapon for bargain-hunting.In an online travel market now dominated by digital wholesalers, exchanges and price comparison sites, pre-packaged products and static pricing no longer cut it.NB: This is an analysis by Boris Kraft, co-founder and chief visionary officer at Magnolia International.To avoid extinction, remain competitive and survive against the latest online deals, travel industry players have been forced to become masters of dynamic pricing, product differentiation and advanced digital marketing.Where we've been and where we are nowMinute-by-minute competitiveness, choice, customization and cross selling are increasingly essential for profit.And to support this, the travel industry has pioneered complex IT customization and integration.It is not just in the virtual world where travel is leading the way in new uses of IT and the internet. No other industry uses technology and the web so effectively to supplement the real-world experience given to its customers.From search and booking, through live travel updates, digital tickets and the seamless modern airport experience, technology has been integrated into all areas of the modern travel experience. Everything from text messaging and email to smartphone apps and social media is utilised to deliver a red carpet experience as standard.With data roaming charges set to drop across the EU this summer, smartphones and integrated digital services are set to become an ever more important part of the travel experience.For many, the Lonely Planet-guide will be replaced by trusted peer reviews and the ability to meet like minded people, all delivered through a powerful combination of social media, interactive mapping and GPS.To stay on top, travel industry players must constantly innovate, integrate and develop bespoke IT solutions to support more exciting new customer experiences. The technology needed to support this experience has long outpaced what any single IT vendor can supply.If you look around the technology hall at any of the larger travel expos, the floor is filled by industry specialists. The big name IT vendors, who dominate most markets, are rarely seen because their homogenous offerings no longer fit the needs of the modern industry.The challengesThe one-size-fits-all "marketing suites" or "technology solutions" from the giants of traditional enterprise IT consistently lag behind the most basic requirements for the modern travel industry.Companies need freedom to select the most potent mix of web technologies, innovative new travel-tech solutions and new hosted services. In a market where profit is increasingly built on technical advantage, lock-in to a single, large vendor is extremely dangerous.Yet, underneath the latest front-end technologies, much of the travel industry is built on older legacy IT systems for booking and delivery of core services. These back-end systems are typically integrated into a broader environment of exchanges and external partners, making them extremely costly and disruptive to replace.This means that, while technology innovation is vital, it has to be integrated and built on an existing base. IT vendors all too often naively assume that customers will be willing and able to tear out existing systems and start again from scratch, simply to capture the benefits of their latest system.Even beyond the cost of the technology, replacing systems used by staff in branch offices, franchises and partners, can require a monumental return to justify the cost of change management and retraining.Open solutions1. The open suite approach enables innovationModern travel technology is about creating an evolving online platform: delivering an innovative, compelling and constantly improving experience for the end customer. These platforms are built on bespoke integration.Where the web has created the harshly competitive environment of the modern travel marketing, it is increasingly web technologies that offer businesses the best solution. The web has fostered the growth of new technologies that are built on the ideas of openness and interoperability.The age of content management systems (CMS) is effectively over and has paved the way to web experience management and customer experience management platforms. These solutions offer proven integrations to personalization, e-commerce, marketing automation and customer relationship management systems while adapting to the any device, from mobile, desktop and television experiences.Web technologies built on open standards allow companies to develop bespoke technology suites around the changing needs and expectations of their customers. New best-of-breed applications for content management and digital marketing can be integrated with legacy travel systems and, importantly, with an evolving mix of online information and niche, industry-specific tools and services.From Google Maps, weather information, local news and live travel updates to social media, travel blogs, price comparison and booking engines, the building blocks for new, more compelling online services are increasingly out there on the web and available through open APIs.With the right technology platform, travel companies can integrate the best of what is out there into their own offerings.Monolithic, single-vendor digital marketing suites are the legacy of a different era of enterprise IT. They offer broad functionality for users with deep pockets.However, they also lock users into one single, static vision of the web and how to compete online. Finding a solution that can easily adapt and quickly change analytical platforms and marketing automation platforms is key.Nearly all enterprise technologies can be integrated, but only some, more open, web technology platforms are built around integration.These open technologies allow companies to create their own "open suite" for digital marketing: combining their existing IT infrastructure with the best of what is available and the freedom and agility to integrate powerful new technologies and web services as they emerge.2. Task-focused apps remove complexityAlthough integrated IT systems may be complex under the hood, there is no need for them to be complicated for the staff and end-users. Companies have always used web technologies like HTML and CSS to shield the customer from the underlying complexity of customer-facing websites.With enterprise apps, it is now possible to do the same for end-users working within the company.HTML5 and the latest generation of these web standards are now being used to replace the intimidating user interface (UI) of older, corporate IT systems with intuitive, customizable business apps.Even in the most complex, integrated IT infrastructure, end-users can be presented with task-focused apps that can be customized to the needs of different job roles.The benefits of this approach are twofold. Firstly, staff can work more efficiently and the need for training is vastly reduced. At the same time, the back-end IT innovation that drives so much of the modern travel industry is no longer constrained by the end-user.Complex new integrations and functionality can be added to systems, with end-users only aware of useful, new, intuitive features. In fact, every single person in an enterprise, large or small, should be able to quickly understand, edit and publish content, with the right controls and workflow of course.ConclusionThe freedom and openness of the web have created a challenging, ultra-competitive market within the modern travel industry. As web giants such as Google and Facebook start more actively assessing opportunities in the travel market, competition will only get fiercer.Regardless of budget, there is no one, single, quick fix solution to digital marketing in an industry as complex, competitive and rapidly-evolving as travel. Freedom, choice, openness, and integration - the philosophy and technologies of the web - offer travel companies the only viable solution for survival.NB: This is an analysis by Boris Kraft, co-founder and chief visionary officer at Magnolia International.NB2:Open travel technology image via Shuttetstock.