Summit 2010: Scrapping sub-par tech is easier said than done

Dumping software that isn’t working seems like sound advice. But how realistic is it to tear up a million-pound contract, asks Linda Fox

Linda FoxOn more than one occasion during Tuesday’s Travolution Summit delegates were told to dump technology that doesn’t work.

First was Lowcost Travel Group director Lawrence Hunt, who advised anyone having problems with technology to move suppliers, no matter the pain involved.

Then Ocado chief Tim Steiner said the company had spent £1 million on a piece of software only to throw it away the next day.

But, he added, that the company would not be where it is today if it hadn’t taken the decision.

Now the company “steers clear of IT integrators and software developers” and has its own in-house team.

But whilst that all seems like sound advice, it’s easier said than done. Could travel do the same?

In 2000, Airtours bravely axed a £100 million IT outsourcing contract it had with EDS saying it was bringing it back in-house.

A number of other high-profile companies including Travel Counsellors have taken similar decisions to develop and manage IT in house. It gives them the control and the flexibility to change things as and when they wish.

However, the majority of the travel industry has been built on and continues to run on the technology built in the seventies – viewdata and the global distribution systems.

All attempts to throw them out and start again have hit a wall and the alternative, to bolt additional bits on to bring them some way into the 21st century, have so far proved to be the preferred option.

Then are the man-hours and financial investment involved for an industry that is thin on margin.

You can imagine a chief executive or managing director balking a little at the idea of tearing up a multi-million pound technology contract – try explaining that to your shareholders and investors.

So, is there a solution (excuse the pun)?

It’s a bit like when your car breaks down – you’re completely at the mercy of the mechanic. Travel companies have always been at the mercy of technology companies and consultants promising the world, often delivering very little.

So, it’s hardly surprising there isn’t a race to abandon technology and go back to the drawing board. And, even if a company does take that bold step, there’s nothing to say the alternative will be any better.

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