Who operates and looks after legacy travel agency technology Viewdata? It’s one of those questions no one seems to know the answer to.
Well now we do, because Vertical Systems has recently taken over Viewdata from Virgin Media, which acquired it as part of the merger with NTL:Telewest in 2006.
Although the green screen technology’s demise has been predicted for as long as that of traditional travel agents themselves, Vertical believes it still has a future.
Due to existing commitments from major operators, Viewdata’s future is assured for at least the next three years.
And there could be life in the old dog yet, according to Vertical’s managing director Mike Russell.
“I’m very hopefully it will be with us for some time yet because it’s so cheap – why would you stop using it?
“While people have been talking about the end of Viewdata for many years, the reality is it’s an extremely quick and efficient method of distribution.
“You do not have the overheads that you have with web-based alternatives and it’s very lean and efficient. Experienced agents particularly like to use it.
“The transition between web technology and Viewdata is fraught with problems – everyone has tinkered with it but you can’t get 100% reliability. Using core Viewdata is more reliable.”
Russell said the cost of distributing through Viewdata came out at less than £1 per booking, considerably less than the cost of running websites.
Vertical has even been looking at how Viewdata may be developed and has worked with one major car hire provider to ‘reverse engineer’ XML technology into it.
Russell said this had made is possible to book product quickly in just 20 seconds, something which is vital if agents are to be encouraged to sell low margin component product.
Vertical said it hopes to talk to other providers about taking a similar approach.
Russell said Viewdata suffered from not being invested in by its former owners, to the extent that its demise was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Vertical completed the migration of all the connections into Viewdata just before Christmas, marking the end of a four month project.
The firm estimates that as a result in January 20% of all business done by the UK travel sector went through its systems.
Russell said that with its widely-used back office TARSC system Vertical has strengthened its position. “My aim is to embed Vertical as a part of the infrastructure of the travel industry.
“We have got 60% to 70% of the retail agency market which puts us in a great position to improve technology for the future.”
Client wins, like taking Midcounties Co-op from Comtec, have also enabled Vertical to invest in TARSC to future proof the 30-year-old software by taking it off its old legacy platform.
Work behind the scenes now means it can communicate with other systems, be used across multiple platforms like mobile and offer a more flexible reporting structure.
Vertical has completed its V Suite of products by integrating TARSC adding to its traditional packages, dynamic packaging and CRM components.
Implementation of this has just been completed with the Co-op’s Personal Travel Advisors.
Russell said rewriting the entire system had been considered but there were still many agents who know and like the system as it is.
“Integration with other products and bringing together V Suite makes it a much more seamless booking process.
“Travel is a tough, low-margin business and anything we can do to make the process better is a good thing.”
Integration of TARSC back office has just been completed with the Advantage travel agent consortium selling platform Gateway, built for it by Multicom.
This means agents using the system no longer have to manually load the sale into TARSC because the system does it automatically.