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Sun 23 Aug 2009 04:00 AM

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Trading in travel

Sharaf Travel makes smooth switch to a new Amadeus global distribution system, without disruption to business

Trading in travel
BANGARA: What we were looking for as a travel management company was an entire GDS package that suits.
Trading in travel
LOKHANDWALA: The ability to book limousines which we didn’t have on the old system won a lot of staff over to the new one.

Changing core systems is always a delicate affair, even more so when downtime represents major losses and customers are relying on critical information to ensure they reach their destination, which is why the Sharaf Travel IT team were burning the midnight oil to ensure the switch to a new global distribution system went as smoothly as possible.

Holidays are meant to be relaxing, carefree affairs where things like the office and alarm clocks are a distant memory and the most important decision to make is whether to head to the beach or the pool. While it's easy to be distracted by the serene surrounds of your destination of choice, spare a thought for the travel agents and airline companies that operate a complex interconnected network to ensure you reach your destination on time and as cheaply as possible - not to mention in one piece.

For agencies like Sharaf Travel, the booking of flights, car rental and even hotels is handled through a global distribution system (GDS) that allows for the analysis of the cheapest fares, bonus packages and quickest routes to anywhere in the world. In Sharaf Travel's case, the company has just emerged from a major GDS project that saw the Dubai-based company switch from the Sabre GDS across to a competing offering from Amadeus.

Premjit Bangara, travel manager at Sharaf Travel, explains that the concept for the project came about because the contract with Sabre was coming to the end of its three year cycle and the company opened up a tender process to find the best fitting GDS that would serve for the next trio of calendar years.

"Sabre was a good product but Amadeus made the pitch because they were competition and they met the senior management here, made a case and presented their business plan as well as their technical parameters. What we were looking for as a travel management company is an entire package," says Bangara.

The tender process involved pitches from Sabre, Amadeus and also Galileo and was carried out in November of 2008 when the bids were sent in and presentations were viewed. The next step was the evaluation of the technical aspects of the tenders, as well as the commercial values, and then recommendations were submitted to the company's board of directors.

Once the Amadeus offering was given the green light, it was all systems go to plan how the switch could be made with as little interruption to daily trading as possible, as a single minute of downtime represented significant financial losses.

"What happened was from March 1st the training started for every staff member batch by batch. Each batch had around nine people - two batches running at the same time - so by March 25th we were done with the training. It was only those five days that were remaining where people were using Sabre, then from April 1st people then switched onto Amadeus fully and all the bookings which were there on the previous GDS were migrated onto Amadeus," says Husain Lokhandwala, reservations and operations manager at Sharaf Travel.

While the shift to Amadeus was not set to go live until April 1st, the IT team was busy preparing for the change and the hardware pre-bundled with Amadeus software arrived in March, along with consultants who were there to oversee the progress of the implementation."We were using Amadeus hardware while still using Sabre, all of the data [our staff] had in their public folders, documents, personal folders were all then taken as a back copy and put on the new hardware, so from April 1st it was all with Amadeus with whatever data they had so the staff didn't have to redo all the work they had done - it was all there ready for them," adds Lokhandwala.

The project wasn't completely smooth sailing, especially with the reaction from employees to a change of system. Much like any move to a new way of conducting business, there was resistance and skepticism about the wisdom of such a choice.

Bangara handled that by getting those who were resistant on board and telling them what is happening and trying to keep them in the loop and explaining why the move is being made.

"There would be issues where entries are new to you, alien to you, but at the end of the day it is a benefit to the company first and it is a far more advanced system and we detailed advantages using the system," continues Bangara.

"There was resistance no doubt; there always will be with anything new. I would be lying if I said there wasn't. Quite a few senior guys said no, this is not a good system and then we sat with them 1-to-1 and we said what do you feel about the system? They talked to Husain and I and we wrote it down and we sought Amadeus' guidance with a few of the issues. It was a new product for us too and we got back with them saying listen you said this is not there and it is actually there," he adds.

One of the features of the new system that won over a lot of staff was the ability to book limousine services, which wasn't there before, according to Lokhandwala.

There were other teething issues that came about from the move, with company laptops having problems and the anti-virus system Amadeus came with conflicting with Sharaf Travel's existing program handled by Information Dynamics. These were all ironed out relatively quickly and Bangara views them as only relatively minor hitches.

Despite being just a handful of months into the new system, Bangara already considers the implementation to be a resounding success that is paying dividends in terms of financial and customer service benefits across the organisation.

"In terms of customer service it has really [improved] tremendously, in terms of financials - yes, every segment we make a little more,"adds Bangara.

In their words

In total we have around 80 users around the front end, across the counter, that's only in Dubai, so excluding Abu Dhabi and Oman. These were the people who were fully trained and around 20 people already had a background of Amadeus so they had a little bit of confidence. We made them a little bit of a super user which augmented the team.

Husain Lokhandwala, reservations and operations manager at Sharaf Travel.

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