29 April 2011

Sabre's Kroeger Video: Airlines and Bloggers Say Travel Agents Are Not Innovative

I am not in favour of personal attacks on anyone. However, I feel somewhat obliged to defend the honour of the blogger community against perhaps some unfounded accusations.

I was sent me a link to a recent video message from Sabre's Chris Kroger to their travel agents. There is no disclaimer on here so I am assuming that the information is publicly available and freely distributed to the whole world through the wonders of the Internet.

In this message he is proclaiming Sabre's Innovation. More of the content of how he defines Sabre's prowess in innovation - later.

In the message he states:

"Recently there have been a few airlines and a few bloggers who have accused Sabre of being 30 year old technology and not innovating. And in some ways they are saying the same thing about you (the audience is Sabre Travel Agency Customers) a user of Sabre Solutions."

As a point of order if anyone is going to accuse Sabre of being old - let's go with a better start date of around 1960. (Source Wikipedia). When Sabre was started inside American Airlines and subsequently became part of AMR Corp. it was spun out as a separate company in 2000. If we are to accuse Sabre of being old - let's go with 50 year old technology.

His charge that some airlines and some bloggers have accused Sabre of being 30 year old technology does carry a lot of weight. There are many parts of the Sabre system that are indeed running robustly today and that are of that age. Robert Wiseman (Sabre Holdings CTO) since joining from rival Travelport in May of 2006 and his team have done a lot to modernize the Sabre infrastructure and keep it running. Robert is the man who overseas the "Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to ensure that our system architecture remains modern and robust... through modern protocol..." that Kroeger describes in his little talk. But we cannot deny that the platform is old technology and based on a 50 year old design. And that is not necessarily bad. It works. However is it appropriate for today's market? That depends on the position that you take with regard to what Sabre is today. In my view - it is old fashioned and it does need to be reformed to provide an open solution to the world.

I want to be clear that this is not to say that Sabre cannot do innovation - it clearly can. The question is more does it feel it needs to do significant amounts of innovation? EG Moving from a legacy architecture to one that meets the need of the customer of 2011 rather than the long extinct customer of 1960 is no trivial matter. Are they doing so? They claim to be - you are the judge.

Sabre is no longer willing nor able to provide a complete cradle to grave solution for every agency. Nor should it have to.

However has Sabre relied on innovation to maintain its dominant position in the marketplace or other means is a good question. In the view of US Airways - it is not Sabre's lack of innovation that has caused them to file suit against the Texas based company. It could be construed as a contributing factor however.

In his own words let's just let Kroeger tell us how he thinks that Sabre is an innovator.

"The Average Age of the hardware inside our environment is less than three years old". Yet he neglected to say how old the software was. It would be very interesting to hear that answer.

So here is my challenge to Chris Kroeger. Why not tell us what the age of the software modules are in the Sabre system. Come up with a verifiable metric so we can get an idea of how old the platform really is.

If Sabre's PEEPS provide this - I would be more than happy to publish this information. Perhaps then we can have an open and honest debate as to whether Sabre is truly modern and innovating in the same league as the other three companies he alluded to namely, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Let me try to answer the question we started with. "Are Travel Agents innovative?" To me that is easy yes - they really are. This is the ONLY way to survive. Do they universally look to Sabre as the leading innovator in distribution? I think that would be an interesting question which in my view they do not necessarily feel so positive about.

Sabre Travel Information Network claims that it is "Powering Progress". In my view sadly its business practices are doing exactly the opposite. That has nothing to do with either their software or their hardware but more to do with their contracts and their lawyers.

And what do you think? agree with me or not? Let me know. In the mean time - let's see what can be done about powering real innovation in the market through providing next generation solutions for the consumer in an increasingly complex world.

Gotta love this business - the oldies love to dress themselves up on a cloak of innovation rhetoric.


PS - If we are counting - I guess I am older than Sabre. And just remember what Sabre (an IBM expression from the 1950s) actually stood for.

No comments: