29 December 2012

Moving To Tumblr ... and why (CORRECTED)

This is my last post on Google's Blogspot/Blogger tool.

Why would I do that. My blog has served its readers faithfully for many years. So why the change and why now after 2342 blog posts since 2006?

For the past 12 months there has been an increasing intrusion of companies who can hack into Google's security. Post things to my blog which are both irrelevant and not the message I want to convey.

I have tried very hard to keep commercial interests out of the blog and to provide only insight and opinion tied to fact as I see it.

Google's insistence that everything should link together is troublesome. I dont necessarily want to have to access everything via Google Circles. This process has become too tiresome to fight the constant battle of vigilance and Google's constant attempts to control the interaction.

So I am moving the Professor's Wisdom over to Tumblr. You can now find the new posts here: http://professorsabena.tumblr.com/

As the year comes to an end and we face the challenges and opportunities for 2013, I would just like to say THANK YOU.


06 December 2012

Agents Groups - Short Sighted or Defenders of the Realm?

A good article in Travel Market Report by Michele McDonald posited that Canadian agencies as represented by ACTA fear Airlines will bypass agents.  She calls out a critical statement:
"Since the airlines are demanding the contact information before the consumer has chosen any carrier, the airline could bypass the agency entirely and contact the potential customer directly with its response.
ACTA Analysis of NDC"

At the heart of the debate here is whether or not the agencies have a role in the distribution of airlines product (assuming NDC happens) going forward.  Bear with me a moment - I think we have to consider whether NDC has a chance for success. At the moment judging by what is made public, I think it has flaws. Before someone takes my comments out of context I believe it will happen but only if certain obstacles are removed from the process.

The issues that can derail the process occur on all sides but here is a smattering:
  1. Airlines are constrained from what they can and cannot do as a group. 
  2. Airlines have not been terribly effective at getting things done fast. The announced processes look incredibly complex and tedious.
  3. The GDSs are not endorsing the process but are participating (cautiously)
  4. The commercial issues such as the contentious GDS incentive fee programs are not being addressed
  5. Now that the airlines Full Content Agreements (FCAs) have been challenged and the airlines have won at least one round (AA consent agreement with Sabre) we can expect FCAs to be limited.
  6. The spectre of price fixing comes with any effort on constrained distribution
Let's return to the matter of the role of the agent and the conflicts they face. I think we need to remember the key factors that brought us to this point in the first place.
  1. No one has an automatic right to sell another's product. Agents have few rights as resellers of airline products. (It is interesting to note that Travel Market Report describes itself as the voice of the travel seller).
  2. Easy comparison shopping is not a right and there is no law that states that comparison shopping via the GDS is a requirement. (Despite many attempts to do so).
  3. The marketplace for agency distribution is radically different from where it was 17 years ago. The cost of the GDS powered agency channel to the airlines is now one of the highest. 
  4. Viable alternatives now exist for direct and indirect distribution that is unique and customized to the channel and the distribution partners and less expensive. Yet the legacy GDSs have failed to provide adequate tools for the same of ancillary products through agency channels. 
  5. Airlines need to unbundle the standard product, rebundle and segment their product offerings into an increasingly sophisticated marketplace that responds and expects the product owners to do so.
  6. Understanding who the customer is and how they can be targeted by the seller is critical.
  7. Never forget that the airline has a mission to obfuscate the true price of the product. 
After all the rhetoric is expended there is a fundamental truth. The marketplace for airline products is now in the control of the product owner. All intermediary seller's of the travel product and the consumers have to accept this basic fact. The airlines have finally found a way to make money and the days of stupid airlines is rapidly drawing to a close. So agents - be realistic accept that the airlines have the ability to go around you. Get over this obsession. It will do you no good at all. Now you really have to compete in the open market. Use your best weapons. Your relationship with the customer and your superior knowledge.

For most travel agencies this situation has shone a spotlight on a true paradox. Are they the true champions of the consumer or are they the devil's hand maidens? Agencies have been placed here on the horns of this dilemma because they now have to find ways for compensation now that the commission system is no longer in place for air. Most agencies are now compensated largely by consumer. If you are a TMC - probably entirely through fees. if you are an OTA large amounts of your revenue come from the advertising. The smaller agents have an even harder time.  But what of the GDS incentive fee? Today for almost all agencies it is a matter of profit and loss. The billions of dollars in incentive payments that flow from the GDSs to the agencies annually is a life line. Accepting it - which encourages agencies to book only on those airlines for whom a fee is provided (in Canada the incentive doesn't apply in many cases to the sale of products by the largest airline Air Canada). That flies in the face of choosing the best option for the traveller. Indeed it could be argued it discriminates against low cost airlines.

How many agents have told little white lies that there is no lower fare, or that the fare was the best out there for that particular instance knowing full well that indeed there was another fare and another airline but that there was no compensation. Oh the perils of being an advice and transaction purveyor.

Sadly these issues are not debated in the open as airlines and travel agencies are gagged through non-disclosure agreements from speaking about the agreements and their contents. Over the years I have had sight of many of these agreements and can tell you that in my opinion they are onerous and highly restrictive.

Please chaps - can we be realistic about this issue and stop the nonsense about the airlines stealing agencies business. That ship sailed a LONG time ago. 


25 November 2012

BTC Agitates for Re-Regulation. Let's Keep Big Government Out

BTC a pressure group based in Radnor PA and is self appointed chairman is launching a new effort to bring big government back to Travel and re-regulate the industry. I firmly believe this is a bad move for the market. They are starting an appeal to get 25,000 signatures before the end of December.

Why is this bad and why will it fail?

I dislike the idea of fees - indeed I personally detest them. However I recognize the right of any company, service provider intermediary and individual to charge them for their products and services as they see fit.

What BTC is failing to recognize is a number of things.
  1. It is the fundamental right of a company to charge for its services as it sees fit
  2. This would have a detrimental effect on the Travel Industry to enforce compliance and raise costs accordingly. 
  3. It would apply not just to airlines but also to Travel Agencies (online and offline) who will be forced to disclose all fees and services. This would really hurt smaller companies and allow more market concentration. 
  4. The DoT already evaluated and dismissed further regulation on this topic. There is enough legislation extant.
  5. It is probably discriminatory to pick on a specific market. 
Presumably this effort is being funded by those who stand to benefit from additional work load. I do not know who these parties would be - but it would seem that the ultimate losers are going to be  the administration impact particularly on corporations and consumers - the very people who this push is purporting to help.

it should be remembered that the airlines need to make money. That is capitalism. The heavy hand of government has not had a good track record in air transportation services in providing benefit to the consumer. The airlines have been allowed to merge and create mega companies who can essentially do what they like. This policy of the DoT to allow mass concentration within the market where 5 companies control 90+% of the air transport market enables oligopoly behaviour such as this. That is water under the bridge and cannot be undone. Thus I believe any argument is moot that the Feds should get involved specifically over and above existing legislation/regulation.

I am a believer in States Rights - from a democracy point of view rather than an efficiency point of view. The question has to be asked as to whether this is a Federal issue or a States issue. (I refer the reader to the various seller in travel laws that have jurisdiction in this area already).

In an unsolicited email from BTC - the following statement is made. On this basis I am using the information provided to encourage the industry to fight against Re-regulation. Here is an exert and the highlight is mine:

"The WE the PEOPLE campaign model is a uniquely decentralized one in that any organization is free, indeed is encouraged, to copy all of the website's comprehensive information and tools to its own website or intranet for use with various constituencies. The website - http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/whitehouse.html - contains the following components: petition text with a link to the WhiteHouse.gov signature page, social media tools to spread the word, a Media Center, a FAQ page and complete toolkits for TMCs, corporate travel managers and other industry participants that contain all needed communications templates to encourage colleagues, families and friends to get involved in this campaign."

Ultimately it is up to the market to decide. Let the electorate vote with their feet and their wallets.  The government should NOT be involved in this form of regulation. Do not sign. Do not promote this. DO let your voice be heard.

23 November 2012

So you think you know about consumer protection?

As a strong suggestion - I believe if you want to understand consumerism and the workings of politics, read the US DoT recommendations on Air Travel. And from the air fare transparency group no less. (Saving the Government money !!!)

UK Travel Industry Employment Statistics - Is Anyone Doing Anything About It?

The UK's Office of National Statistics often looks at different sectors of the economy. They even have a hub in their database just related to Tourism - great name - its called NUTS. Today they released a report entitled the The Geography of Tourism Employment. Thus continuing to perpetuate the myth of Tourism encompassing all of Travel. 

This is well worth a read for the information about where the employment hubs sit. Tourism as we keep hearing is the world's 3rd largest part of the economy. The UK could do a lot more to boost its employment in Travel and Tourism. It could also do more to funnel resources into the sector to nurture it and grow it. 

This report should provide some ammunition for making that case. But I am not sitting on my hands to let this just happen in a vacuum. I am putting my money where my mouth is. Check out our VaultPad initiative.



17 October 2012

BTC and ASTA Fire Salvo at IATA

Probably not the wisest move on their part but ASTA and BTC have fired a broadside against IATA's NDC "New Distribution Capability".

For your edification I reprint here their entire statement, feel free to comment:

Alexandria, Va., October 17, 2012— The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and Business Travel Coalition (BTC) today sharply disputed claims by Tony Tyler, CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that the development of the “New Distribution Capability” (NDC) was being conducted in open and transparent collaboration with all segments of the travel industry that would be affected by it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“ASTA sees nothing in the IATA process to create NDC that resembles full and open transparent collaboration with the travel agency community,” said Nina Meyer, CEO of ASTA.  “ASTA had asked to participate as an observer, with the possibility of posing questions, to the IATA Working Group on NDC in Montreal in late November.  IATA’s response was initially positive, citing a desire to collaborate. ASTA then invited IATA to come to its TRADESHOW in Los Angeles in September to meet with travel agencies and the Business Travel Coalition and respond to questions.  When ASTA later asked for details of its Montreal participation, it was told that neither it nor any other agency associations would have access to the development process for NDC. IATA did express a willingness to meet separate with ASTA, but that is far from the full collaboration and openness that IATA is trumpeting,” Meyer added.
BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell said, “While we are still conducting due diligence with regard to understanding all the facts and implications flowing from IATA's new distribution initiative, it's reasonable to preliminarily conclude from discussions with and presentations from IATA that there is reason for significant concern over negative impacts to consumers, competition and costs. A disturbing warning sign - that all is not right - is that IATA pointedly talks about an open and collaborative industry process, yet refuses to let organizations that represent travel agents and corporate travel departments have a seat at the table. IATA only welcomes individual travel agents or travel managers who are largely prevented from speaking up for fear of retaliation on their businesses or airline contracts. BTC is among several industry organizations in the U.S. and abroad that requested to be part of the process only to be told no by IATA.”
Nina Meyer added, “The need for complete transparency regarding NDC is illustrated by some of the false premises for NDC that Mr. Tyler stated in his speech before the IATA World Passenger Symposium being held in Abu Dhabi this week.  Mr. Tyler stated that because the majority of air travel is sold by travel agencies relying on Global Distribution System (GDS) technology, “the travel offer is put together outside the airline by third parties… it is impossible for the airline to tailor its offer to the customer via the indirect channel…. this model is focused only on finding the lowest ticket price. This has resulted in the commoditization of air travel…. the travel agent only sees codes – F, J, Y…. There is no way to tell if your “J” product is a flat bed or an economy class seat with an empty seat beside it.”
These remarks essentially blame travel agents for airlines’ commoditization of their product. But it is airlines that have set prices since deregulation and entered into commoditized code share agreements, not travel agents. Agents sell what the airlines offer.  And ASTA rejects categorically the notion that travel agents do not understand what they are selling and are unable to communicate product characteristics to their clients.  If that were true, agents would have disappeared long ago, but instead in the United States alone they sold $68 billion in air transportation in 2011.
Moreover, Mr. Tyler’s remarks cite as current airline innovations such items as “special meals, expedited boarding, roomier seats and access to airport lounges.”  Most of these “innovations” have been around for years. If these products are made available to agents in a transparent and transactable manner, which is entirely possible through GDS technology and the ATPCO OC process, travel agents will sell more of them to consumers to the benefit of consumers and airlines alike. ASTA has seen demonstrations of GDS technology that has these capabilities and more.  Rote repetition of the claim that the GDSs can’t do this does not make the claim any truer.”
About ASTA
The mission of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. ASTA seeks a retail travel marketplace that is profitable and growing and a rewarding field in which to work, invest and do business.
About BTC
Founded in 1994, the mission of Business Travel Coalition is to interpret industry and government policies and practices and provide a platform so that the managed travel community can influence issues of strategic importance to their organizations.

16 September 2012

Slowing and Heading Down

Our friends over at CAPA have been pushing out interesting data of late.

Much of their analysis is pointing to a more restrained world - particularly in the USA. They have recently shone their light on the seeming split in the US market between the big 4 and the "others".

I strongly urge you to reach this article as it is a good analysis.

At this point - the oligopoly of the US market is pushing prices higher and higher while capacity is being withdrawn.

I just wonder what the cost is to the US economy of the freedom the airlines have in the market to raise prices with seeming impunity. And who seems to be leading the charge to higher rates these days? Yup - Southwest. They have initiated more price rises this year than any other airline.


Amadeus and Open Systems - Really?

So Amadeus is trying to promote its credentials as an Open Systems company.

You might want to just take the test and see their answers to their own questions. The one that really caught my eye was this question.

"Which of the following companies regularly use and promote open systems?"

The options were clearly contrived and the answer - well Google of course. Except the definition of Google and its behaviour might challenge anyone's definitions of "Open".

Google has been a great opener for new systems by making things free that used to cost. At the time everyone was in wonder of this capability. Now some are starting to question that openness.

Given Amadeus's current thrust to become Google's preferred supplier of content for air fare products - this might just be a nice way for them to give a compliment to the Googleplex. Perhaps Amadeus is striving hard to become the other "A" in the AGFA empires.

Just a little food for thought on Sunday. 

21 July 2012

Social Seating Why I Think Its Bad.

Over on Facebook (on my wall and privately) several people commented on my stated aversion to Social Seating. I have my tweets set to appear on FB which given the number of tweets I do corresponds to a fair amount of daily traffic. Thus on FB and on Twitter I had a fair number of people see the post/rant.

Here are some examples of the comments I received:

On the positive side:  Could not agree more!

On the negative side:
(Humour)The professor will get seated next to John Candy
(Professor) Unlikely …But if I do.... then does that mean I get Darryl Hannah as my girlfriend?

And then there was Angry. I won't identify him.

(Angry) I call bullshit on your stated opinion, Professor. Are you trying to tell me, that given a choice (and please forget about the technology and labels), you do not want the chance to NOT sit next to someone that will piss you off? For example when travelling for business, I do not want to sit next to a kid, someone who has kids, and old lady, a fat guy, or anyone who wants to talk to me. If I have to interact with someone, I would prefer that they had something interesting to say ... and the only way to predict and/or influence the possibility of my preference is to tell the airline what that preference is. Another way to look at it: if you could hang around with all the other passengers in the lounge for a while, and choose who to sit next to after meeting and chatting with them, would you not want to make a choice? It's what we naturally do in life every day.

(Professor) Dear Angry

So let me call you on that. The assumption is an arrogant one to make. The situation is that its fine for some people but not for me. So I am making it clear I dont want social seating. For it to work - there must be FULL opt in (not casual) HOWEVER normally I am required to opt in as part of a larger package which is the way most opt-ins are handled). If there is a personal relationship - sure... but then I know that already and if I want to I can use other tools (such as Tripit) for this. BUT to blithely assume that I want to (choose my seat mate either explicitly or implicitly) is a bridge too far. The complexity of just the interaction of what happens if you dont like the person or if that person LIES in their profile (yes they do...) is too much of a risk.
Now shall we go even further... what about the liability of the provider?

‎(You told me to ignore the technology and the other procedural issues so I have done).

Your argument that someone will piss you off works both ways. So that argument is also completely spurious.

(Angry) So ... you would rather have no input into who you sit next to?

(Professor) Bottom line - I am ABSOLUTELY fine with having no input on WHO I sit next to. What right do I have to ask for it and what are the attendant issues of it if I did? - Getting it wrong and having to live with the consequences would actually make me want to be mad at someone - likely culprit? Oh yes the airline. The chances are that the components of the decision making will result in poor choices at best, IE results with VERY few chances of success. Let me enumerate them for you. Your analogy of choosing the person as a natural act is well BS. I fly on LCCs a lot. So I COULD potentially choose who I want to sit next to on these flights. Do I want to? Have I ever? Has anyone else wanted to do that with me?

But let me continue…
The algorithm of matching people is likely to be poor until it works on very large numbers and will also be inconsistent based on the type of trip I am taking (Think Pandora).
The requestor and the requestee would have to give enough data for it to be meaningful far beyond what is in our profiles today.
The terms of reference would need to be clearly understood by all concerned.
The opt out complications would be hard to manage and most people would give up before agreeing to it.
We have to remember that this is just ONE of many elements that go into the decision making of the particular seat and flight. - FOR example I really want to sit next to a young attractive girl who will make out at the drop of a hat AND wants a window. So that means BOTH of us want a window. Which would be MORE important - the window or the young lady?
So frankly I dont think the obnoxious person who sits next to me (and of course the people who think I am obnoxious) really wants to be sat next to. The RISK REWARD equation is not in balance at all.

Let me also go back to the technology piece which I was not allowed to use in my argument. I think that does not represent much difficulty at all. But the procedural ones do.

The point above about the window is just one. I could go on with all the other choices that I could be making. For example I really want to sit next to Steve Jobs but his personal hygiene habits and food fads would piss me off on a 12 hour flight. So how would the airline "choose" between me and the other people who wanted to sit next to late departed head of Apple?

How about the roulette challenge? Single or multiple people on the same flight wanting to connect. Well that would be hard to make happen just due to the numbers involved. Currently for example there are 830 people  signed up for SeatID. Assuming each takes 10 trips a year then the chances of them intersecting on any given flight is

Not a huge number – even if all these people decided to do this and then SeatID was able to increate the number to let's say 10 million users of whom 10% actually wanted to do this AND flew 10 times a year. The chances are still so infinitesimal  (0.4%) that it makes no sense. Oh yes that is the chance that two people would actually BE on the same flight before ANY other consideration happened.

Today there appears to be several airlines who are offering this service in some shape or form. KLM, Malaysian, Estonian. Air Baltic.  One who actually does the opposite. (Air Asia X). There are several sites that attempt to offer this.

Even if you tool ALL these sites uniquely and tried to get them to give you the number of passengers – it would still be less than .1% of all flight trips.

I fly a great deal and I get resigned to being seated in coach in SBC (Screaming Baby Class). Knowing this and all the opportunities – would I go out of my way to find a solution to choose a seat mate? NO? I am decidedly not the target market. Even if I was – I would be looking at sleep and work as the more important factors along with location and convenience. All this WAY before I was interested in a seat mate choice. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093748/ even John Candy is an acceptable hazard.


19 July 2012

Dark Clouds and Hostage Data

Senior IT execs in the travel industry are starting to see dark clouds gather over  the always-on world of cloud computing, mobile apps and big data. Like Cereberus the three headed monster who guards the underworld there are three major threats that are beginning to rear their ugly heads to guard the gates to hell (or is it nirvana?):

·       Shifty Cloud Store Providers
·       Greedy Telcos
·       Data Hoarders

These threats need to be considered when moving travel technology infrastructure away from traditional service capabilities. So lets look at the situation piece by piece, assess the threats and then make smart decisions.

These Clouds don’t have Silver Linings

Part of the problem with cloud stores, which are still relatively new, are bad contracting, poor SLAs and vendors who have not done a good enough job on creating backup paths for the data and apps stored within the vendor’s cloud environment. Further, early cloud vendors have obviously been reading the GDS playbook and created contracts that make exit  or migration to another vendor very tough.

Are you hostage to your cloud computing vendor? The Washington Post's CIO Yuvinder (Yuvi) Kochar thinks you well could be and he is on a mission to get that changed. Three years ago, he spoke  with tech media site CIO Insight about the need for coherent price and license schemes for cloud services  http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/Expert-Voices/Washington-Post-CTO-Yuvi-Kochar-Wants-Cloud-Vendors-to-Give-Him-an-Exit-Strategy-624540/?kc=CIOMINEPNL07112012  Now as the first few multi-year licenses have come up for renewal, Kochar raises concerns about ensuring open contract provisions are in place, which would help ease a migration from your current vendor to other vendors who may have new and innovative service provisions. We know that these provisions are a sore point for many a GDS user who has tried to ease the currently difficult migration from one vendor to another.

But that is not all, as many cloud users found to their dismay on the night of June 29th 2012, when a violent storm on the US east coast knocked out several large cloud providers. The cloud infrastructure, like any other hosted facility, can and will go down. But wasn't cloud computing supposed to be the end of all that risk, the panacea for users who were sick and tired of the vagaries of computing infrastructure?  So much for non-single point of failure.  http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57464342-71/modern-life-halted-as-netflix-pinterest-instagram-go-down/?utm_source=Room+77+Newsletter&utm_campaign=db60e7f0ba-Room_77_Outage_Update_6_30_20126_30_2012&utm_medium=email
Hotel newbie Room77 was one of the first to let their customers know about the problem. But this was a wake up call for all concerned that has sent users scrambling to look a their contracts and SLAs, because these contract and service provisions matter much more in a cloud environment.

Telecommunications Vendors as Robber Barons

Mobile users and BYOD (bring your own device) has generated a big swing to mobile (and by that I mean non fixed location) services. Just as everyone gets behind this – the users, the equipment manufacturers and the applications are all taking advantage of an unlimited wireless world. BUT there is that small matter of mobile data plans.

Consumers and business users alike are being besieged by greedy telcos who are  charging exorbitant rates for data roaming plans.  (Albeit this is subtle as most users have not seen the changes occur. The mobile providers change their contracts with such frequency that the users are truly confused and in the end most of them have not cared). This is caused by the twin problems of poor understanding by the user of their data plan pricing and very high levels of expectation set by – yes you guessed it – mobile telecommunications vendors. No TV commercial these days worth its salt will exclude the promise of steaming video to your mobile! How many of you have been stung by the problems of:
·       Slow mobile speeds
·       Blank data spots
·       High data plans costs
·       Usurious rates for international roaming
My point is clear – these are the real world and the promise from the mobile operators is far from realistic and of it can get course VERY expensive.

It's Mine (Data) and You Can't Have It!

The value of mining big data is seeing everyone  who is a data processor (and his mother) trying to get protective about the large volumes of data that passes through their infrastructure. In turn these data processors now think of their custodial duty no longer as just a cost but also as a money spinner for them

Data was once considered to be so difficult to mine that holders of data didn't mind sharing. Now that there are affordable and effective tools for manipulating big data, all of a sudden those controllers of data (note not the owners) are being really protective about access to  this data. They are hiding behind "privacy" and "security" concerns when what they really mean is that they want to get the commercial value from the data, and not give it to the ones who are smart enough to think of ways of using it. I don't want to belittle the issue of privacy and security concerns for personal data but there are very easy ways of managing those concerns.

As an example look at large scale data processors today who make considerable sums from the data they are processing. Imagine the chagrin of the GDS vendors who are about to see their current cash cows of MIDT contracts (the sale of travel agency behavior data back to the airlines) go out the window to newer smaller companies now able for far less cost can both capture and create useful information from this raw data.

So be warned out there. It looks like there is a new set of guardians on duty as a Gatekeeper. And we had all better take care. Be prepared to make the journey through the underworld to the blissful state of contentedness that the promises of Big Data and Cloud Computing should be taking us to. And that nasty looking puppy just might prevent you from getting there.


14 July 2012

Why Technology Writers are ALL Wrong About the Blackberry.

The Professor's 8 Point Product Enhancement Programme

I have been a Crackberry Addict for a very long time. I have written before that there are some fundamental issues that make the iPhone at best a toy and at worst a boat anchor. PLEASE Blackberry do not make the same mistake that Symbian made. Trying to do too much. In the end that was what killed Symbian. The venerable Psion Organizer was arguably the progenitor of the mobile hand held device. I only used the Psion 3 but it was a NEAT device and worked very well. The Blackberry replaced it because of its communication capability.

Don’t get me wrong I love the flashy platform  and apps (with all its quirks) that are on the iPhone. I have access to two of these devices but cannot break the chain with regard using my Blackberry as a professional device. So this is neither an "Homage" to the crack berry nor is it a funeral pyre homily .  Yes Blackberry has stumbled badly with an arrogance befitting a certain WW1 Austrian Corporal. This happens in organizations. It has definitely happened to Nokia and looks like it is also happening to Microsoft.

So lets start with the functionality. The value of a Blackberry is and always will be that of a communications device. It does email and text based communication better than any other device. It is an all round machine for communication. It took them a while to get the camera right but it works faster and more accurately than any other device out there. Making it great for the normal EMAIL and Social Media interactions. It also has the right business model for consumers. IE those of us who have to pay for our comms welcome the way in which the Blackberry model works for email NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE. The choice is yours.

It prevents some of the more stupid mistakes that iPhones and Android devices have.
I have an Android phone and I am far from happy with it. I have tried many different Android machines (I am on my 3rd generation of the device). I find it confusing at best and darn right annoying. Google seems to be quite happy to let us figure things out for ourselves. Lord knows how regular folk deal with the crappy UX. On the other extreme is iPhone. Yes its St Steve's way or no way. Even if it is inconsistent and darn right annoying… the faithful eat it up. I keep looking at the iPhone and wondering where the cool aid outlet is.

So lets try and see what Blackberry could do to redeem themselves.

Here are a few quick and EASY FIXES.
  1. Dump QNX. You are not ready for it. Its too hard to get it to work in the small device.
  2. Make the GPS free. Heck you are not paying for it anyway
  3. Keep the keyboard. The soft and hard variety. The Torch 2 is probably the best communication tool that ever existed. Just keep making it better
  4. Fix that AWFUL browser. Adopt something like Opera but please do a better job than what you have now
  5. Create a new function that lets you soft migrate from public data nets to local data nets. This would be a world beater and bring loads of people running to your door. (The telcos would be none too happy but what the heck they are no friends to you either)
  6. Enable a multi-sim capability. Again a world beater that is really required for many especially in APAC where swapping SIM cards is a way of life.
  7. Absorb in to the basic OS – FB, Twitter and other such services available in each country. AND allow messaging to go out to multiple Social Nets at the same time. If you can't just join them smother them!!!
  8. Demolish the App store and make it free. Developers can pay for a "verified by RIM" service.
Yup that's it. A world dominating product.

Please pay attention.


23 June 2012

IATA Wakes Up To Benefits Of Distribution

In Beijing last week, at IATA's AGM the announcement of its NDC (New Distribution Capability – see press release here) initiative does seem to hint at fabulous things to come but before we all get carried away, it’s time to consider at least some of the major implications of IATA making this move.

The tablet toting Tony Tyler, IATA’s General Director and CEO, has thought about this problem but probably not spent much time looking at the implications of the revenue bucket system; he described the GDSs as 1970s technology. In reality it’s from the 1950s. I recall a major carrier's CIO lamenting that IT's biggest problem is that there were only 23 usable letters in the Latin alphabet for airlines to use. We have a really arcane system of revenue management that makes no sense to man nor beast, except for one thing - it is designed to obfuscate the price.

Today's connected and social world makes the principle of obfuscation less attractive, something the legacy carriers have yet to cotton onto. Their efforts to do away with it have been met with derision and failure but perhaps now is the time to rethink everything. The core architecture of PSSs and GDSs have changed little in many, many years. The elements of one way messaging and handling were models of efficiency in the 1950s. Today with anywhere/anytime/always on, this doesn't hold true. Other factors are more relevant. Consumers are fatigued at being gamed by the systems. They trust little and engage in practices that are a direct result of the lack of trust engendered by the airlines and their games. Why else would the average consumer search 22 sites (US figures), which is increasing? Each monetisable transaction for an airline is at the incredible 1,000+ interactions (and rising). This is hardly the model for efficiency or value to either end of the chain but a cash cow to the infrastructure in the middle.

While the airlines must accept their obfuscatory principles as the core of the problem, their chosen instruments of implementation – namely PSSs and GDSs - have become the gatekeepers of the arcane model, as evidenced in their resistance to change by their contracts to airlines and intermediaries alike.  IATA is to be applauded for taking a stand for change. Tony Tyler is definitely singing a different tune from his brash Italian predecessor. The message in his speech is one of "partnerships" rather than confrontation.

But the problem remains. His wish for the GDS’ to join with the airlines in making this progress flies in the face of their cash-cow business model. Amadeus's company reports recently have started to hide the yield they get from both airlines’ IT and the GDS. Surprisingly the former is generating more profit yield than the latter. However any business that is making profits in excess of 40% when the stakeholders are struggling with a 7% target they have never achieved smacks of advantaged position, which the Spanish Company's shareholders love but customers, and ultimately consumers, hate.

A further challenge exists in that the processes of IATA are themselves arcane and not suited to the speed of business as in other sectors of the economy. It was against this backdrop that the US airlines founded Open Axis. (www.openaxisgroup.org), nominally designed to focus on driving faster change and adoption of airline-specific messages in the travel community. The OpenTravel Alliance (www.opentravel.org ), the broader industry W3C body was considered not attractive enough for the airlines. However, while the two organizations have grown closer together in recent months, IATA's move to take over the standards brings a third party to the game might be a spoiler. Don’t get me wrong – I am a huge supporter of standards. But this process of trying to get the GDSs into the tent has failed before and will fail again. In my view unless the airlines put muscle behind the commercial model the effort to bring about change in standards will be window dressing.

Not all parties are waiting for this new initiative. Privately many airlines feel this is a total waste of time. A few big airlines believe that they can exert control over the GDS’. Singularly they cannot and collectively they have proved to be incapable of working together There is palpable fear that the GDSs can and will cause the fragile airlines’ bottom lines damage unless the airlines play nice with the GDSs. What is missing from this debate is that the consumer doesn't care. He cannot understand why this complexity exists. He laments the lack of transparency.

What is likely to happen? The new standards groups will indeed get formed soon. And will take years (note the plural use of the word) to bring about any standard that is ratified and even more years before they are adopted/implemented. By this time the subculture of disrupters funded by venture capital will move aggressively to undermine these efforts. Airlines will lose their initiative (more accurately fail to regain initiative) and will have to find new players to blame.

The GDSs are slowly sinking. Mr Tyler's numbers he presented in his speech are off. Our analysis indicates that GDS distribution for ALL airlines is now around 40%. He claims 60% for the IATA members. If that is not a telling statistic then I don't know what is! Both Open Axis and OpenTravel will happily continue their cooperation with new tools that will result in the technology community moving ahead (and faster) without the ponderous IATA committee system.

The longer it takes to get change in place the fatter the GDSs’ bank accounts will become and the poorer the legacy carriers will be as a direct result. If IATA doesn't see that and make a radical change in how they approach the problem (particularly the commercial model), then I for one will be a naysayer in this effort. I do hope for the industry's sake that I am wrong. At least one GDS has developed a scenario that allows for the collapse of the GDS model in favor of their PSS charging model. And they like what they see. Let's hope the airlines wake up and see the issues for what they are.

21 April 2012

US Airways... Are You Insane?

OK so let me see if I can get this right. I am an airline who is in trouble because my costs are too high. Costs are too high for many reasons such as from bad contracts, bloated staffing etc etc.

 I enter bankruptcy to correct this situation.

My largest cost base doesn't want me to cut his benefits and staffing levels. (Understandable on all sides).

An external suitor who still hasn't got his house (like sorting pilot seniority lists) in order, makes deal to keep said cost levels high. (At the same time screwing his own unions).

Did I miss something?

Just for clarification - I don't doubt the sincerity of all concerned. It just seems to be illogical. 


(Picture taken from AA 757 over Lake Michigan)

Glass Ceilings, Women in Travel and Agism

I have been thinking about the way our industry is constituted - gender and age wise - and I am noticing something that should start to both worry and encourage me.

The trend is the composition of the personnel in distribution. A field I know pretty well.

Legacy distribution is populated by a pretty diverse group as one would expect for a mature business. I always felt it was a very good thing that the Distribution business had a good representation of diversity. Particularly in the male/female split. But one that didn't apply to the agism issue. There was never a real encouragement of young people into the fold.

With the emergence of the web and e-commerce particularly in Travel, it was good to see innovation coming from younger people with little or no historical connection to the traditional distribution businesses.

However the downside was that the number of females who emerged from this group was few and far between. Yes, there are good examples of women entrepeneurs who have made their mark but I am speaking in generalities.

One of the leading proponents of expanding our diversity in Travel and the web is Siew Hoon. And here she goes again. Next week she will have a conference dedicated to Women in Travel.

WITX Women+in+Travel

Sadly I cant attend but with an all star female cast - this will be a notable event.

Now if she could only do something for old folks maybe she could include the old Professor!


20 February 2012

OTA transactions shoot up in January

After experiencing a constant under-performance for all of 2011 - the OTA market in the USA came alive in January 2012.

As post Christmas blues were banished with excitement for the summer and already seeing tightening of supply, consumers shopped till the dropped ONLINE for airline tickets.

However given that discounts are going to be few and far between for the summer months as the impact of the United merger and the general tightening of supply becomes more apparent, the likelihood is that this is an aberration not a trend.

I could of course be wrong - but I doubt it.

Agree with me?

Only time will tell for sure


The End of GDS Isolation. New Era of Openness?

Maybe its just me but I note a distinct change in the GDS rhetoric of late. And this is good for everyone.

The latest moves by the Legacy GDS players follows years of isolation by each of the GDSs who had developed different protocols for each user interaction from the basic IBM TPF/ALC command set. There has been a lot of prior art involved in the GDS interaction commands. I believe there is even a patent or two out there concerning how interaction with the GDS takes place. In 1988 I led a team that developed PARS Manager an application that allowed screen highlighting it was originally developed for any GDS but was implemented for PARS. IBM’s PC Travel was actually a neutral application with different command sets for each airline and GDS. PC Travel was replaced by ACSA (here is a reference to it http://www-01.ibm.com/software/htp/tpf/news/archive/v6n2a08.htm )

So this is not new. What is new is that the GDSs themselves are now promoting their “Open”ness. The GDSs are coming into the market joining LUTE’s CommandPRO (sm) in offering flexible command sets inbound any host direct or indirect based on Farelogix’s Hawkeye Opensource licensed product.

First up is Tripcase from Sabre http://www.tripcase.com/travelsmarter/. This will take in ANY itinerary object in the same way as Tripit and others already do. Sabre is promoting this and has already signed several agents to work with this. At the Travel Technolog Europe/Business Travel joint shows in London HRG revealed that they were a customer of Tripcase. Over on the other side of the hall, Travelport was not to be outdone. It was out there calling a spade a spade. Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead. The Smartpoint App now offers any GDS input talking to the Travelport Hosts. http://www.travelportsmartpointapp.com/ An yes.. they still have 3 of their own that need to be spoken to. These are Worldspan, Apollo (US) and Galileo (Rest of the World).

So far no word from Amadeus but Amadeus One could easily be adapted with a neutral set of command inputs.

Perhaps we should have Kirk and Spock as the spokepersons for these new apps . I think we can have the universal desktop/api - er I mean - communicator!

Let’s hope that this results in a better service for agents and thereby a better service for the consumer at large?

Am I optimistic? I dont think actually that this will happen. It takes a VERY LONG TIME for a Leopard to change his spots.