Jul 082013
 

Why travel businesses need ERP systems

Travel is a complex product, with correspondingly complex business processes. Travel companies often use multiple systems to support these processes. This leads to the need to either manually copy data from one system to another, or to create interfaces between systems.

One of the most common scenarios where this occurs is supplier financials – Managing supplier invoices and reconciling these with customers’ bookings, together with actually paying suppliers are frequently manual tasks managed outside of the core travel system. Similarly, calculating and paying agency commissions are also often handled in a semi automated manner. Creating remittance advices and keeping track of supplier and agency payments is typically done in standalone finance systems.

I think part of the reason for this is that those in the finance/accounts department want a recognised ‘accounting system’ to manage the company financials, and frankly most travel technology suppliers simply do not offer an accounting back end that meets up to the accountants’ needs. What you need here is a proper multi-currency double entry accounting system, with a full audit trail.

Integrated Product Content – Often known as brochure content i.e. descriptions/photos/maps and so on, product content is another area where stand-alone systems are often used. This leads to duplication of data entry between product and content systems, and the need to keep these systems ‘in step’ via common codes. The TTICodes project is an example of an industry response to the problem of matching codes between systems. I frequently come across travel businesses that have content duplicated across various systems supporting different business processes, particularly where businesses grow by acquisition.

Workflow to manage business processes – A third area where problems occur relates to the use of traditional email to manage business processes. Email is great for the communication of ideas, but not for managing repetitive processes like ticketing, document production (fulfilment) and so on. Here what’s needed is a workflow management system, where each task can be attached to specific bookings/inventory/suppliers or whatever is relevant to the task, with a management interface that is able to track and report on these tasks.

Fine grain security controls – Finally, enterprise systems require fine grain security controls, to define who has access to what, and to enforce business process rules. Users what to log in once, and then have the system execute their security profile across the all applications that they may interact with.

To do all these things requires a fully integrated, front-to-back travel management platform. An ERP system for travel, if you like.

Wikipedia defines ERP as: “Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems integrate internal and external management of information across an entire organization—embracing finance/accounting, manufacturing [i.e. product creation and inventory management],  sales and service, customer relationship management, etc. ERP systems automate this activity with an integrated software application. ERP facilitates information flow between all business functions inside the organization, and manages connections to outside stakeholders……… Enterprise systems are complex software packages that offer the potential of integrating data and processes across functions in an enterprise.  Although the initial ERP systems focused on large enterprises, there has been a shift towards smaller enterprises also using ERP systems………. Organizations consider the ERP system their backbone, and a vital organizational tool because it integrates varied organizational systems, and enables flawless transactions and production.”

To build such a beast by assembling software and systems from different suppliers is a difficult task, the cost of integration probably outweighing the purchase cost of the software components themselves. For smaller and mid size enterprises, such integration is probably beyond their means. For large organisations, experience tells us that building and maintaining these interfaces becomes a significant overhead, and tends to ‘fossilise’ the infrastructure on which the company runs.

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Sell-It Suite – The Travel ERP System

Fortunately ERP for travel does exist. Sell-It Suite is an example of such a system. It is fully integrated across product creation and pricing, online and offline selling, mid-office bookings administration and back-office accounting. Sell-It has the most comprehensive financial management functionality in any reservation system that I am aware of, which is partly why I like to refer to it as a leisure travel platform, rather than just as a reservation system.

It has a fully integrated xml based product content management system (CMS), and of course a fully integrated workflow system, accessible from and usable by all areas of the system.

It has integrated access control and usage monitoring capabilities, so that not only can users be grouped and granted only the appropriate system access, but also every user interaction is logged and can be reported down to individual screen and report level. In addition a full audit log of data changes is maintained. So, the question “what did this user do on Wednesday morning?“, can be comprehensively answered in terms of system access and usage, and the corresponding changes to data – You need a fully integrated system to deliver that kind of capability.

So, ERP for travel is not a dream, attainable only by huge corporations with correspondingly huge budgets. Sell-It Suite delivers Travel ERP and is proven in travel businesses from SME’s to multi-market global enterprises. 

Contact RWA if you think a Travel ERP system is what you really need as the backbone for your travel business.

Rob Wortham, July 2013

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