There’s no denying Bharat Patel has one eye on the future – not least due to the fact that CodeGen has already started integrating Google’s upcoming Glass product into his company’s booking technology. But then innovation is a strong theme for the global commercial and marketing director, whose beginnings in a Trafalgar Square travel agency in the 1980s have led him to one of the biggest – if not one of the most well known – travel technology firms: CodeGen.
Sri Lankan-based CodeGen was formed in 1999, and Patel is now the second largest shareholder of the private company, after co-founder DrHarshaSubasinghe – chief executive and chief system architect. “We built it ourselves. We created modules, it was flexible, and built it on emerging technologies, such as Java. We broke a lot of barriers. It took several years, but we built highly scalable systems,” Patel recalls. There are eight staff in the UK, with more than 100 developers (mostly PhD graduates) in Sri Lanka, plus one employee in Canada. American expansion is on the cards too.
Outside the box Its flagship product, Travelbox, has been used by Virgin Holidays for three years, and last year Monarch including its Avro, Cosmos and somewhere2stay brands, signed up. Monarch aims to go live early next year, coinciding with its termination of Viewdata as a distribution tool. But how does it work exactly? TravelBox is a modular-based reservation system, with core modules including report, mark-up, and document managers, as well as supplier modules and customer profiles. Optional modules include package builder, ticketing and accommodation manager, plus Multiple Payment Gateways, Low Cost Carrier Gateway and Visa Processing.
It is also “horizontally scalable”, meaning that no new platforms or upgrades are needed, should a company expand and start selling new product. One senior travel executive said it was “the new breed” of technology, due to its Open Source foundations – but added there was a steep learning curve.
Lessons learned After recent IT incidents with the big two, Patel believes all travel agents and operators must be flexible when choosing their back-end technology and think fresh when planning infrastructure. He cites Thomas Cook as an example of where relying on legacy systems can go wrong. The operator ran into problems in 2009 when its IT provider, BlueSky Travel Systems, went into administration. BlueSky had previously been awarded a £20 million contract by Cook in 2006 to build a system, called iTour, yet the contract was terminated in September 2009. In December 2012 it announced it will use technology company Anite’s “Symphony” reservation system.
Tui, meanwhile, has been “smarter”. It recently decided to axe its reservation system of 40 years and is also currently switching to Anite, with its @comRes system due to go live early next year. But this decision followed an “accounting error” in 2010, which saw millions wiped off its profits, partly due to the reservation system used by Thomson, which saw cash discounts offered to many customers; the First Choice system was axed post-merger..
For Patel, the path to success lies with people, and using the right consultants and IT firms. He praises Harriet Green, the new Cook chief executive, for “making changes” – namely a wave of high-level departures. “There’s no legacy there,” he notes about her non-travel background.
CodeGen is already looking at the opportunities for Google Glass, the search giant’s futuristic project that sees a pair of glasses embedded with a video screen in the corner. Voice is another growing trend for Patel, and CodeGen has launched a B2C app called Zedi – which features voice control. “We’re early adopters – that’s how you can get the edge. If you want to live in this new world, you have to be connected to everything. It’s all about structure and infrastructure,” says Patel.
Looking ahead further, Patel says airlines are increasingly seeking to grow business direct (Iata’s NDC a case in point), and he believes hotels will soon start doing the same. Yet with retail, Patel maintains there’s still that need for contact. But ever the forward thinker, he adds wryly that may change when Artificial Intelligence takes over in the next 10 to 15 years.