Travel GDS’ need to work backwards from the user experience

Apparently Amadeus, one of the world’s largest travel GDS (global distribution system) companies is investing €200m of loans in improvements in their software and services. They make bold claims that they want to ‘revolutionise the travel industry’ which would be fantastic if they could, given their scale and reach, but part of me worries that we’ll end up with something designed from the inside out rather than from the outside in.

Having worked on projects with Amadeus technologies and API’s I know that currently they don’t support everything that many travel companies and startups would like to provide in terms of user experience, booking flow and price discovery. This isn’t Amadeus’ fault as their systems have grown over years and have been largely driven by the inputs rather than the users needs.

So I commented on Travolutions article on this story and felt it worth reposting and expanding on the comment here.

If Amadeus really want to revolutionise travel then they need to work backwards from the user experience, through the many ways users interact with their systems, via API’s to the core software.

GDS’ have historically always developed out from business requirements through the software development and then produced API’s that expose the underlying data. That leaves consumers of the API’s and interfaces with a lack of flexibility and an inability to support users increasingly complex needs when it comes to searching, discovering, comparing, sharing and buying travel products online, over the phone or face to face from an agent.

Plainly there will be key requirements for the new system that Amadeus wants it to support, many will be driven by travel companies who pass data into the Amadeus systems, but these need to be translated into a target user experience and worked backwards into the software rather than developed outwards. While the experience of the companies providing travel product is vital, it is easier to support their needs if you keep their end customers in mind as this is where the revenue comes from which is what they are really seeking through distribution agreements. By supporting the end-user or purchasers needs you make them more money and you don’t waste time implementing requirements that meet an executives needs but aren’t really wanted by his customers (a scarily frequent occurrence).

Amadeus need to think of the consumers, users and companies who want to integrate the product available in the GDS into their systems and services. They need to make it possible for travel companies, travel agents, call centres, online travel startups and websites to create engaging UX’s which support a diverse range of users needs. Developing from the inside out just won’t support as many of these.

My advice to Amadeus would be to undertake a large piece of research (get the right people onboard to help them with this), lots of modelling of content, user needs versus journeys, create personas based on who wants to consumer, use and interact with their systems, map scenarios, test all of this a number of times throughout the process with real users (in shops, on phones, on web, API consumers, green screen customers etc) and then begin to look at what kind of API’s are required to support this and work backwards through the software stack requirements to make that a reality.

Don’t get me wrong, this is no small effort. In fact it’s huge, organisation changing, will likely be very difficult and clearly has pretty large costs associated with it, but the return on investment could be huge.

By undertaking such a program of user experience led research, design and development Amadeus may be able to secure their position in the travel industry for a good while longer. Without it, they will increasingly see startups trying to eat into their business, creating their own mini-GDS’, seeking to compete with them and looking elsewhere for solutions that allow flexibility and innovation.

By putting the user experience first and working backwards Amadeus may be able to produce a system and suite of services that would allow flexibility and be attractive to the increasing number of traditional travel companies and online travel startups who want to provide engaging user experiences with high conversion rates.

Note: You could replace Amadeus and the travel industry with pretty much any major software as a service provider who has been around for over 20 years (founded in 1987). Also note that Amadeus’ systems processed more than 948 million travel transactions in 2011. That’s the scale of the challenge, but what a fun challenge it would be as you really could revolutionise travel!

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I’ve been working in senior digital & e-commerce roles for 16 years so I’ve got a wealth of experience to share. I specialise in online travel, e-commerce and also have a focus on reinsurance, risk and particularly insurance-linked securities / catastrophe bonds. I live and breathe the internet & risk transfer, am tech savvy, user experience focused, think out-of-the-box, offer design & research driven business consultancy and always keep business goals in mind. Read more about me

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