CIO50 2018 #26-50: Michelle Beveridge, Intrepid Group
For Intrepid Travel, getting technology innovations off the ground requires the basics like evidencing expected ROI and specifics such as finding a way to excite management colleagues to get behind the programs, says chief operating officer, Michelle Beveridge.
“Money and people’s time are scarce resources and there are always more ideas on ways to use those resources than capacity,” she says.
“Why should we invest in blockchain when we could be launching a new marketing campaign? Both are investments in a concept that may or may not increase revenue. While marketing campaigns can succeed or fail, technology innovations have a lower history of success and delve into areas that non-technical people can’t readily understand.”
Beveridge admits that even people with technical backgrounds have troubling understand new technologies and deciding which one to choose. The challenge is to determine and then persuade people that the expected outcome is of sufficient value to meeting the future goals of the organisation that the risk of failure is acceptable and the investment of resources appropriate,” she says.
Technological innovation is certainly a key enabler of Intrepid Group’s global 2020 strategy to grow the market for sustainable, experience-rich travel while operating a business led by purpose beyond profit.
For the technology team, the strategy is supporting by two goals, says Beveridge. The first is business transformation through a digital mindset where staff are educated and engaged in the opportunities created by digital innovation. This goal, says Beveridge, is to create sustainable profit improvements by delivering a better customer experience or productivity gains for staff.
The second is increasing Intrepid’s destination management companies’ (DMC) technological capabilities.
“Our DMCs are effectively the factory of our business and needed new tools and technology to improve the efficiency of the current services delivered and increase the range of services that could be delivered. Both these outcomes contribute to Intrepid Group’s competitive advantage via lower costs in destinations and enabling our operators to be externally-focused on the customer experience rather than internally focused on administration,” Beveridge says.
Establishing a digital mindset
To create a digital mindset, the organisation needed to better understand the needs of its customers and staff. Using agile delivery methods, the tech team, led by Beveridge, extended ‘scrum’ training to non-technical staff and gave the role of product owner to key users, i.e., the people who daily contact with customers. This empowered them to make decisions and created future champions for embedding change, she says.
“I moved away from the concept of publishing an ‘IT roadmap’ and instead set up a group of key business managers to decide how to prioritise project work and make the best use of scarce IT resources. Together, we meet monthly to prioritise the work based on our alignment with the 2020 strategy,” she says.
This means teams concentrate their efforts towards the most business-sensitive projects. Beveridge’s team no longer on longer gets caught between competing business needs. This has led to a better understanding of the value of IT projects, which now receive equal priority to other initiatives.
“This change to the way we deliver IT value has initially focused on sales growth by rethinking existing ways of working and innovating through better synergies of functionality, systems and data,” says Beveridge.
“Contributing to Intrepid’s 15 per cent sales growth year-on-year, the integration projects have enabled a lower cost of customer acquisition with a 1 per cent shift to direct sales.”
The projects included: integration of marketing, web analytics and sales systems to personalise email marketing and improve effectiveness of campaigns; data analytics tools to optimise selling price and discount options through near-time reporting to trip departures (demand) and customer demand. Customers are also saving and sharing their shortlist of dream trips on web and mobile with data integration for analytics, marketing and sales.
Leveraging the DMC
Intrepid’s DMC network has 21 regional offices across five continents, many in developing countries. The company has more than 1,000 tour leaders working with local community suppliers with limited access to technology.
For instances, Intrepid users locally-run hotels and guest houses, rather than large international chains, to provide a more authentic experience for travellers. Many of these accommodation providers are small businesses with lower levels of technology awareness or capability. Trip manifests (including customer details) were previously printed at a local DMC office for staff to carry and share with accommodation providers while on the trip, says Beveridge.
“The technology vacuum restricted our ability to automate which made for a challenging environment to maintain security and data protection and was highly inefficient and static,” she says.
A ‘leader portal’ is one way the company is dealing with these challenges, she says.
“For many of our tour leaders, English is their second language and with little exposure to technology, they are very unlike the typical user in an Australian office environment. We have built an application that leaders can use on their mobile phones, both online and offline. The user interface is a simple icon-based navigation that has been developed iteratively with constant feedback from tour leaders around the globe,” she says.
The mainfest details are delivered via the app directly from the organisation’s booking system. Using a secure login, the tour leader can see customer details including special dietary or medical requirements or any additional activities a customer may have booked.
Forward plans include updated flight arrival details to align with airport transfers and customer preferences to help the tour leader know what sights or experiences each customer is likely to enjoy, says Beveridge.
“It has helped us to vastly improve our customers’ experience and security. Longer term, the vision for the app to collect as well as provide data using the native capabilities of smartphones and machine learning.”