Travel Firms in Quest for Interoperability


Travel companies and the technology vendors that serve them are calling for open standards so they can integrate travel applications. But the industry is so mired in legacy technology that it will likely be fighting that battle for years.

At its first Travel Technology Conference here, Sherman, Conn.-based online travel analysis firm PhoCusWright Inc. last week brought technology vendors and their travel industry customers together to talk about their IT challenges. Almost unanimously they spoke of the need for standards.

Although the Open Travel Alliance is developing XML-based standards, companies such as Orbitz LLC are going ahead on their own, said Alex Zoghlin, chief technology officer at the online travel firm in Chicago. Orbitz's servers run on Linux, and its Web services are based on Java technology.

The shift to standards appears to be centered on two key problems, according to Jeremy Wertheimer, president and CEO of ITA Software Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. First, the travel industry needs to get more sophisticated about its customer transactions, which will mean moving data between suppliers, such as hotels and airlines, through Web services. Second, he said, suppliers are faced with the consolidation and eventual removal of legacy back-end systems.

Replacement Strategy

Craig T. Murphy, CTO at travel IT provider Sabre Holdings Corp., said he doesn't expect Sabre to invest a lot more intellectual property in its Transaction Processing Facility (TPF). Fort Worth, Texas-based Sabre last year sold its TPF hosting business to Plano, Texas-based Electronic Data Systems Corp., and its IT investments are now almost entirely in the development of new technology, Murphy said.

The plan for any legacy system should include a strategy for replacement, said Paul Bahnick, vice president of technology at Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Travel Impressions Ltd., a subsidiary of New York-based American Express Co. that provides wholesale travel packages to travel agents. Bahnick has built middleware that accommodates legacy systems and newer databases so he can gradually shut off the older machines. "We just refuse to spend another dollar on the legacy system itself," he said.

A serious obstacle to the adoption of standards is that many smaller hotels and travel agencies are barely computerized. "Probably 70% of our business is still done by fax," Bahnick said.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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