Holiday Autos, winner of two Computer Weekly E-business Excellence Awards, has supported its evolution into the world's largest leisure car broker by being quick to adopt new technologies and embrace the Internet as an additional channel to market.
As well as helping the company to keep in touch with its customers and suppliers, technology has helped it to centralise. For a company with more than 4,000 locations in 60 countries, that is a major consideration.
Marketing director Joanne Pyshorn, who draughted the awards entry, describes Holiday Autos' approach to new technology as realistic. "We are quite innovative anyway, and it is an ideal product to put on the Web. But it is also a way that our customers want to communicate with us, so it is customer driven," she says.
But although the company is keen for its customers to use the Web site and offers a £5 booking discount as an incentive, Pyshorn says it will continue to use call centres and will not force the medium on its customers. There is still a need for customer interaction as some are still wary of using the Internet or communicating online, especially on the trade side.
However, the conservative approach of the industry is beginning to change, says Pyshorn, partly as a result of the efforts of firms such as Holiday Autos. The company provides training modules and runs a school of excellence. "We are trying to champion e-commerce with travel companies," she says. "People pick up the phone because it is a habit. This module says, 'Get online. do not be scared - see how easy it is'."
Asked what has been the company's greatest online achievement, Pyshorn says, "Everything we do ends up as the greatest achievement." First it was getting the Holiday Autos brochure online. Then it was getting the fully bookable product on there, followed by the incorporation of XML into the Web site, in co-operation with low-cost airline Go. "Talk to me in a month's time and we will have something else that is fabulous," she says.
"We are very customer focused. We will not adopt a new technology just because we think it is great. That is one of our greatest achievements, I think - always keeping the customer in mind."
Pyshorn stresses the importance of knowing your customers and how they wish to communicate and promoting navigability and usability over gimmicks and flashy graphics. As such, the Holiday Autos site is very simple - just three clicks to a purchase.
Another key factor in the success of the company's approach is co-operation. "We have some good partners now," says Pyshorn. Getting your product right is also crucial, she says. "If you have flaws in your product they will be very transparent when you put it on the Web."
Although she says the company is wary of becoming complacent, Pyshorn admits to being really pleased when Holiday Autos won two Computer Weekly E-business Excellence awards. "I was really excited to be nominated for the SME category and when we won the award it was great - it was a very tough category," she says. "But when we won the Gold Award, well, I can't put it into words really - I am still grinning. I really did not think we would get it."
However, she is quick to acknowledge that the company could not have done it without its technology partner Progress, which has been very supportive, and the hard work of the in-house IT team.
Keep a handle on transaction values
Holiday Autos' IT director Alan Herbage says, "Our approach to e-business is based around the premise that it must be transaction-based, with each transaction having some value to the company in terms of revenue or customer retention. At the same time, creating Web site architecture that allows us to interface to other partners within the leisure industry enhances our ability to sell our product and promote our brand in ways that a single enclosed site would not do.
"Our approach is not just about new technology, however, as too much is over-hyped. We look at the best and most appropriate technology that will support our business both now and in the future. Our board of directors is committed to technology underpinning the success of our future business.
"We continue to work with more partners on the challenge of centralising and integrating both Web and internal business systems worldwide into a single e-commerce end-to-end infrastructure. The team always surprises me with its commitment to any challenge, sometimes under extremely short timelines. Keeping that enthusiasm over the past 18 months has been my challenge and the awards are vindication for all the hard work that the whole company has put in."
Holiday Autos received two awards at the Computer Weekly E-business Excellence Awards 2001, held in London on 27 November, taking the prize for the best example of e-business in a small or medium-sized enterprise as well as the overall Gold Award for e-business excellence. Here is what one of the judges, Patrick Bossert of KPMG Consulting, had to say about the company:
"The management team is just buzzing with what the company has achieved - we loved their enthusiasm. Despite being in the badly-hit leisure sector, this business is growing fast, mainly thanks to the management who have been brave enough to re-invent the business and take it into the world of e-commerce. The company has forged some excellent alliances with travel sites and has made paperless booking a reality in the car rental industry."
Holiday Autos fact file
The Holiday Autos online car rental booking system, developed by Progress Software, went live in December 1999. The company extended the service to travel agents and intermediaries to enable them to book online and develop dual-branded Web sites. It then adopted XML to communicate with external suppliers and to enable partners such as the airline Go to embed the Holiday Autos online booking service in their own Web sites. Earlier this year the company added a browser-based central car reservation system from Progress after it was forced to pull the plug on a long overrunning project using Oracle Voyager.