Thomas Cook starts trip to IT unity

Thomas Cook is embarking on a £67m, multi-year IT project to develop a single, multi-channel reservation platform covering its 34 tour operator brands and travel agency network across Europe.

Thomas Cook is embarking on a £67m, multi-year IT project to develop a single, multi-channel reservation platform covering its 34 tour operator brands and travel agency network across Europe.

The travel company has signed up IBM as its systems integrator. The supplier will use its Websphere middleware product to improve integration of the firm’s diverse IT environment. Thomas Cook’s infrastructure, described as “anti-homogeneous” by chief information officer Reinhard Eschbach, includes legacy mainframe systems at many locations across Europe.

The core reservation platform is being supplied by BlueSky Travel Systems in a £20m deal. Its browser-based iTour system, which uses Java and Oracle technology, was trialled extensively by Thomas Cook earlier this year.

Over the next three years, Thomas Cook wants iTour to replace, or substantially integrate, the 11 distinct reservations systems it is using currently. These are the legacy of the company’s recent acquisitive growth, as well as decades of piecemeal, country-specific development across Europe.

Eschbach said the main driver for the IT project, codenamed Globe, was to improve efficiency and cut costs by developing a sustainable, future-proof reservations infrastructure able to cope with changes in customer booking habits.

“We are using far too many reservation systems, some of which were self-developed and some of which we have inherited through acquisition,” he said. “The Globe project will enable us to better support our business processes and dramatically cut down on internal application development in the long term.”

Eschbach said iTour’s flexible, multi-layered architecture would allow new functionality to be integrated more easily, because at its core it was not based on any particular type of travel transaction.

“Our current systems are nearly all based on specific parts of the business. But a good hotel procurement system is not easily adapted to other purposes,” he said.

BlueSky managing director Steve Driscoll said, “All the reservation systems being replaced are connected to similar but different front- and back-offices, and the integration layer has to map onto all these systems. There will be a fair amount of application development to undertake, but one of Thomas Cook’s original criteria was that between 70% and 80% of existing systems could be retained.”

The roll-out will be managed on a brand-by-brand basis, and Thomas Cook has specified the software releases it expects from BlueSky, but Eschbach said the company did not plan make the timetable public.

Read article: Consolidation challenge

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This was last published in August 2006

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