Thomas Cook uses XML to stay ahead

Thomas Cook has significantly reduced the time it takes to produce multichannel content and has improved overall efficiency by...

Thomas Cook has significantly reduced the time it takes to produce multichannel content and has improved overall efficiency by implementing XML-based content management software.

The travel agent, which has been speaking about the project at this week's Internet World conference, rolled out Document 4i software from supplier Documentum to support its multichannel Thomascook .com operation, which was launched in 1999.

Gwyn Williams, content manager at Thomascook .com, said the implementation has addressed issues that are faced by all travel companies operating online.

"We are selling other companies' products, such as packaged holidays and car hire, so we cannot change too much information when putting brochures online," he explained. "Before implementing the software, we were handcrafting information into HTML format and it was taking up to six weeks to get a brochure online. Documentum allows us to get the same content online in about three days."

The XML based software allows Thomas Cook to put content information into a single repository, to be re-used as many times as necessary, regardless of the channel. "We did not want to keep having to re-do the same content - we wanted the ability to switch it on immediately," said Williams. "This has brought internal benefits such as being able to re-deploy staff into more value added areas."

Tony Hart, an e-business integration analyst at Datamonitor, said using XML at a relatively early stage was a smart move by Thomas Cook. "XML content management systems will hook into a database at some point, and there are articles reporting that XML databases are quicker than conventional databases, thereby giving Thomas Cook a slight competitive advantage against those who do not use XML," he said.

"Most applications, channels and devices will be using some form of XML touch point in the future, so if they can embrace XML now, it will stand them in good stead for what's ahead."

Thomas Cook has been one of the prime movers in digital TV, with its own dedicated channel on Telewest and NTL. The Documentum software will allow the company to grow in this area.

"Although there is a limit to what we can do with digital TV at the moment the software will allow us to react to any changes that are brought about meaning we can stay ahead of the market," explained Williams.

"The overall aim is to provide customers with the most comprehensive choice of holiday related products across any channel," he said.

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