Get on board for e-travel innovation

Travel and transport firms are becoming increasingly reliant on online systems, putting IT staff in a strong position to seize the business initiative

The internet is key to travel and transport companies, with a survey from travel market research specialist PhoCusWright predicting that 40% of all types of travel will be booked online by the end of 2008.

Travel and transport companies are, therefore, recruiting heavily for e-commerce skills, with a big emphasis on user interface design and testing, as well as pure coding skills in technologies such as .net, says Chris Price, a senior consultant in the IT division of recruitment firm Capita Resourcing.

With this emphasis on e-commerce, the travel sector holds opportunities for IT staff who are comfortable spending most of their time working in the business, and who can pick up commercial skills and offer technical expertise.

Working for a travel agent: Opodo

Opodo, an online travel agent operating in nine European countries, has gone so far as to embed a developer in the heart of its marketing team.

"Traditionally we have had a clean split between the IT and commerce teams. Although we had a really good IT team, we had to formally ask for and justify each piece of work.

"Now we just ask the question of our developer and he can tell us whether or not it can be done. So we can build or change pages very quickly, and exploit new approaches, such as the map-based interface for presenting search results on our new Escape Map service, without having to wait on the IT team," says Paul Treanor, Opodo's UK marketing manager.

As a result, Opodo has significantly improved its browser-to-user conversion rate - doubling its performance on some pages, says Treanor.

"It has been difficult to take someone who is a pure developer and turn them into a marketing person, and as marketers we have had to pick up some understanding of what can be developed as well, but when we look at the successes we have had, it has been worth it, "he says.

Rudolf Horvath, who has been commercial developer for Opodo in the UK for eight months, says the role is "less about pure development and more about being a marketeer".

Horvath had previously worked for a small web consultancy developing sites for a broad client base. That gave him experience in a range of web development technologies, database management and server management skills. Since working at Opodo he has developed his soft skills, with both formal and informal training from colleagues on marketing skills.

Despite this trend for IT staff to move into more commercially-focused roles in the business, there is still a place for traditional IT skills as the sector focuses on consolidation and mergers and acquisitions, says Price. "That is giving rise to lots of opportunities in IT to migrate data and back-office systems and to consolidate onto a single infrastructure.

"These sectors are also looking for experienced programme and project managers to oversee both consolidation and new developments to trial the latest technologies."

Price also sees a regular flow of requests for support staff capable of delivering 100% uptime, and for security specialists. Database skills are in demand to manage large volumes of information coming from multiple partners.

Working for Transport for London

Tayo Oseni-Alexis, who works at Transport for London (TfL), also works from within the marketing department rather than the IT department.

As development manager for TfL's journey planner, travel alerts and mobile services, she is responsible for managing systems that gather timetable and current service information from all the different transport providers and deliver them to users via the web, Wap and SMS.

She says one downside of working in transport is that you need to be extremely political. "You have to understand the various stakeholders, their needs and drivers and work within that environment without allowing it to affect your decisions and ability to deliver.

"Different parts of the sector can be quite myopic in focusing just on their own mode of transport, so you have to work hard with stakeholders internally and externally to encourage them to be involved in an integrated way."

Oseni-Alexis started with TfL as a data analyst after completing bachelor and masters degrees as a mature student, having previously worked in the charity sector.

She has worked her way up through team leader and project manager roles to her current position, where she manages more than 20 concurrent projects and has significant input into business strategy. Her remit encompasses projects ranging from new releases of existing services, to overhauling the infrastructure for TfL's mobile services to allow any TfL business unit to "plug in" its mobile applications.

Oseni-Alexis says TfL has been supportive of her career development and - judging her experiences against colleagues in other sectors - she thinks transport companies compare favourably with other industries when it comes to training.

On the subject of salaries, Price says that although salaries do not compare favourably to the highest-paid sectors, such as finance, roles in travel and transport often come with perks, such as generous holiday allowances and heavily discounted tickets that can be transferred to family and friends.

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