In the coverage of the unfolding chaos, the word that seemed to spring most frequently to the mouths of people responsible for managing any aspect of the situation was "unprecedented". A great word if you want to suggest that you shouldn't be blamed in any way for anything that ensued. After all, if it's unprecedented, you have no basis of information from the past to make decisions about what to do now. Or do you?
The truth of the matter is that there were probably enough precedents of most separate aspects of the event to allow reasonable judgments to be made. The problem was that no-one was able to consolidate enough of the disparate information to really make a difference. Focusing just on the issue of getting hordes of stranded passengers across Europe to every point of the compass: Which trains go where? How do they connect? How to connect from a train to a ferry, or a bus to a train? Minimize travel time or cost? Not to mention hotel rooms?
Could the airlines have minimized their regulatory compensation costs if they could work this out? For sure. Could surface travel companies maximize profits by fully utilizing spare capacity (as opposed to raising prices to exorbitant levels!)? Absolutely. Could groups of enterprising travelers get together to make the best plan to get home? Probably. So, there's lots of incentive to make it work. But none of this happened.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I'm just pointing out much of the underlying information to answer the above questions not only exists, but is often accessible on the internet. Every stranded traveler with web access spent hours checking options, trying to make online bookings (usually at severely overloaded sites) and then starting all over again as one link in the chain broke. Some succeeded, while others went and queued for hours at ticket offices.
Operational BI was probably used by some of the more advanced travel companies to track what was going on. Some even managed to schedule additional services to carry extra passengers. Others, such as the Calais-Dover ferries, just stopped taking bookings and went back to the "just turn up at the pier and we'll try to get you onboard as soon as possible" model.
But the really interesting question is this: given that all that information was out there on the web in all its various forms and gory details, how would one go about integrating it in a way that allowed it to be used in an end-to-end travel discovery and booking process?
I'm not expecting the IT industry to have a complete solution any time soon, for a wide variety of political and financial reasons. But a little thought, and none of it very new, suggests we'd need: a common model spanning the information of multiple companies, the ability to link hard and soft information together in a meaningful way, services that act in a fully plug-and-play manner with well-defined interfaces and the ability to mashup a dashboard joining the different steps of the journey together. What I really needed was Business Integrated Insight to get me home!
Posted April 25, 2010 9:11 AM
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