In the past twelve months, the Intrepid Group has undergone a significant business change. It’s co-founders, who set up the travel company in 1988, took back full ownership of the company, uncoupling from a four-year partnership with a FTSE 100 UK conglomerate.
That brought with it a digital transformation too, as CIO Michelle Beveridge explains, a transition from “old economy thinking and old economy technology to an agile, cloud-savvy, purposeful organisation”.
The company – which sends over 100,000 travellers across the globe each year, employs more than 1,000 staff and is always adding to its list of 800 different itineraries across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, Australasia and Antarctica – had a newfound focus on long-term growth, an entrepreneurial attitude and an attitude of “purpose beyond profit”.
“The technology and the style of project delivery needed to change to match this new culture of freedom and innovation,” says Beveridge, who was previously the CIO of Open Universities Australia.
The existing technology stack consisted of three core systems: web, Starship (Intrepid’s bespoke trip costing and reservations system) and NaVision for its finance operations. Each was supported on internally managed virtual servers in a hosted datacentre. Each had suffered from performance issues, did not suit the globally expanding business structure and could not be changed fast enough to address the digital disruption taking place in the travel industry.
Three seeds of change
So Beveridge planted what she calls “three seeds” which became the key drivers for the major digital transformation, watered with a new attitude to technology called the “digital mindset”.
The first was the introduction of agile techniques for project delivery. Releases are far more frequent, in the case of the Starship team accelerating from four a year to fortnightly.
The approach has gone beyond the technology to permeate through the rest of the business. There are Kanban walls in every department being used to solve business problems as well as run improvement programs and daily stand-up meetings as standard.
“The best part of our move to agile, however, has been its adoption by all areas of our business, well beyond technology projects,” says Beveridge. “It is leading to an openness to consider innovation techniques like design thinking to further transform the company.”
The second seed was a change to the enterprise architecture to break down the bespoke “one system does everything” approach to a “best of breed” approach.
The Starship systems performance issues were in part due to the addition of more and more code to stretch the functionality which had become too complex. Beveridge brought in a cloud-based CRM (Salesforce) and a product content management system (SAP Hybris) so Starship could be simplified and focused on what it did best – costing trips and booking passengers.
“We reconstructed the data warehouse and added a cloud-based business intelligence tool to reduce the long list of Starship reports waiting to be built,” says Beveridge. “This is a stepping stone to later implementing data mining and business performance management tools.”
The third seed was a new mantra: cloud first for all infrastructure. All web infrastructure has been moved to Amazon, as well as all test and development environments for Starship, all email and office apps to Office 365 and a cloud based telephony system has been implemented.
The plan is to move the company’s 23 global offices to one cloud-based telephony system that will fully integrate with the CRM.
Beveridge admits that by themselves, these programs are not especially innovative. But the way they’ve come about is.
“The innovation comes from the way we have pulled various strategic initiatives and strategic planning to the daily stand ups,” says Beveridge. “When not so long ago there was a ‘business’ and separate ‘IT’ culture, now we have shared goals and mixed teams working together to implement change.”
One example of this has been the delivery of convenience to customers, something Beveridge calls the “Uberfication of customer service”.
“Our goal at Intrepid is to ensure the customers get the answers they want, when they want and let’s make it as easy as possible,” she explains.
“We understand that customers interact with us in different ways and sometimes websites and apps are just not enough and a customer wants to talk with a person who knows about their upcoming adventure. Using cloud-based technology, we are in the process of rolling out a single global telephony system to all our offices. That’s unique in the travel industry and rare for an Australian owned global company.”
A “pretty outspoken” proponent of gender diversity in IT, Beveridge was involved in the early days of Go Girl, Go for IT, a project that has continued to grow and reach more high school students with informative and fun activities about careers in IT.
The company is 58 per cent female, and its global leadership team 45 per cent female, “and yet it is still extremely difficult to get to more than 30 per cent representation in IT,” Beveridge says, though her efforts are seeing that figure improve.
According to Beveridge, hers is “the best CIO gig in the world”.
“I work with a fabulous team who are committed to the organisation’s success,” she says. “My leadership team colleagues listen and are prepared to take the time to understand what is required to run IT. They recognise the benefits technology can bring to the organisation and it is valued as highly as any other strategic asset of the business.”