When the business of Kuoni Travel Group started growing, an easier and decentralized IT ecosystem was becoming a hindrance in its growth. They were looking for a more centralized – and, yes, harder-to-do – enterprise IT infrastructure. They thus rolled out SAP to take care of most of the back-end functions of the business on a captive platform called Shared Services Center.
VFS caters to the needs of 22 diplomatic missions (read governments) across 42 countries.The Kuoni Travel Group launched in India about 12 years ago when it acquired SOTC, then the largest outbound travel player in the country. The Kuoni Travel Group is a hundred percent subsidiary of the 102-yearold Swiss travel giant, Kuoni Travel Holding Switzerland.
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Flitting across countries isn’t something you would generally associate with the suave Dhiren Savla. But a look at his bloated passport makes it hard to miss the fact that he’s a globe-trotter’s globe-trotter. As the CIO of the Kuoni Travel Group, India, Savla’s passport is peppered with the visas of numerous countries; he practically lives out of his suitcase. The side-effect of the remedy Savla and his team have been administering to the company over the last five years. It’s a treatment that’s working if the phenomenal business benefits Kuoni is reaping is any indicator. Over the last four years, Savla and his team have been making concentrated efforts to move away from an easier-to-setup, decentralized IT ecosystem they had and introduce a far more centralized – and, yes, harder-to-do – enterprise IT infrastructure.
Their work has not only helped make Kuoni the largest player in the country’s travel and tourism space, it has also given the firm the ability to conquer the world by expanding its reach astronomically. “Had we remained decentralized and not taken steps to advance our technology use, we would not have grown. It is that simple,” says Savla.
Business began to push out in new directions. About six years ago, Kuoni India started a business division called VFS. It is a BPO function that caters to the visa related front-end and back-end processes of diplomatic missions, which are in charge of ensuring visas are given only to bonafide travelers. Kuoni India started its BPO operations for the US government in Western India (Pune, Ahmedabad and Mumbai). Soon, the UK and UAE missions also came on board and outsourced their visa-related functions for various locations within India. But this only added to the company’s IT infrastructure woes. Then the Australian, French and Canadian missions asked for VFS’s services as well. The diversified and heterogeneous IT systems could have become a bottleneck as the business grew phenomenally.
If we had remained decentralized and not advanced our technology deployments, we would not have grown. It is that simple.
Technology can be a key differentiator between a successful company and an unsuccessful one.
In 2004, they embarked on the difficult journey of centralizing the organization’s IT infrastructure, consolidating its application portfolio and setting up a standardized working environment all of which would make Kuon more agile and expand its business beyond India’s geographic boundaries. We rolled out SAP to take care of most of the back-end functions of the business on a captive platform called Shared Services Center (SSC). We undertook the enormous task of setting up premises, training users, moving workforce from business functions, rolling out SAP and migrating multiple systems to a common platform,” remembers Savla. On the application portfolio front, Kuoni India adopted a three-tier distribution network. Various travel products are sold by Kuoni branches, its franchisees and agents across the country. Only application consolidation would enable the organization to manage its travel inventory across the distribution network.
About three years ago, Kuoni India’s IT function became part of Kuoni’s global initiative to introduce a common working environment across all its locations. The project called Future Business in IT Architecture (FITA), started with three key focus areas: trimming application portfolios; standardizing IT infrastructure and setting up a homogenous functional organization. “FITA in Asia will be complete by the second quarter of 2009. Various applications such as CRM and CMS are being rolled out in India and global locations at the same time. The rollout of these global applications would give us operational efficiency as well as competitive advantage,” says Savla. It would also prepare them for their biggest deal yet.