CIO50 2020 #5: Pete Yates, Entrada Travel Group
Over the past two years as inaugural chief technology officer at Entrada Travel Group (ETG), Pete Yates and his team worked on a portfolio of initiatives with massive impact on the organisation.
“No part of the business has been left untouched,” says Yates of the programmes that include implementing a new financial system incorporating all financial workloads, replacing the core reservation system and bringing corporate data into one place.
The team supported various trials on dynamic pricing, based on load and travel time, with the aim of rolling this to the whole network and using machine learning to decide on the most optimal pricing for their products and services.
All these contribute to supporting and growing the business, and provide foundations to allow them to use an iterative delivery approach. “We can show the value as soon as possible and let the solutions sell themselves,” says Yates.
For example, he worked with the sales team to develop a comprehensive set of interactive business reports (on Tableau) using their new data warehouse.
“We now have the situation where other groups are wanting what the sales team has, because they are saying to others how much value it brings to their business.”
Yates says when he joined ETG (formerly InterCity Group), he looked at the business as a whole and how technology can help them achieve strategic goals.
He then created a plan that will build strong foundations around people, process and technology to enable innovation and ultimately, shift ETC to become a “data driven business”.
“That said, we are still looking to innovate as in some cases, a business cannot wait,” he says.
For example, they built a large mobile IoT network of devices through fully implementing public Wi-Fi on all their coaches and boats in New Zealand.
They have also implemented new devices for all vehicles under the Fullers GreatSights business in the Bay of Islands, so they are able to track these vehicles with greater accuracy. Their next goal is to connect the engine management system to these new devices for more accurate engine diagnosis.
“Ultimately, we will also be able to get all the data off these devices into our data warehouse.”
The cookie cutter solution
ETG has been expanding to Australia so Yates set up a technology model that provides known costs and setup time frames for new acquisitions.
“This is largely a cookie cutter solution,” he says and first implemented when ETG integrated two Australian businesses in 2018.
The Australian businesses are now on the same O365, phone system, intranet and CRM as the rest of ETG and this can be rolled out in Australia as and when we acquire more businesses, he explains.
Yates says the biggest innovation his team has implemented so far is the product integration hub (PIH).
This, he says is basically middleware (built in AWS using Tyk) that connects their reservation systems with third parties.
They have also created their own API developer portal so third parties can write to them. The PIH has enabled ETG to fully participate in otherwise untapped digital channels, through the use of modern architecture and technology while using repeatable processes.
These steps help increase revenue, improve customer experience and operational efficiencies.
In the backend, the contact centre no longer has to manually input customer data from emails into reservation systems, which was error prone and time consuming, says Yates.
This means, customers can now get live availability on tours and can in some cases book up to three hours before the tour starts.
The successful delivery of the PIH was made possible by forging close working relationships with key technology partners, says Yates.
“The PIH is a game changer for ETG and has opened up previously untapped digital channels. It has shown its value quickly by lowering payback per third party connection to less than three months.”
The change in IT operating model and strategy was essential for the business as the current way of working was not sustainable.
Yates says that ETG had to make sure they were equipped to support the company’s goals of revenue growth in the next five years and diversify their portfolio across ANZ.
The shift led to the creation of a technology and delivery team that is responsive to the needs of the group, retains their IP internally and ultimately gets to know the business.
“The outcome of this transformation will also build strong technology and process foundations where innovation and constant improvements will become second nature,” says Yates.
One of the first tasks Yates undertook was to support from a technology perspective the creation of a low-cost coach business called Skip.
“We disrupted ourselves,” he says, noting how this new brand also competes with their InterCity coach business. He says that the main objective was to be able to provide different price points for customers.
Skip was launched on their new finance system and a chatbot was deployed for their customers.
As Skip is predominantly a separate business, we managed to build our new deployment pipeline and website on AWS before we did this across the larger business, he says.
Skip will also be their first business to roll out on the new reservation system, providing valuable insights before it was rolled out to the rest of the coaching businesses.
Yates explains that in his first months on the job, he talked to teams from various areas of the business, from the call centre to boat captains and marine operations.
“I wanted to see how technology is used, listen to pain points and try to resolve these through a constant improvement mindset, either by changing or implementing new technology,” he states.
“It was also a great opportunity to talk about my vision and strategy for technology with those who are impacted at the ground level and who have the most interactions with our customers.”
He continues to communicate with staff across the organisation through the company intranet site on SharePoint. This is where he regularly publishes articles on security and technology to help raise awareness of online safety to ETG teams.
Outside of ETG, Yates regularly attends ICT forums and maintains a blog on the CIO role, digital culture and career advice for ICT professionals.
Making a decision, sans emotion
He applies a constant test in every initiative he works on, whichever sector he is in.
There are five key words that are worth remembering, he says. “What problem am I solving?”
“We look at the customer problem and solve it – we don’t provide a solution that then has to go and look for a problem.”
This is especially true when a member of the team wants to bring in a new way of working or a third party to implement a system they saw at a conference.
“By using those five words, you take the emotion out of any decision and really test your team’s thinking as to why a new way of working or technology should be adopted,” he says.
“I have seen on numerous occasions when people and CEOs want to bring in a solution they had used in another business. But instead of saying ‘no’ or just letting them implement this, I always ask, ‘what problem is it solving?’”
This approach does not frustrate either party, but sets the tone for how you want your team to operate, he states. “It also ensures both parties know why a solution was adopted or not, ensuring decision-making is transparent and open.”
He says the trust of the leadership team allows him to deliver the technology strategy to support a “growing and ambitious business”.
“It is just what all businesses do these days... It is just change.”