Flight Centre, which listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in late 1995, is one of Australia’s largest travel agency companies with annual revenues of over AU$5 billion and one of the highest profitability figures in the Australian travel industry. In June 1996 they were located in five countries (Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada and South Africa) and at that time had over 260 stores and 1,300 sales staff worldwide. Since then they have experienced exceptional growth in the number of stores and staff and have also expanded their operations into the USA.
The company, when I started in April 1994, had no computer automation in their shops other than dumb terminals connected to the CRS (the Galileo Computer Reservation System). Flight Centre’s data centre ran a small Unix system that supported 40 users who handled the airline ticketing. The company’s accounts were also being run on a PC-based accounting system. The data centre consisted of two staff.
At the conclusion of my assignment at Flight Centre, all 200 shops in Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand were installed with new Apple Macintosh computer systems running a custom developed customer tracking and trust accounting system (known in the industry as a front and back office system). The head office accounts were migrated from the PC-based system to Sun Financials and the SCO Unix system was migrated from a Compaq server to an IBM RS/6000 system (one RS/6000 J30 and a backup RS/6000 C10 system). The Ticketing System was also migrated from SCO Unix to the AIX operating system. Total project budget was AU$10 million.
The Data Centre staff increased to 15 people (during the implementation phase) to handle equipment configuration, equipment installation, help desk support and user training. All of Flight Centre’s suppliers for this project and Flight Centre management were astounded at the speed and efficiency to which the roll-out of over 1,200 new Macs (and associated LAN, cabling, printers and accounting systems) was accomplished.
- Developed a Three Year Information Technology Strategic Plan for the company including technical architecture, hardware, hardware/software recommendations, network recommendations, staffing recommendations and budget.
- Developed hardware/software standards & specifications for all Macs purchased for Flight Centre worldwide.
- Negotiated various volume purchase agreements & contracts for hardware/software with suppliers around the world.
- Provided technical support to the help desk staff and installation staff to help resolve complex technical problems.
- Designed and implemented a wide area network using Frame-Relay linking Flight Centre’s support offices together (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth).
- Designed and implemented wide area network strategy to enable data centre help desk to support remote locations. Strategy included dial-up connectivity to shops in Australia and ISDN connectivity to shops in Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Included evaluation, selection, testing and implementation of ISDN routers that could work around the world. Routers utilised included: Shiva, Ascend, Network IQ (Securicor 3Net). Software utilised: Timbuktu and Apple Remote Access. This solution also allowed travel agency consultants to dial-in to the Brisbane head office to access the CRS – a facility not previously available that they benefited greatly from (including ability to open a new business service providing corporate customers with a 24hr-travel reservation centre).
- Sourced and evaluated specialised communications hardware and software that enabled the Macintosh systems that were installed in the shops, to connect to the CRS. This was the first time this specific equipment had been used in Australia and New Zealand and it required considerable effort to be ‘certified’ by the CRS (Galileo) before it could be used by Flight Centre.
- Installed Macintosh computer systems for all users in Head Office and Area Support Offices (about 70 users in 4 countries) including the setup of FirstClass mail, Apple File Servers and Lotus Notes.
- Designed, developed and maintained several Lotus Notes (version 3) applications for use by Head Office personnel.
- Conducted technical evaluation and design reviews for all hardware and software used in the project.
- Participated in various IATA meetings as Flight Centre’s technical representative. Including: BSP Automation Working Group, BSP Electronic Ticketing Working Group and BSP Reporting Tape Working Group.
- Staff: Operations Staff (2); Installation Staff (5); Technical Support (1); Help Desk & Training (7); Programmers (3).
- Budget: AU$10 million