We continue the series of posts about GP Solutions. We have already told you some stories of our most dedicated employees, shown the coolest photos with merch and demonstrated some insightful stats of the company for 20 years.
Today’s topic is GP Travel Enterprise – the company’s main product development effort, which we discuss with Maria Bondarenko, VP Product and co-owner at GP Solutions.
– Maria, good afternoon! Thank you very much for finding time to answer a few questions and tell us more regarding GP Solutions’s key product – GP Travel Enterprise, which just turned 14 this June. Our sincerest congrats to you and the whole product team! Please, could you expand a bit more to our readers and the people that don’t know much of the topic, what kind of product GP Travel Enterprise is?
GP Travel Enterprise is a comprehensive ERP-solution (abbr. from “Enterprise Resource Planning”) for all-round automation of modern tour operator activities.
The product is basically designed as a “lego”. It allows the construction of tour operator solutions from a set of ready-made functional blocks, or modules. And it is the combination of them which enables automation of supplier and customer interactions, sales of travel services — hotels, transfers, excursions, air tickets, tours, etc.
A key advantage of the product is universality. It can meet the needs of customers from any country. In addition, it caters for full-fledged online interaction with partners around the world.
– In his recent interview, Sergey Zubekhin mentioned that the idea to start proprietary product development appeared 14 years ago. At the time it became clear that the company garnered enough experience to create its own turnkey solution for the touristic sector. What were the next steps afterwards?
We created the product in several steps.
The first versions were fueled and inspired by customer requests. We’ve done lots of custom development projects by that time. And as soon as we started noticing similar and repeated requests from different customers — for example, “integrate GTA and Hotelbeds APIs” or “provide us with inventory and extranet for hotels” — we decided to implement these modules as part of our own unified product and offer a ready-made solution.There was no point in developing same things from scratch multiple times, not to mention — in different technologies (previously we built very similar projects in Java, PHP, Ruby, etc.).
As time went on, we realized we made the right choice. We started getting more and more deals with companies that could not afford a solution “from scratch”, but were quite happy with a licensed turnkey product.
At the same time, we kept developing future product versions as we were discovering more and more about the specifics of travel business in different countries.
– What were the first difficulties that you encountered? How does product engineering differ from bespoke custom development?
One of the biggest difficulties is that very often clients believe they know the only way to do things right and that there are no alternatives to their preferred business models:)
Here’s an example. Someone may calculate the “mark-up” (or a surcharge to the original service cost) as the amount added to the net worth received from the supplier. In this case the original price will be $ 100 plus a 10% surplus to it, which makes up the selling price of $ 110.
Whereas, in some cases the formula with inverse percentages of the total cost may come into play. Thus, the initial price of $ 100 with a 10% markup will give us $ 111.1 as the selling price.
In fact, the two models can coexist. So, we look for ways to “reconcile” different points of view by offering customization options that can adjust the product to some specific business model. This approach also taught us to treat the world with healthy criticism and always consider alternatives.
– Who came up with the name “GP Travel Enterprise”? Was it in any way inspired by the starship “Enterprise” from the “Star Trek” movie?)
It’s been a long way till the current name. And no, the spaceship definitely has nothing to do with it 🙂
We finally approved “GP Travel Enterprise” when it became clear to us that, among all possible market niches, our product should be targeted at automation of medium to large travel businesses.
One of the first names for the product was “GP Travel Suite”. Here we wanted to emphasize that the new product by GP Solutions was similar to “a set or a kit of modules” which can be set up individually for each client. But we never learned the correct pronunciation for the word “suite” [swiːt], often confusing it with “suit” [sjuːt]. Eventually this led us to rename the product 🙂
There also was another name for the SaaS-version — “Travel eXpresso”. It is based on a play on words: “as fast as an express” + “easy-to-make and quick as an espresso”. But after a while we decided to quit the low-budget market segment and focus on much more challenging and complex Enterprise-level projects.
– Maria, when did you start working on GP Travel Enterprise? What was the start to your career at GP Solutions?
I joined GP Solutions in 2004 as a business analyst on travel projects. The product development started in 2007 already, so in fact I was involved from the very beginning.
Previously, I had experience working with ERP solutions and CRMs for the insurance industry. And it was very interesting for me to create a universal engine optimized for the travel domain.
Travel, just like any other sphere, has its own peculiarities. And this caused multiple misunderstandings, when we literally “spoke different languages” with our customers. One of the most striking examples was with the word “release”. There was a client of ours with whom we discussed “release dates” for software versions 1.0, 2.0, etc. But he kept not understanding what we were talking about 🙂 The reason was that in travel the word “release” has a completely different meaning — “the number of days before the arrival when the allotted rooms return (or “get released”) to the hotel”. As you can see, in IT and travel the same word can stand for absolutely different terms.
– What does GPTE look like now, 14 years after its creation? How far ahead is it from the initial version?
We are currently working on product version 8.14. Normally, new releases appear approximately once a quarter. Given that the IT industry is developing rapidly, some versions have been almost completely rewritten using the latest technologies.
Today our main focus is on improved usability and the mobile version, along with development of additional perks that can help our tour operator clients increase sales, earn loyalty and trust among their tourists.
In our work we take note of all the requests coming from all the different types of users interacting with the product. These are not only tour operators, but also the travelers booking services online via the websites we built, agencies and corporate clients, suppliers, etc.
It is crucial for us to make sure each user is comfortable with our software and can efficiently cover all needs with GP Travel Enterprise.
– How is the product team arranged at the moment?
Our team includes programmers, testers, analysts, project managers, designer, marketers, sales managers. It’s great to realize that the team is cross-functional. Some of the guys have been with us for over 10 years, almost since the very start. We appreciate this and often tend to make collective decisions.
Recently we also renamed the role PM/BA (Project Manager / Business Analyst) into Customer Success Manager (CMS). We think this title is a better reflection of what this position is about.
Our goal is not to just apply the product or analyze the needs, but to help our clients be successful with GP Travel Enterprise. Success can take different forms: increased sales, reduced on-going expenses, it can be both at the same time. Therefore, we rarely implement the system “as-is”. We are more like consultants who see the business value generated by various implementation options.
– Did COVID-19 pandemic affect GP Travel Enterprise? What influence did it have on the project, the team, the clients? And how are things going now, when countries are already opening up to travelers?
Yes, unfortunately, COVID-19 has greatly affected the financials at the product department. As global travel almost stopped, our customers simply couldn’t pay their licenses.
But the pandemic years also played for the better in some aspects. They rallied the team and brought us much closer to our customers, since we ended up in the same difficult situation. We constantly kept in touch with them looking for ways to improve the condition we were in. Besides, throughout the sales suspension period the amount of support work decreased drastically. This way we were able to invest extra resources into further development of GP Travel Enterprise. By the time our industry got back to normal, we were able to offer a much better version of the product to the market. Now we are witnessing a surge of demand for it. And it is extremely pleasant to hear positive comments from customers — the likes of “This is the most functional, well-structured and comprehensive product I’ve ever seen”:)
– What are the team’s product development plans? And what do you plan for the future in general?
There are several other areas in which the product provides fairly basic features. We want to improve them.
For instance, Business Intelligence — an analytical block which prompts customer behavioral patterns and recommends adjustments to marketing strategies, including more flexible pricing based on demand.
We are also currently working on the “Trip Assistant” application, which is planned to work as “an electronic concierge service” for tourists upon arrival. It will prompt all route elements, inform about any changes, help to quickly and effectively contact tour operator support service, find other places to visit or suggest interesting facts about various locations.
Of course, we continue putting our customers’ requests and suggestions into reality. Now we are in the “fine tuning” stage required to make the system more convenient and usable.
– What would you like to say or wish your team for the future? Love letters are also accepted;)
I wish you to keep up the same enthusiastic and engaged attitude! Product development is very different from bespoke development in the sense that every team member can suggest changes or improvements. Growth of the product is the result of market needs implemented through our ideas!
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the product development at all stages. This is incredibly valuable! Today we are proud of the results we have achieved together. And more of them are to come, for sure;)