It was a search for one version of the truth that compelled Tourism British Columbia to tap into a Web services-enabled solution in a bid to link its 18,000 tourism operators and tourism marketing districts.
Nigel Collett, director of information technology for Tourism B.C., said that when he joined the organization four years ago, one of his first tasks was to "clean up shop internally" by taking care of site support issues, contracting or outsourcing the operations side of the business and focusing on the IT strategy.
"It became apparent that we had a lot of disparate databases and there was a lot of duplication of data supporting a very fragmented industry," Collett said.
Tourism B.C., which employs about 115,000, or one out of every 14 people in the province, is very much an "umbrella marketing organization" that loosely covers local tourism marketing districts such as Vancouver and Whistler. Each one of those districts was essentially "reinventing the wheel" every time they generated their own general tourism information and posted it on their own Web sites, he said.
"If you were to ask us how high the Capilano Suspension Bridge is, we could come up with four or five answers. There is no owner of the data, which is replicated four or five times."
Before it began the search for a way to create a central repository for data, Tourism B.C. "took a look at the entire business and (realized) that this was not about technology but really about what the business requirements are," Collett explained. The IT team also looked at other jurisdictions around the world to see how they were handling the same issues, and studied how the Internet has affected how people research, plan and book vacations.
Before drawing out a request for proposal (RFP), Collett said his team made sure they were not making the "classic mistake" of articulating to the potential technology supplier what the solution should be. "We're not a technology company -- we're a marketing organization. So we said, 'Let's document what our business requirements are, and let the vendors come back and tell us what solution is required to better enable our business.'"
Tourism B.C. was looking for an end-to-end solution, "not only someone to host our infrastructure but also to provide the application infrastructure ... and we were always worried that no one would be able to respond," Collett said. "We needed a platform that could connect all our fragmented industry players, that would not compromise our other investments in technology, and it had to be flexible and integrated."
The C$7 million (US$5.1 million) contract to build the new tourism management platform was awarded last month to T4G Ltd., a Toronto-based technology consulting company.
MyTravelHost, the destination management solution (DMS) T4G will provide is "way more than what we need right now," Collett said, but Tourism B.C. is looking to have everything in place for the winter Olympics of 2010. "We will have one single place where we can have access to a central repository for images, content and stories about B.C. We will also offer a reservation service where people can book their accommodations through us."
The organization is currently working through the first of four or five implementation phases, Collett said. It's a four-year contract and the work will be spread out over the next two years. "A big bang approach would be too much at once for our staff to take." By July, the goal is to allow accommodation suppliers to register.
"We have different touchpoints within our industry," he explained. The people who run the hotels, whale watching operations and other attractions "see our Web site, our printed publications; they register for trade shows. But in the future will have one single touchpoint and will be able to manage most of those relationships online."
Because it hasn't made any major technology investments since 1997, Collett added that Tourism B.C. will be "taking a quantum leap" by "replacing some antiquated systems," including a travel reservation platform called infoRM sitting on a Hewlett-Packard Co. box, "one or two applications using ObjectView, which is long obsolete; some Maximizer sitting around; and the usual raft of Access and Excel."
Dave Hyndman, T4G's Charlottetown-based director of tourism solutions, said the project is among one of the largest for T4G, which also has a contract with Tourism New Brunswick.
Hyndman said his only recommendation for an IT manager embarking on a similar project is to "plan it right before day zero or before the thing starts," because whatever unfolds down the road is "more critical than what happens the first day."