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Enabling digital transformation: CIO talks 3-phase journey

Enabling digital transformation at Travelport required the $2 billion company to rethink its business model, technology, processes and mindset. Destination: Better customer service.

Enabling digital transformation with the necessary technology is just the first step, according to Matt Minetola, CIO at Travelport. Mindset and talent are just as important.

Travelport, a $2.4 billion travel commerce platform that provides technology offerings for the global travel and tourism industry, has more than 4,000 employees and has operations in 180 countries. With a company of that size -- seeped in legacy processes -- enabling digital transformation was no walk in the park.

In this Q&A, Minetola recounts the ongoing journey and the challenges Travelport has faced as it rethought its original, global distribution systems-centered business model, implemented new technology, retooled internal company processes and hired the right end-to-end talent. Minetola's goal: to continuously evolve and build out capabilities that improve the customer experience. In part two, Minetola discusses the technologies that make up Travelport's "digital spine."

Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Describe Travelport's digital transformation journey: How far has the company come and where is it now?

Matt Minetola: We're probably like everyone else -- right in the midst of it. I think digital transformation is about [building] the capability, less than it is about going from point A to B. We started this probably three to four years ago, maybe longer. I'll talk about it in phases.

The first phase is the [technology] enablement piece. Are you understanding and implementing the right technologies, and are you working through the organization to try to change the skills and the knowledge base of how things get done? I would say we've done a really good job of getting through that stage.

Matt Minetola

Right now, we are probably working our way toward the end of the ongoing middle phase, which is really figuring out how to take these technology enablers and change the way that you deliver your business products, the experiences that you create for your customers, and how you do work across the organization. I think it is those three that must continually change. What I mean by that is you start to take the technology that you built out and have acquired solid capabilities in the first stage in order to start to change legacy processes and legacy capabilities and replace them with digital- or technology-based services, which fundamentally changes your go-to-market as well how your customers absorb and digest what you offer them.

The third phase is the capturing of that information and the learnings they provide and feeding that information and knowledge back in and asking, 'Are there new technology enablers that I need to start to reinvent in phase one?' or, 'Do the processes that I'm doing in phase two need to go faster?' It is just that constant evolution. I would say we're right in the middle of it and having a ball.

How has internal company culture helped in enabling digital transformation at Travelport?

Minetola: It starts from the top. I think, as an organization, you've got to commit to the fact that the business that you had and the way that you do things has to change. We've done a really good job of that. Our CEO, our commercial folks and all our technology folks from day one knew this is where we needed to be. Five years ago, we were a travel company that did technology and, today, we're a technology company that does travel -- and that mindset comes from the top.

What then has to happen is you've got to start to move that [mindset] down throughout the organization. On the technology side, it's about building around the technologies and thinking differently about how you look at technologies. The example I would give you is 10 years ago, it was all about ERPs and optimization. In today's world, you're looking at customer experience and figuring out what technologies could enable and enhance that. That changes how you look at technology products, how you bring them on board and, most importantly, how you integrate them and start to build them out.

In the digital world, and what we [at Travelport] had full support on was really changing our skill sets and our processes and saying that everybody in the organization has to understand their larger role. It's not, 'I'm a salesperson and I'm only trying to do this one thing.' Everybody along the way is trying to understand the process and experience. I call that 'evergreen requirements building' and everybody in the organization is constantly building those.

So, on the technology side, I think we've done a good job of getting our people to think differently and implement differently. And on the business side, we've done a good job of changing the expectation of what your role is, and those two things really just fuel the transformation.

Talk about some of the challenges you faced in enabling digital transformation at Travelport?

Minetola: Talent is a key one. In today's world, you have to constantly be out there mining for the talent. Everybody is looking for the same folks and the same skills. If you ask me one of the things that I've been most pleasantly surprised with, it's our ability to attract talent. We're in the travel space. Although we're doing some really cool technology, we're not a startup. We are at a large scale. So, we have the best of both worlds [for talent]. You have the newer technology, but you can scale it. The travel industry is going through such change and it's really pushing the envelope. The most important thing that we did in this organization was we hired in the right people early on. When you hire the right people, they then hire the right people and it starts to build on itself.

The other thing I would say is in the old world, you had experts of one, and now you need end-to-end solutions people. In the old days, you had the network expert, the database expert, the application expert, etc. In today's world, you need the person who understands the application, understands the network, understands the storage and understands the database. It's those end-to-end people who really become valuable, because the world is changing so fast that you don't want anybody to get locked down into a specific technology. At the end of the day, the solution is the integrated stack. So, the more of those people you can get, the better off you can be.

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