I sat down on Friday to talk to Chief Executive Craig Dean and get a real insider’s take on the exciting prospects on Web Application’s horizon. The interview style conversation revealed some big-picture plans for the future and a look at what the Web Application’s team has been up to recently.
MT: So, what are the upcoming announcements looking like?
CD: Well, the UGS is coming up. We set the theme this week, it’s going to be: Don’t Stop Believin’. I’m obviously a closet Gleek. When I first arrived here there were a few things I learned from our first UGS that gave us an indication of what we really needed to take care of, at the top of the list was the new reporting engine. Obviously a new reporting engine is not going to take two minutes for us, over the last year we really worked hard on completely replacing the reporting system for Tr@veller which we’ve now branded as Br-ease, we’re going to be announcing that at the UGS. I think that “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a very appropriate theme for the UGS this year, it’s like our promise, if you keep believing in us we’ll keep delivering for you, we’re not standing still, keep trusting us, we are listening to what you are saying, we are going to meet your expectations.
MT: So you are a closet Gleek, can you tell us why you chose this theme and do you identify with any character in particular?
CD: Vivienne accuses me of being obsessive, I don’t think it’s true, I do get very focussed, but my favourite show at the moment is Big Bang Theory. That show is okay because it’s a cult show but Glee is popularist so I shouldn’t like it apparently, which is why my interest is classed as ‘obsessive’. But really I just like musicals, I love music, I used to be in a band and stuff as well, music has always been a big part of my life. Glee speaks to me on a humour level; it’s my kind of humour, very self-aware and self-deprecating.
Whom do I identify with? I identify with the jock I think, I’d like to be him…everyone wants to be the jock. I’d like to be the cool kid who also gets to do the musicals. In reality that’s never the case. When you get into your 20s or 30s it can be cool to do any kind of music, but when you’re a teenager you have to be into the latest styles, that’s how it was for me. I think it does fit our theme at the moment and it’s a bit of fun. We genuinely enjoy getting together with our users. It can be scary for us but we don’t shy away from it, we need feedback even if it is not always positive. We always go to the UGS nervous of the reaction we might get, and then come away feeling quite encouraged by it, it’s always been a very positive experience.
I’m really excited by the UGS this year, it’s also a surprising amount of motivation internally because we know we’re going to have to stand up to our customers and justify what we’ve been doing for the past year. I think accountability is an important side of the UGS and its one of the reasons why we keep doing it, it’s a positive feeling to know that at some point we’re going to have to stand up there and need to have something to say. That level of accountability is essential. We sit there and we plan, actually months and months in advance, literally from the end of the last one. We think ‘What is it next year that we’re going to want to say?’ and we work on it and do it. One of the main things we want to talk about is Br-ease, well it’s one of at least three, but it’s one of the things we really want to focus on and say, ‘This doesn’t just happen a week before the event, we do these things in advance.’ I actually have an even bigger announcement for the User Group Seminar that I don’t want to tell anyone yet, it’s really quite special. It’s bigger than Br-ease as far as I can see, and certainly will be for our customers. These things take a huge amount of work and effort, and in fact pain, for us as a business to go through, but because we know we’re going to have to stand in front of our customers and say something, and more importantly it has to be relevant and it has to show that we’re trying to do something for them; that really drives us. This year more than any other year we’ve got a lot to shout about and I’m really excited to be able to tell our customers what we’ve been up to.
MT: What project are you most excited about for the moment?
CD: In terms of projects I should say Mercury as it’s really about the future of the business, but for me, it’s definitely Br-ease, I’m really excited by it, this is a ground shaking event for us as a business. We really have addressed the Number One concern our customers have about the system and its use and we’ve addressed it in a spectacular way, Br-ease is spectacular, we can’t wait for people to get their hands on it and see what it can do. As for the other announcements people are just going have to wait until the UGS.
MT: You sit at the front desk now. How do you like the office reorganisation?
CD: Yes, I know you used to sit there and Vivienne has previously sat there as well. For those who know the building, my office has been taken over by Gordon and Lee. I’m enjoying the fact that Gordon, Lee and I are sitting close to each other again for the first time in probably about two years. We’re back sitting together again which is part of the big shake up we’ve been having. As directors we’ve wanted to get back to getting together on a very close basis and get that fresh flow of ideas and communication. It’s great. I don’t suffer from the claustrophobia that everyone else who sits there seems to experience. I actually like the desk, it is nice being there right next to Vivienne; she can keep on top of things for me a lot easier this way. I don’t tend to sit at my desk very much anyway, I do tend to wander quite a lot, I have a lot of meetings and I constantly try to interact with everyone. I often get back to my desk at six or seven o’clock at night and realise I haven’t read any emails yet all day, so I have to sit there and go through all my emails, it’s not that I spend a great amount of time there, but I do like it. It’s a beautiful desk, it’s one of the only pieces of truly customised furniture we’ve put in the new building; I really like it.
MT: Can you tell me anything about the BH&HPA (British Holidays & Home Parks Association) 60th Anniversary Conference?
CD: Cheryl and Nick are going down for that. TTE is a conference mostly attended by Travel Division customers and BH&HPA is the main event for our Acumen customers. I’m excited that Nick is going down; it’s a chance for him to meet our customer base and for them to meet Nick. It is a great chance for people to start to get a look at Mercury and have a look at what we’re doing. People are interested in that so it’s well worth it going along and checking out a demo. It is definitely worth it for Acumen customers to pop into Stand 23 to say ‘Hello’ to Cheryl and Nick.
MT: How did you enjoy Travel Technology Europe? Have you personally been before, what were your impressions of the event? I hear you had some trouble with the train…
CD: This year was my first time personally attending the event. I’ve been to a variety of shows before, but I’ve never been to TTS before, or TTE as it’s known now. This was the first time I went down and the first time Gordon went down as well, it’s hard to get Gordon out of the office, but he had his trusty fan so he was OK – in fact he seems to have taken to it as he’s been going on the road quite a bit more frequently. It was quite an experience, it was a lot of fun and a good event for us, it’s part of really focusing on our marketing strategy, we’ve got a huge amount of increased marketing planned for this year. We’ve already agreed to do one of Travolution’s Q&A panels, it’s one of their Question Time panels, I believe it will be June 15, you’ll hear more about it soon. It was really good to catch up with some of our partners, as well as the occasional customer. There was a huge amount of excitement about Mercury, we had a lot of visitors with interest in it at our stand who were talking and asking questions about it. That was positive because we’re really looking to go for that this year and we’re going to be marketing Mercury heavily. For me it was an interesting couple of days. Of course the train journey didn’t bother me. The train was amusing as Gordon’s first long train journey which met with so many unexpected delays.
MT: Do you have plans already for TTE next year?
CD: Absolutely, first, we are doubling size of the stand. We had a great location this year, right next to the coffee bar. We have secured that location again for next year but with twice the size. It’s all part of our optimism; we’re really going for it this year. Last year we spent a lot of time doing research and development, putting together new products and new offerings, and this year it’s all about taking those to market. There is a renewed optimism around Windsor Works about what we’re going to be doing here, you know we’re out there taking chances, taking risks and really going for it – which we expect is really going to benefit all our customers as well.
MT: What are your plans for next week?
CD: On any given week I normally have no idea. Vivienne fills up my diary and I pretty much find out at 7am when I look at the calendar for that day. I am reliably informed that I’m booked up for the next three or four weeks. At the moment we’re under some pretty heavy negotiations with some pretty big deals going on. Those are really exciting; I’d love to be able to talk to people about them when they get closer to finalising. We’re looking at purchasing the building we’re working in, which will take a bit of time with all the more important distractions that are going on. Not least of all the recruitment, there is going to be a lot of change here over the next few weeks.
MT: Tell us more about the recruitment at the moment.
CD: Since Christmas we’ve had yourself, Nick, John, Richard and Alistair start, and we’ve got Sara coming along in a week with Jon as well. We’re really excited because this year we’ll finally have an in-house web team; they are going to be cutting their teeth growing our web presence and our sites, building a site for Mercury, and websites for Web Applications itself. We’re really focusing on increasing our own web presence but they’re also going to be available to work on websites for customers as well which is going to be great. That is a real cost saving for customers, especially because the interactions allow real end to end solutions for the first time and remove all the problems customers have had interacting with external website providers. We’ll understand things on the inside, how to get things fixed. We’re really excited about that. It’s really nice having the new developers starting as well, fresh blood is great and really gets us excited. We have another four people coming in the next month or so that we haven’t hired yet, we’ve really cast the net wide on that one. We’re really gratified at some of the quality we’ve seen, they’re really good fits.
There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth, all the major comings and goings of Web Applications. To find out more information on Br-ease, you can read about it in my