In his two decades at holiday company TUI, Marc Jennings, IT director of analytics and AI, has seen the company undergo rapid transformation. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the Germany-based company has become one of the largest travel and tourism companies in the world.
The pace of change has continued to accelerate over the past two years as TUI’s technology has evolved with the wider organization and its shift from a business based on local systems and departments and regional to a global IT organization. Jennings’ group-wide role covers all analytics and artificial intelligence systems, platforms and processes within the group.
“The business has evolved significantly over the past 20 years,” he says. “Throughout this journey, I have been fortunate to work with fantastic leaders who have guided me along the way. I changed roles about every two years, so I regularly had new ideas and gained a lot of experience.
Jennings joined TUI as an extraction, transformation and loading developer. He held a series of technical, managerial and executive roles before taking up his current role in October 2021. He reports to TUI Group CIO Frank Rosenberger.
A top priority for the past year, Jennings said, has been to deploy certain key applications that provide the global business with pricing, performance and consolidated data held in the cloud-based technology platform. of Snowflake. This information is used to provide key performance indicators (KPIs) to the board of directors and information to the financial markets.
Jennings says this data-driven transformation is a big change. The company is moving from a situation where individual regional markets relied on on-site databases and reporting systems to a consolidated approach that focuses on three core technologies. In addition to Snowflake, TUI’s data stack includes Amazon Web Services (AWS) for cloud and Tableau for business reporting.
“Our global transformation has begun and we have started delivering reporting solutions on time, within budget and within agreed service level agreements,” he says. “Building the technology stack we’ve chosen for the future of the business is definitely one of my team’s key deliverables and successes over the past year.”
Beyond this transformation work, Jennings says his team has also “reinvigorated” TUI’s data strategy, which sets out data-driven goals for the organization through 2025. really is a journey,” he says. .
“But you have to start somewhere and we are very keen to take this initiative forward. Our goal is to deliver truly data-driven decisions for the entire enterprise. We have a plan and a roadmap to achieve this goal over the next three years.
Choose the right platforms
Jennings explains that there are several reasons the company chose to base its data strategy on Snowflake, AWS, and Tableau. He says these cloud-based technologies are easy to scale, can be used in combination to support high-performance business processes, and are easier to support, which has a impact on cost management.
Another key benefit of the company moving to a three-pronged data stack is capacity, he says – it can be difficult to find workers with expert skills in older systems: “We had difficulty recruiting people for some of the legacy software that we were using. to rely on to be able to use the software and go faster.
While TUI has chosen to focus its data stack on three core technologies, Jennings says it’s important to clarify that this is not a closed shop. If other suitable tools enter the market, his team will examine their potential benefits. However, the goal of focusing on a core product line is to build a stable platform for change.
“They’re here for the long haul,” he says. “We know that the cost of migrating a solution or product that you don’t use very well can be daunting. I need to continue to build a team of people who can support and develop applications, and who gain domain knowledge around the products and tools they use.
“In the past, I’ve had people working all over the place, and we’ve ended up with single points of failure where people move on and you can’t replace that position. The stack of tools I’ve built over the past 18 months has really allowed me to build a team that’s ready for the future. It’s also a set of partners that work very well together – and that really helps too.
Support smarter decision-making processes
In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Jennings says his priority over the next 12 months is to hone the new capabilities his team is developing on their mission-critical data stack.
“It’s about delivering great business decisions,” he says. “We have a statement internally that says ‘no weasel words’. We try to avoid – and I constantly repeat this to my team – just saying things are slower or faster, and instead make sure they always provide context for change.
“So that contextual information can be a percentage increase or decrease and will be tied to a KPI. We try to do that internally in my team and then we try to educate the rest of the company to be able to do that as well But to do it effectively, you need data.
By making the most of Tableau and other specialized data technologies, Jennings hopes his team can create a set of easy-to-use interfaces that will allow other parts of the business to start doing their own data work. self-service data analysis. base.
“It’s about asking, ‘How can we make it easier for them, so they can go do things on their own?’ We don’t want to be a bottleneck and the technology shouldn’t be a bottleneck either,” he says.
“Our goal is first and foremost to work and understand the tools, techniques and processes to establish self-service analytics in the enterprise. Bridging this gap between the two ends of the spectrum is our challenge. We want people at TUI to be able to be informed of the decisions they make.
Master the costs
According to Jennings, the result of the digital transformation program so far is that line of business employees now have access to a range of useful services that provide a wealth of information. Moving from disparate, localized systems to a consolidated data lake via the Snowflake Data Cloud means the business can make more informed decisions, he says.
“In the old world, when we were looking to update data and prices on the website, it took two hours,” he says. “If a reservation was made and we wanted to reflect the impact of that reservation and make price changes on the website, it would take over two hours. Now it takes less than 20 minutes.
Jennings acknowledges that creating an integrated data stack has its challenges. IT managers who aren’t careful will see compute demands spiral out of control very quickly. At TUI, data-driven tasks can last for hours. Jennings therefore uses a dual approach based on communication and forecasting to control costs.
“Everything we do needs to be visible and communicated,” he says. “So if you’re running a performance test, make sure its impact is assessed and communicated, so people are watching how it’s going. This is to provide manual monitoring, so that everyone is aware of what is going on.
“We also have built-in automated forecasts. So, we’ve modeled our forecasts, we’ve set alerts and targets, we’ve created dashboards and reports, and we’re doing that in all of our environments. This process means we know how much we should be spending on development. It clearly took some time to set up, but it is essential to our success.
The key message for other IT managers looking to control costs is to make sure the business knows the data processes it runs through a series of manual and automated checks, says Jennings: “Understand what you do, evaluate the impact setting a goal, measuring it and optimizing it, that’s our approach.
Add tactical solutions to business challenges
Jennings reflects on the work his team has done over the past few years and says that despite rapid progress, there is still work to be done. With the technology foundations in place, he expects his team to find other technology solutions to the company’s data challenges.
In addition to Snowflake, AWS, and Tableau, he plans to roll out other cloud-based services when the time comes. “We know they won’t be the only tools we use as we develop more sophisticated apps and insights,” he said.
One of the key things the Jennings team learned, however, is that any technology purchase must come with a thorough evaluation process. He says one of the things his business has suffered from in the past is the preconceived belief that off-the-shelf products will be implemented and used easily and efficiently. It’s a common problem for other IT managers, and Jennings says it’s important to avoid making hasty buying decisions.
“My advice is not to buy too many systems,” he says. “A salesman will come and say, ‘This is going to be the last and best thing,’ but that often solves such a small challenge. And over time, your ability to be able to use it and support it effectively diminishes, and then you have an overhang around your neck that you have to wear.
The goal, according to Jennings, will be to find technologies that complement the existing stack, which generate insights and allow TUI employees to feel more confident about the decisions they make. He adds, “The ability for us to search and consolidate information in one place gives us the ability to deliver new information that we didn’t have before.