September 18, 2013
Moncef Khanfir, founder of iAlbatros, in interview for French Déplacement Pros
iAlbatros significantly stands out for its approach to hotel industry in the world of business travel
You have to be blind and deaf not to see that the hotel industry has become a real hobby horse for purchasing departments. To buy for a better price, rationalize, anticipate, and to adapt to the expectations of travelers – these main challenges of hotel industry are today extended by the need for an innovative eProcurement solution that would effectively connect companies with hotels. This is exactly what iAlbatros wants to do on the market.
Founder of iAlbatros, Moncef Khanfir, does not hide that the mission of eProcuremet dissemination is just crawling – one has to revise the hierarchy of needs and make a precise analysis of expectations, often complex, when it comes to this project.
“You cannot limit yourself to create lists of hotels, even the cheapest, without work on what will meet the expectations of business travelers. We have developed an intelligent platform, created on a database, analysis, and adaption to needs,” remarks Moncef who does not want iAlbatros to fall in the list of information channels about hotels. “Our work and our technology goes beyond simple hotel search” – he stresses – “We offer added value that in a very specific way translates into constantly measurable return on investment.”
This approach does not ignore the need to provide the “best buy” type of service, which is growing strongly in the world of online hotel services. “The price is determined solely from the query formulated by the client. There is no such thing as one universal rate, accepted by all,” says Moncef Khanfir. Here is an interview with the head of the project, who, after having participated in the introduction of KDS system, is completely devoted to the launch of his new project.
You highlight strong technological base you have. How does it stand out?
In order to understand where we came from, I have to explain that the main shareholder of iAlbatros is SMT Software, an IT company that currently employs 450 people. SMT Software belongs to Grupa SMT, whose shares are among the top ten stock exchange results on the Polish market. Therefore, research and development team in iAlbatros is provided by the shareholder, whose engineers have worked on the development of Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
Besides, we have learned to work with powerful data systems that provide search quality by combining the expectations of our guests, query complexity, and the need for proper speed. Technological innovation is not limited to a new idea that is developed quickly, without the knowledge of chances of remaining long on the market. Customers want stable solutions with potential that can be easily integrated with all platforms, from the simplest to the most complex. And finally, I myself am a former lecturer at the University of Toulouse and at Odense University in Denmark, founder of KDS, who was one of the pioneering SBT groups. Therefore, I am at the same time both the president and co-founder of iAlbatros, as well as the first user of technologies that we develop.
What makes us different, is primarily the mastery of technological chain, in which absolutely every element was created and used by us. This is the guarantee of our quality. This allows us to anticipate the needs emerging in many areas.
In a short time you have managed to enter complex markets. How have you achieved that?
First of all, iAlbatros was created on a simple assumption: we are not a mediator in booking hotel rooms, but we are an eProcurement type of solution. It appealed to Amadeus company, which granted us the title of Hotel Booking Platform of 2012. At the same time we have won three public tenders regarding hotel reservations, namely for the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), for the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), and for the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA). Our proposed solution is twofold. We provide control of accommodation purchases and costs reduction, while taking into account the satisfaction of travelers in the hotel. I am convinced that the market will regulate itself in relation to the offer, and that in the long run only companies with a technological profile will survive.
But beware: the technology itself, without a global vision that we must provide our customers with, is not enough. This means that our view on the available tools should go hand in hand with the right approach to solutions that go beyond the usual technology. Many relations are at stake: with the end customer, the hotel chains, and with independent hotels. It is an indispensable triple system of cooperation, appreciated by our users.
You don’t mention audit or consulting work?
iAlbatros is the only accommodation provider in the hotel industry that offers a true eProcurement platform, and not a mere instrument of reservation. When you use our solution, booking is only one stage in supplying hotel nights. Our solution is based on a tool that is immediately visible and used, but also on the entire process chain, from the choice of traveler to economic analysis. It’s a bit like the design of intelligent SBT, which takes into account the offer, but at the same time is able to optimize it. Aggregation of all processes leads to one solution. We do not sell a machine, but a coherent approach to hotel expenditure. This is where our added value lies. From the user’s perspective, it is complemented by a visible part of the platform, which uses expertise from many disciplines in order to help him effectively obtain hotel accommodation. We have, for example, access engine to more than 35 hotel sources (CDS, Switch, aggregators, and consolidators), but also our own, open technology that allows us to connect any hotel. This will allow for integration of independent hotels, the quality of which surely will impress the travelers.
We have also developed tools for centralized payment, involving payment made by us in advance and later reinvoicing customers. List of our partners in the world of payments is long. We are integrated with BTA Amex, we work with AirPlus, we use virtual payment instruments (vpayment for Amex and vNett for MasterCard), without forgetting of course the traditional corporate credit cards. For the latter, we offer secure PCI DSS payment. Currently, we are the only provider of such option. Our strength also lies in the fact that we are able to provide a payment platform as a separate, stand-alone tool, operating out of the rest of the structure. I always give this example: a travel agency can book through any channel and use the iAlbatros only to settle the payment. We provide this possibility.
Reporting is essential for buyers, but it is always said that hotel industry is complex and for this reason it is difficult to be measured…
Sources of hotel purchases are numerous and, indeed, generally complexity of reporting in this area is emphasized. Nevertheless, I believe that we can, in a very significant way, optimize this task using monitoring tools referring to multiple sources. I tell my students that the proper treatment of data is the key to taking control over costs. Of course, the indicators should be measured by reports, but this must be done with precision. iAlbatros offers integrated reporting module, which is based on our own open technology (without additional costs and countless licenses), which gives you access to all the key data of the booking process. Therefore, the person controlling the management has a global view of the data and can move among them, even at the level of the smallest details: management, maintenance, project, traveler. The managing person has key indicators of travel policy, adopted rates, the level of expenditure assigned to a given supplier. In addition, there are handy tables and standard reports – one can easily generate a personalized report. All data can be exported to external tools in CSV/XLS formats. And finally, what is important, automatic reconciliation of reservation data with billing and payment data allows to avoid creating detailed lists of invoices, regardless of what the source of payment was.
In the end, what will the buyer be able to do? He will be able to pilot the deal in a detailed way, because we are also directly connected to SBT, which allows him to see how the choices of hotels are made, and primarily how the expenses are administered. This analysis can be carried out continuously. It leads to solutions and enhancements that optimize purchases and allow to anticipate expenses. We also offer the ability to connect with all of the systems used in the company. This presents an additional advantage for the group where management tools are sometimes very different.
From what you are saying the product seems to be almost completely optimized. What are the challenges for the future?
We are constantly working to improve the platform. Improvements are comprehensive, they cover both technological and trade challenges, as well as business relations. Our work among buyers is supported by field work with hoteliers. They are key element of the chain we create and they should be able to fully appreciate what we can offer them. We created, among other things, place on the market that allows them to respond to very precise tenders through an auction system. Customers are also provided with changes for the better. We reversed the principle of dynamic regulation of prices (yields), acting on behalf of the buyer. The most important guarantee that we give him is the one that he buys cheaper. This is what the buyer wants. We say to him: “Together we will create a hotel program.” A program, which not only meets the imposed conditions regarding prices, often identical, but also takes into account the availability of hotels and wishes of the traveler. We are also working on mobile tools. Developed applications and mobility of these tools is a major plus when it comes to constant insight into costs. We strongly oppose the policy of booking at random, which in fact operates in many enterprises. We offer a structured procurement process, piloted by the buyer. These are the elements of constant development of our application.
How do you see the evolution of the hotel market?
I’m not a clairvoyant, even if I carefully follow research which, depending on the season, predict increases or decreases in hotel rates in the world. What I am sure, is the fact that we cannot continue to “let go” hotel purchases saying that it is too complicated to follow. Today, we must be able to integrate the public sector with rates authorized by travel policies, regardless of the size of the enterprise. I have nothing against hotel brokers. But the hotel offer cannot be closed only in announcements regarding available volume of hotels, which translates into hundreds of thousands of rooms available at the most favorable rates. I believe that efficiency cannot do without a detailed management and analysis of needs. This is what eProcurement offers in the hotel industry. This is exactly what we do.
Source: http://www.deplacementspros.comgo back