Aussie Vacancies is a travel agency that specializes in the rental of high-quality self-catering accommodation in Australia. For the summer months, it offers a wide selection of holiday cottages and, for the winter, apartments and chalets in various ski resorts. The company was founded by two friends who still own it, David Martin and John West, and has been in business since 2010. It has grown rapidly to achieve a turnover of some $6.75 million per annum and employs 85 staff at two offices, one in the Sydney and one in Melbourne. Aussie Vacancies currently uses two main sales channels:
•Direct selling to customers through mailshots of its brochures and customer support centres (70 per cent of sales).
•Sales via high street travel agents (30 per cent of sales).
However, the company is aware from press coverage and from surveys among its own customers that there is a growing public demand to be able to book holidays via the internet. This is particularly true as its customers are precisely the sort of people who are ‘net aware’. Aussie Vacancies does have a website, but this is just its latest brochure in electronic format and it does not have links to up-to-date availability data or the facilities for customers to make secure bookings online. Consequently, Aussie Vacancies has decided to implement a new Internet-based booking system. This will be linked to its existing computerised booking system, which contains data on the availability of properties, and to its customer database as well as having secure links over which credit card data can be received. In addition, the company wants its management information system (MIS) enhanced so that it can trawl its databases and send targeted information to customers on properties that are likely to be of interest to them.
Aussie Vacancies organization
The current organizational structure of the company is shown in Figure 1. The two founders have divided the business between them. David Martin (who has a sales background) looks after the sales and operations side, and John West, an accountant, takes care of finance and administration. The small IT department within the administration function consists of the IT manager, Peter Clay, three analyst/programmers and a computer operator/trainee programmer.
Because of the small size of its IT department, and since the department lacks skills in the design of e-commerce applications, Aussie Vacancies has decided to entrust the development of its internet service to a consultancy company, E-Con. This firm has tendered for the following services:
•Analysis of the requirements.
•Production of a detailed requirements specification.
•Design, development and implementation of the internet systems, including a new website and secure communications links.
•Training Aussie Vacancies staff in the use of the new systems.
•Specification of the interfaces required from Aussie Vacancies existing customer database and booking system (the development of the links at the Aussie Vacancies end to be done by its own IT department).
•Specification of the additional hardware required to support the new system (to be obtained from Aussie Vacancies usual suppliers, the procurement to be managed by the IT department).
•‘Skills transfer’ to Aussie Vacancies IT department, so that ongoing maintenance and development of the new system can be handled in-house. The development of the MIS aspects of the new system will be dealt with by Aussie Vacancies IT department.
The date now is 1 April and Aussie Vacancies wants to have the new system up and running for the start of the winter season’s bookings at the end of June.
A recent strategic review of Aussie Vacancies undertaken by its senior managers – the two directors and their direct reports - showed that
•Aussie Vacancies has a good reputation in its marketplace and a lot of ‘brand recognition’ by its target market.
•However, this target market (reasonably affluent professionals) does make extensive use of the internet and it was felt that being unable to offer this service would increasingly become a weakness.
•At least one of Aussie Vacancies’ competitors already has an internet booking service (albeit not a very good one) and others are sure to follow soon.
•The internet tends to increase the power of buyers (as they can shop around more easily) and lowers the cost of entry for new competitors.
•The suppliers (the owners of the properties) can also set up their own websites, thereby cutting out brokers like Aussie Vacancies and increasing their own relative power.
The conclusion of the strategy review was, therefore, that not setting up an Internet service was not a viable option. Also, since the competitors’ sites were not very good at present, it was felt that creating a very good and user-friendly site would provide a source of competitive advantage (at least in the short to medium term), and, in addition, many of the company’s customers now regularly use the Internet. However, the issue still arises as to how much it would be worth investing in the project, and this means that the company has had to develop a business case for undertaking the Internet development. John West, as the accountant, has undertaken production of the business case and he has identified three main business options that could be considered:
1 Building an internet booking system for Aussie Vacancies and interfacing that with the company’s existing systems.
2 Building a standalone internet system and operating the internet booking as, in effect, a separate subsidiary business.
3 Finding a partner organization with an internet booking system and interfacing Aussie Vacancies system with that.
The third option is unattractive as the customers of the booking system would not be Aussie Vacancies own and this is considered very important. John West also rejected the second option as it is likely that the company’s customers would sometimes use the internet and sometimes book over the telephone and having two sales channels would go against the principle of being a ‘one-stop shop’ for all the customers’ requirements.
Consequently, the business case has been built around the first option, adding a web-based booking front-end to the existing booking system.
John West has used Aussie Vacancies salesforce to conduct a telephone survey of existing customers, and that has suggested that an additional
$50,000 of business might be secured each year via the internet. Assessing the likely amount of additional business (from new customers) is more difficult but a recent travel industry survey concluded that firms could attract 10–15 per cent new customers through e-commerce. If true, this would mean that Aussie Vacancies could obtain between $68,000 and $100,000 per annum more business through web bookings, but the directors, wishing to be cautious, have opted for the lower figure. In total, then, it seems as if the internet booking system should secure an additional $118,000 worth of business annually. The directors want to break even on their investment in three years and so this suggests a maximum cost for the internet development of $354,000. Initial discussions with various potential software vendors, including their preferred partner E-Con, suggest that a system could be developed for $350,000. On that basis, the directors approve the business case.
E-Con, the consultancy firm engaged by Aussie Vacancies to develop its internet-based system, has recommended the use of a PRINCE2®-type structure to manage the project. The project board will be made up of:
•David Martin, one of Aussie Vacancies directors, as executive
•Jack Hunt, Aussie Vacancies customer services manager, as senior user
•Barbara Currie, E-Con’s account manager, as senior supplier.
The project board will meet on a Thursday afternoon every two weeks during the project.
There was some argument about how the role of project manager should be filled. Peter Clay, Aussie Vacancies IT manager, thought that he should take this position, with the E-Con project manager being a team manager. However, E-Con argued that, as it was doing most of the development work, it would make more sense for E-Con to provide the project manager. In the end, David Martin agreed with E-Con and so the project manager will be Richard Vaughan, an E-Con principal consultant. He will manage two teams, one led by Peter Clay which will develop the MIS aspects of the new system and the other led by E-Con’s Siobhan Reid which will develop the internet software.
E-Con will also provide the project support functions, as it has a project support office that works with all of its projects.
The project assurance functions will be discharged by a small team comprising:
•Helen Winter, one of Jack Hunt’s sales supervisors
•Mark Southam, one of the resort managers
•Gail Hardie, Aussie Vacancies’ management accountant
•Norman Pierce, E-Con’s quality assurance manager.
The Report includes the following tasks:
•Discuss different phases of the project life cycle
•Produce a Business Case
•Create a SWOT diagram
•Create a Stakeholder register
•Create a Project Charter
•Create a project Network Diagram