Sunday, July 26, 2009

Open Source Experiment in Travel Industry a Modest Success

I was reading about open source Mozilla's challenges now that Google has entered the browser market with Google Chrome, and that reminded me that it was time to get an update about the travel industry's own open-source experiment.

As you may recall, four months ago travel distributor Farelogix kicked off Project Hawkeye, an open source point-of-sale application and made it available for free downloads.

Farelogix stepped up to the plate and gave away the desktop application's code and documentation in the hope that developers would build applications to it that the travel industry can share.

So far, 450 entities have registered for the Hawkeye source code and downloaded it, says Farelogix CEO Jim Davidson.

It's not entirely a selfless effort on Farelogix's part, of course, because it would hope to gain some customers and revenue by supporting the application, if companies approach it for an assist.

But, this is not a requirement: Companies can download the code for free, run with it, and innovate the hell out of it, just as so many developers did with Mozilla.

Project Hawkeye, with its open-source effort, is a big deal in the travel industry, which has been stifled by proprietary technology and what might be called partisan politics in the geekosphere.

Because companies or individuals can take the Hawkeye code without any further obligations to Farelogix, it is hard to gauge what they are doing with it, if anything.

But, this is what Farelogix knows so far, according to Davidson.

• Farelogix is engaged with three travel management companies which are developing their own highly customized versions of the application, tweaked to their own workflows.

• Some 10 companies have pinged Farelogix back with questions or issues with the code.

• All of the GDSs, which hold onto their own code as if it were the key to Iranian nuclear technology production, have downloaded Hawkeye, as have some airlines.

• Farelogix is aware that "a couple of other technology companies" are developing the code in some way, but the details are unknown. Davidson surmises that the fruits of their efforts may be public in some form in six months to a year.

• Meanwhile, Farelogix, which has developed a few new versions of the code since it was released March 26, is readying another major release of the application in September or October.

So, is Project Hawkeye a success or a failure?

Too soon to tell, really.

Davidson says Farelogix would have considered Hawkeye a success even if Hawkeye had hit 100 downloads -- let alone, 450.

So, the travel industry will have to wait to see if Farelogix's release of an open source desktop application will light the industry's innovation fires.

Hawkeye, a business application, assuredly will not become another Mozilla.

But, maybe Hawkeye will lead to further efforts to tear down the travel industry's "walled garden" -- and that would be a good thing.


Michael F. Stone, CTIE said...

I have felt for a long time that the future of the travel industry and its profitability rests with technology and a more open attitude toward an industry wide collaboration and support for common technology and technology standards. As I see it there really hasn't been a truly significant technology development in the travel industry since the GDSs came on the scene many, many years ago. The industry continues to build more walls than doorways; and spends enormous amounts of money on proprietary technology developments. All this does is make it harder and more costly to do business. I also believe that by not embracing technology as a shared need to be solved, we are making it harder and less attractive for new workers to choose the travel industry as a career when it has less technology than most of them have on their cell phones.

Last year I participated in a joint USTOA and HEDNA conference around getting interest in creating technology/communication standards for the tour operator/hotel segment of the business. The effort on the part of USTOA and HEDNA is exactly the kind of initiative that is long overdue. What would the telecommunications industry or the Internet be like if those behind these industries didn't find common ways to connect and link to one another for a seamless exchange of information?

While I am not completely familiar with the Hawkeye project of Farelogix, so I can't comment on its value or potential, I can say that any initiative that will bring the travel industry together around technology design and development and open it up as a common industry activity is exactly the kind of thinking we need.

Dennis Schaal said...

Mike: I'm in total agreement with the thrust of your comment about viewing technology development in the travel industry "as a common industry activity" and what a great way to articulate it: "we are making it harder and less attractive for new workers to choose the travel industry as a career when it has less technology than most of them have on their cell phones."

I would disagree with you that there hasn't been a significant technology development in the travel industry since the GDSs came on the scene. I'm sure we could go back and forth on that one.

What has become of the USTOA/HEDNA effort to cooperate on hotel/tour operators standards?

It makes me recall the aborted effort of Toward (Tour Operators and Wholesalers Achieving Real-time Distribution), which sadly didn't get much traction.

Hopefully, the HEDNA-USTOA effort will do better -- and I wish Farelogix all the luck in its efforts to break out of the box, as well.

Alex Bainbridge said...

I have just downloaded hawkeye but didn't get to installing it.

The challenge is quick win usability. As it is currently structured, hawkeye requires some good developers to know how to make best use of it (as there are no sample installations anywhere).

Good developers who understand travel technology come at a price. If you are going to pay good developers you may buy full software from a 3rd party company.

For open source to work it needs to be simple to get up and running, require low to average technology skills (not corporate travel tech skills). Not sure Hawkeye meets those requirements at the moment.

Douglas Quinby said...

What's the difference between Hawkeye and third-party developer rights on a published API?

Jim Davidson said...

Difference between Hawkeye and a 3rd party published API is access to source code. With a 3rd party published API, developers can develop "against" the API, but do not have access to source. With Open Source, in the case of Hawkeye, the actual source code "becomes" the developers code where they can modify to their particular liking. Stay tuned for more advancements in this new world of Open Source.

jim Davidson said...

Alex - Hawkeye takes advantage of some fairly common technology, such a Microsoft.Net and there are lots of .Net developers looking for work. The initial team (of two) that developed Hawkeye did not come from travel. I am a big advocate of getting some fresh ideas into travel, while at the same time having tried and true travel business experienced involved with any development project.
We also have access to a frim in Pune India - Cybage - that is very familar with Hawkeye code. Happy to make a referral.

Valyn Perini said...

While we don't provide an open-source application like Hawkeye, OpenTravel does provide freely available XML schemas and has been since 2001. We've had almost 50,000 downloads of the schema since then and we know they are in widespread use amongst hotels, airlines, rental cars, distributors, travel agencies, and even tour operators.

We've had thousands of comments back to us about the schema, along with hundreds of companies participating in our processes. Developers like open source as long as there are no strings attached, the product is viable and it's easy to provide and receive feedback.

What this tells us is that the travel industry is indeed quite interested in working collaboratively in a vendor- and supplier-neutral (and legal) environment. Challenges include the many, many, MANY different ways of doing business in this industry, along with the plethora of legacy technology in place in the bigger companies.

OpenTravel participated in the HEDNA/USTOA meeting Mike mentioned, and the challenge as we saw it was that the business owners had yet to define a common way of doing business. At that event, tour operators and hoteliers politely disagreed as to who was requiring whom to send faxes regarding room blocks - a basic business process!

It's difficult to write effective software of any sort if the business problem, and the problem's solution, has not been clearly defined. Organizations like USTOA, HEDNA and OpenTravel can help the industry define and steer the conversation.

Norm Rose said...

Traditionally the success of open source software is driven by the developer community improving on the base software and sharing it with the rest of the community. So far it looks like the Hawkeye downloads have been used primarily as a base for individual development efforts. The true success of Hawkeye will be measured by the travel software development community sharing their individual enhancements resulting in a superior product through community efforts. Overall this open source initiative represents a significant shift for the agent POS. It is still too early to judge the ultimate success of Hawkeye or its impact on Farelogix's bottom line.