In April 2007, we experienced a catastrophic service interruption. A main fiber trunk in our telco provider’s network was severed during some road construction and it brought down all our phone and Internet capabilities. Since 99% of our customers reach us via an e-mail or a call, we were down hard. Although we had a few consultants who were telecommuting and did not have service interruption at their homes, our servers and data bases located at HQ, were inaccessible. This happened mid-week and the service and financial impacts were considerable.
Later that year we made the decision to explore the “thin client” option. We’d already converted to a Voice over IP (VOIP) telephone system, so jumping onto the web all the way was the next logic step. The major hurdles were finding a cloud service provider that could host and interface with all the travel-industry specific systems and services. Unlike most companies that were fully in the cloud at that time, we were not using email as a “communication” tool, it provided over half of our revenue stream. We went for it and have never looked back.
The benefits go far beyond the technology. We are now able to recruit nationally, because anywhere Internet access exists, our team can plug in and be fully functional as if they were sitting in our offices. We realized this allowed us to seek out the best of the best and it doesn’t limit us to the DC Metro labor pool and it does not require us to relocate people. We now have employees in 12 states.
Furthermore, we have employees who are spouses of military members. New assignments meant relocating and losing that employee – not anymore. We have one consultant who has moved three times in the last seven year. She unplugs on Friday, plugs in on Monday and her clients don’t even know she’s moved! It has even allowed some of our employees to move to more reasonably priced areas of the country (versus the Washington DC area) and improve their lifestyles without ever losing their job, momentum, or client relationships.
We were able to close one of our offices, giving employees the option to work virtually all or part of the week. The savings in rent, transportation, utilities, etc. amounts to over $100,000 per year. Not to mention reducing our carbon footprint by keeping our employees off the roads and reducing our power consumption.
Our clients benefit from our distributed staff. No loss of power or phone/Internet service interruption due to weather or other causes render us unavailable. A good example of this is the “PAX” storm that hit the Washington DC area recently. There was massive snowfall where our Headquarters based employees live, but because of the cloud capabilities there were no major service interruptions even though a lot of businesses in the area were shut does and in some cases roads were not drivable due to weather. Our cloud capabilities allowed our local staff to plug in from home and work through the storm and, most importantly, assist the travelers in the area whose flights were delayed or cancelled. For our remote employees, it was business as usual.
Our cloud service provider, Cetrom, not only has independent redundant power at our local Network Operations Center (NOC) in Sterling, VA, that NOC is backed up by another in Denver, Co. If our customers and clients can’t reach us because both NOCs are down and all our employees are off-line, the country has much bigger problems than changing a traveler’s flight.
Late in 2013, we went the final yard and converted web-based version of our key operational platforms, most notably, Sabre, our GDS. This means nothing our employees need to fully support our clients and our company requirements is housed on a local computer. Any computer, connected from anywhere, is sufficient to deliver service excellence.
We have changed some operational functions to circumvent the fact that we don’t all work in the same building. Call in and fly in meetings, Skype, and two actual staff conferences per year have been included into our operational rhythm to build communication, teamwork, and training.