Over the last decade the public heath sector in the UK has proven itself to be devastatingly effective at haemorrhaging money on IT and technology. Possibly the biggest waste of tax payers cash was the ironically named one-size-fits-all project, which included a range of modernisation schemes such as synchronising the email system with the ability to transfer X-rays and prescriptions electronically.
The palaver ended with £12 billion being flushed down the metaphorical lavatory. It turned out that one size didn’t actually fit all across multiple departments and user groups. More recently, the national Choose and Book GP patient-booking system was ditched after £356 million was spent on development. Once again, the theory was far more robust than the practical application.
There are important lessons to be learned from this British improvidence: IT and technology should not be unnecessarily forced upon people; project goals should be clear and achievable, and just because one system works in one place doesn’t mean it’ll work in another.
Nowhere are these principles more relevant than in the Middle East. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are each international business hubs in their own right; but that’s not to say best practise from commercial centres in the West can be easily replicated. Local politics, economics and culture must be taken into account.
One of the most common errors occurs when large, multi-regional organisations roll out a new system or process across all markets. The decision is usually sanctioned at headquarters in Europe or North America.
Eventually, and often too late, it becomes clear the technology won’t culturally cut the mustard in the Middle East. Conversely, there are, all too often, Middle East-based business leaders who implement technology for no other reason than because they can. There is the recent story of the Doha-based company that bought an online self-booking tool, but then employed two people to make everyone’s bookings on it, rendering the whole exercise a waste of money.
One of the single most significant factors in the Middle East is cost of labour; it’s often cheaper to pay a person to do something than buy technology. Furthermore, it is often preferred, culturally speaking, to have employees carrying out tasks that could quite easily be automated. However, organisations must strike a balance between deploying technology for the sake of it, inflicting inappropriate technology on people, and maintaining inefficient manual processes. If the goal is to have better visibility of travel data, improve policy compliance and fulfil duty of care obligations, organisations must search for the most effective solution in each marketplace.
The same logic can be applied to other aspects of the traveller journey. Shopping and booking on mobile, for example, is far more prevalent in the Middle East given the deep penetration of smartphones and tablets (to the extent that global/regional travel managers should consider the Middle East for mobile pilot schemes before wider implementation). It also explains why companies like Uber find so much traction in the region. Elsewhere, corporate credit cards are not widely used, which creates data collation challenges within global programmes.
Despite labour costs of operational staff being 30% – 40% of the equivalent in the West, buyers should remember automation optimises reliability, consistency and transparency. And it’s possible to achieve this without insisting on a low touch service for travellers.