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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Reducing Credit Risk

The eurozone debt crisis. Global recession. Bailout funds. Public sector strikes. Rarely has the economic outlook been so bleak.

Amid the backdrop of a challenging economic and geopolitical environment and the relapse into a second successive recession in as many years, businesses worldwide are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the dangers of credit risk.

Furthermore, with the festive period imminent and the accompanying lull in business, it is inevitable that numerous companies will experience short-term cash flow problems. As a result, payments to suppliers are delayed, who in turn suffer from credit exposure and take longer to pay their own bills. This creates a domino effect that cascades its way throughout supplier and customer networks.

The business travel sector is no different. In fact, credit risk becomes an even greater problem because of the fine margins to which many in the industry work. As recently as last week, Thomas Cook, one of the most iconic British brands in the travel sector, secured a £200m loan to enable it to survive the winter lull in business.

TMCs. OTAs. Hotels. Everyone is vulnerable to credit risk. For instance, hotels typically have to wait 30-60 days to receive payments in traditional billback agreements. Depending on their business model, payments to suppliers are then synchronised accordingly. However, a single default on payments in the supply chain affects everyone.

Therefore, in such challenging economic times, companies that become synonymous with prompt payments become increasingly attractive to do business with. This is where Conferma’s products, based on virtual card technology, offer many benefits for banks, corporates and the business travel community. With the Conferma Settlement Platform (CSP), TMCs can hold the credit on a virtual card account or, better still, have their corporate customers open a virtual card account, thus removing their own credit exposure. Conferma’s automated settlement and reconciliation solutions not only significantly reduce the risk of fraud, but also guarantee immediate payment to the supplier in order to remove any credit exposure.

For TMCs, assigning the credit risk to the corporate customer also opens up further opportunities for your business. Perhaps most importantly, if a client does experience problems, you will only be exposed to the loss of the transaction fee, as opposed to the full amount of the booking. However, you could also charge your transaction fee to the virtual card, ensuring that you receive payments quicker.

As an independent third-party settlement solution, Conferma represents the best option because it currently partners with some of the world’s largest banks. Furthermore, with an extensive network of content providers at our disposal, the Conferma Platform provides a single point of connection to the banking world and the travel community.

In the current economic climate, the Conferma Platform not only guarantees punctual payments to ensure customer satisfaction, but does so securely, efficiently and with reduced processing costs, allowing your business to weather the stormy winter period ahead.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Content is King

Over the past few years we've seen a huge rise in the meta search engines, such as Kayak, SkyScanner, Farecast (now part of Microsoft Bing). These meta search engines crawl the web on your behalf to understand, read and record the information that varied online travel agencies (OTA) are publishing. These services give users the ability to enter search requests and in response receive an abundance of pricing from across the web. In seconds offers from ebookers, Expedia, Opodo and many more are returned. Users simply select the deal that's appealing, click a link and they are instantly transported to the OTA for payment.

Like meta search engines, the business travel community want a single view of inventory at a hotel, across all major booking channels to view the best deal and then book it. For all the power Hoteliers are given for yield and channel management, consumers are trying their best to beat the system for the lowest rate, wherever it is.

In business travel the biggest prize was how many hotels you had in your database, then how many can be booked online and finally how many of those are duplicates... No longer is the case. Content within business travel is about the quality of the product the OTA, GDS, Merchant or Direct Connect is providing. Questions are raised on; how long does it take to book, payment terms, commission, how much back-end resource is required, what key locations are covered for specific suppliers.

Over the past couple of years we have seen growth in the request for consumer OTAs to be included within the Conferma Booking Platform. Many OTAs offer affiliate schemes for agencies to join, with a major benefit of receiving commission from one supplier, the OTA, not through chasing each hotel.

The Conferma Booking Platform connects to all major GDS, multiple Direct Connects, OTAs and Merchants plus support for Offline and Allocation content. Agencies have the power to pick and choose what content they would like made available and hold their own agreements with the Content Providers. The Conferma Booking Platform is built on an architecture that allows us to easily add new content without having to make a single code change to our booking tool (in the majority of cases new providers can be implemented in six weeks).

Trends in the consumer travel sector steer the future of business travel, and at Conferma we’re positioned to react quickly.

Ps. 160'000 unique hotels (130'000 online (and no duplicates))

Monday, 21 November 2011

The importance of choice

The recent news that International Airlines Group (IAG) are in negotiations with Lufthansa to acquire British Midland (BMI) has raised concerns in the aviation community. The acquisition of BMI would see IAG, who already own British Airways and Iberia, increase its share of landing slots at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, rise from 45% to 54%.

The Leicestershire based carrier has reported losses of 154m euros (£133m; $213) for the first nine months of 2011, citing rising fuel costs and social unrest in some of its destinations in North Africa and the Middle East as reasons.

Amid growing concerns that IAG are monopolising Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic, who have tabled a rival bid to acquire the loss-making carrier, have described the prospect of an IAG takeover as "disastrous for consumer choice and competition".

Consumer choice is one of the fundamental aspects that Conferma, expert providers of settlement and reconciliation solutions to the Travel and Expenses (T&E) sector, values greatly. Providing access to multiple GDS and non-GDS content providers, Conferma prides itself on its vast and varied suite of content. Our award-winning Conferma Settlement Platform (CSP) can be seamlessly integrated into all systems, therefore we can partner with any card issuing bank or payments provider.

Conferma, who itself has recently expanded its own portfolio to offer payment solutions for low-cost carriers, is proud of its independence. Furthermore, Conferma’s neutrality endears it to an extensive network of travel and banking partners. This neutrality allows Conferma to maximise the number of potential opportunities in the business travel market and encourages competition amongst its partners.

Only time will tell if IAG's acquisition of BMI will deprive Heathrow of healthy competition and consumer choice.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Building A Platform For Commerce

In the early days of CSP, CSP stood for the Conferma Settlement Plan and our customers had only one card partner and one booking tool (ours) to access. Of course, this was only ever going to be beneficial for some customers and so we took a step change in the way we developed CSP. We began to build version 2, the Conferma Settlement Platform. A Platform that would facilitate the same founding features of CSP but on an open network for any booking or desktop tool to connect to any card issuer they want.

The effort the team has put into the platform over the past few years is demonstrating how our open network is coming together. CSP is being used to pay for more travel via more booking channels, where customers are based in more countries with an ever expanding supplier base.

Today, with an ever expanding CSP network you can;
  • Use a booking or desktop tool of your choice (XML integration)
  • Use Hotel Booker with over 12 content providers
  • Use Conferma Low cost air tool
  • Use Conferma WebPay to place cards into any website or desktop system
  • Use our Batch Interface for bulk card deployments
  • Seamlessly access (and switch between) cards from all of our major card issuing banks
  • Settlement is being performed in multiple currencies
  • Access powerful data hands offs for your system
At the start of the month we implemented our latest card partner, HSBC. The speed and professionalism of the implementation into a major partner, such as HSBC, shows the strength and capability of the team here at Conferma.

The choice of booking tool and card issuer is up to you, as it should be. Like never before we’re making it easier to be part of the network. Contact us for more information.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

New Office

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts in the past couple of months, all I can say is it has been very busy here at Conferma! In the coming weeks we have a number of exciting announcements to make which will give you some insight into what we have been up to.

That said, I would like to announce we have successfully moved office! Whilst our previous offices were certainly different from the normal financial services HQ, we had simply grown too big for them. We have now moved into our very own bright building at Cheadle Royal Business Park, which has plenty of space for growth.

Overall the move was stress free with just a few technical hiccups with internet access from our offices and a rather frustrating incoming call issue, let’s just say you had to get your point made in ten minutes...

The move is a step change for Conferma, with a more corporate feel, but we have kept the fun and quirky environment we are known for. A big hit with the staff is the new break area where the full walls are white boards.

The new offices are a recognition to the staff, customers and partners that together we're doing something right. The new offices mark a point in Conferma's history and the continuation of an exciting journey that I hope you will all join us on.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Conferma WebPay: The New Way to Pay

In the corporate world, there is an opportunity to automate low to mid value, high volume transactions with new payment technologies. These traditional transactions represent what is called the ‘middle-ground’ of purchasing and they take a disproportionate amount of resources to process.

Research by *RPMG found the cost of processing paper-based purchase orders averaged $93 (US). However, making the same transaction with a single-use purchasing account cost $22. Further analysis revealed that purchasing cards can:
· reduce typical procurement cycles by approximately 12 days;
· reduce the number of suppliers managed by an average of 16%; and
· result in a reduction or redeployment of staff.
With these results, it is easy to see how new payment technologies are gaining traction in the corporate world.

Conferma’s new payment technology, ‘WebPay’, automates the procure-to-pay process delivering real-time efficiencies to both procurement and accounts payable departments. This solution uses web based technology to introduce single-use credit cards into the purchasing process and capture enhanced levels of data.

Unlike other payment solutions, WebPay is connected to Conferma’s network of financial partners giving its users a choice of card provider. This allows Conferma’s customers to select the best payment partner. With WebPay companies can retain cash longer, pay suppliers earlier, reduce man-power costs, drive compliance and cover new spend categories.

WebPay can purchase anything online from paper to corporate travel all via one platform. Once the system is deployed, it can quickly be extended out into many purchasing categories. This allows companies to centralise their procurement. Many companies are now realising the power of having one platform, one investment, capable of managing this middle-ground of payment. WebPay can use any web-browser to access any website and complete a transaction.

WebPay can standardise reporting data from a multitude of transactions by using the same accounts to purchase a variety of products. Therefore, the data reported back via WebPay is consistent and accurate. This standardised data can be handed-off into other ERP systems to create a powerful management tool capable of tracking payments.

Conferma’s WebPay has a global capability and can be used to purchase goods and services online anywhere in the world. This gives corporate managers the ability to globally synchronise purchasing practises.

This new solution levers all of Conferma’s expertise in the corporate payment sector into a single powerful platform.

*RPMG - 2010 Purchasing Card Benchmark Survey Results -

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Conferma: The virtual world of Conferma

It seems that every day a new technology appears on the horizon with new functions and capabilities. The ever excited media is all too keen to report that this new technology is going to revolutionise the way we live.

Since the birth of the internet business has recognised its potential to create new markets and generate money. But, many early attempts at creating online businesses were restricted as the internet and its associated technologies were simply to slow – regardless of the potential. This led to the dot-com bubble as investors invested in projects that the technology couldn’t deliver.

Perhaps the most notable example of this was Boo.com an online fashion retailer in the early-mid nineties. They stretched the technology too far and their resultant collapse was symptomatic of the dot-com bubble - plenty of potential but not enough technology. However, as the internet developed and its capability improved the world became ever more reliant on this new virtual world.

Yet the emergence of one new piece of payment technology has gone largely unnoticed, virtual credit cards. Virtual credit cards operate in the same way as a normal card with the exception that no physical card is produced; they are issued dynamically for single purchasing events and are inherently secure.

In the virtual world the virtual card is coming to the fore. Enabling transactions and helping to realise the potential that so many saw in those early dot-com start-ups. They are easier to use and manage whilst offering increased flexibility and peace of mind. Essentially, virtual cards unlock revenue and create the flows of money many predicted.

Conferma has worked hard to build a network of financial partners capable of delivering virtual cards into the purchasing of corporate travel and expense (T&E). This growing network is; creating new efficiencies in existing purchasing processes, winning new business and creating new markets. Furthermore, Conferma’s settlement and reconciliation technology is superseding the traditional T&E billback process.

Conferma call this solution CSP (Conferma Settlement Platform) and it is rapidly gaining recognition within the world of corporate T&E.

Conferma and others within the payments industry have long recognised the potential of virtual cards. Conferma are using this technology to create new web-pay solutions that extend beyond corporate T&E into other B2B related purchasing categories. Anywhere, where there are; high-volume, mid-value transactions Conferma’s virtual cards can be deployed. Using Conferma’s technology does much more than traditional paper-based purchasing processes. It allows for data to be captured, processed and transmitted in a way that was not previously possible.

Ultimately, Conferma’s virtual credit card technology will give freedom of choice and transaction security in the virtual world.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Conferma: The I.T. Jungle

Recent high profile cyber attacks and security breaches for companies such as Sony have again brought the issue of PCI compliance into sharp focus. The attack on Sony proves that even the most I.T. savvy company can fall victim to a cyber attack.

For many industry commentators, Sony merely represents a growing list of companies who are victims of the I.T. jungle. Criminal gangs, terrorist organisations and hackers stalk companies looking for the slightest gap in security, a blind-spot, an open door or simple negligence. To then hack and steal personal and credit card data from unwary and ill-prepared companies.

When we consider the business travel industry we can see that the risks are high, how many TMCs photocopy and fax card data around the world to hotels, exhibition centres and alike? Relying on the honesty of their staff and the person receiving the fax for security! Or even worse store card data within their own systems.

Many TMCs and HBAs within the industry struggle to get to grips with PCI compliance and its implications. How much will it cost to implement? What do I need to do? Where do we begin? Achieving conformance is not simple and takes time to get right and maintain. So for small, medium and even large companies meeting the required standards can be problematic and expensive.

Basically, PCI standards have twelve points of compliance categorised into six groups. This sounds simple enough but there are roughly two hundred and fifty controls to be put in place, depending on the level of security you require. And the level of protection required is determined by the number of credit card transactions processed each year. Each of the two hundred and fifty controls can be verified in up to four times and may require up to four pieces of evidence to prove you meet PCI standards.

The costs of PCI accreditation for even a small TMC or HBA can run into thousands of pounds and for a large multi-national corporation it can be hundreds of thousands of pounds. However, doing nothing is not an option as MasterCard and Visa will fine breached companies for non-compliance. These fines reflect the scale and number of breaches and the size of the company. This ensures that conforming is the cheaper option.

In 2009 MasterCard* published their fines for non-compliance and these are steep. Fines can reach two hundred thousand dollars (US) for failing to meet the required standards with a charge of between ninety and three hundred dollars** per credit card record stolen. This doesn’t include the resultant legal action from your customers and damage to your company’s reputation. Put simply, for many companies within the industry, this is an issue of comply or die.

So with the costs of complying and the time it takes clearly overshadowed by the expense of a security breach where do you go for help. The answer is Conferma.

Conferma reduce the scope of your compliance requirements by taking the need to hold, process and transmit card data out of your company but not your control. In the modern I.T. jungle Conferma is the game keeper providing expertise and protection whilst saving both time and money.

** Basics for PCI compliance

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Conferma: Innovation in the world of corporate T&E

Within the Corporate T&E world there is an opinion, amongst some, that the industry lags behind other sectors in adopting and embracing new technologies and solutions. This could be, in part, due to the ageing and inflexible legacy systems that pervade amongst many operators that constrict their organisation.

Additionally, there are other challenges of finding and keeping staff capable of deploying and managing cutting-edge technology and the rising associated costs. Finally, where and how do you find an innovative and reliable technology partner? These are a few of the common problems that make IT such a difficult issue to address.

Put simply, the industry has a love hate relationship with IT. Yes we need it to do the complex data handling and moving but no we don’t want the ageing legacy systems and incompatible platforms.

Fundamentally, there is no silver bullet, no all encompassing ubiquitous system passing data between and from all Hotels, Airlines, Conference Halls, Rail, Car Hire and Taxi companies back to the booking agent and corporate. Similarly, the banks and technology partners all deploy their own solutions designed from their viewpoint.

So it is no wonder that any company investing in the next generation technology would take a good hard look at the market place before investing. After all, two years from now you don’t want to be tied to another legacy system incapable of meeting the challenges of the future.

One alternative is the Conferma Network! One partner pre-connected to numerous financial and technical partners via a single platform. Conferma’s agnostic approach to partnering with financial and technical partners allows our customers to seamlessly integrate our booking, and settlement platforms into their solutions.

Conferma’s unique and intelligent solutions provide both commercial and technical innovation in that all parties can benefit from using our intelligent solutions to supersede the traditional billback process whilst having the freedom to choose or stay with their existing technical and financial partners. Customers of the Conferma network have access to a powerful Hotel Booking system connected to 150,000 hotels and an array of technical and financial partners for the corporate T&E market.

The real value of the Conferma network is that it will change, grow and develop over the coming years’ in line with the industry. As new booking technologies appear, Conferma will embrace them; and as new partners appear, Conferma will join with them. I think you get the idea. We change, we adapt, we do the hard work - and you benefit.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

We are listening to our customers

Last month Conferma completed the first of many Customer Surveys. The first segment of our customer base we listened to were frontline staff in the corporate hotel booking world. This short survey asked these corporate hotel bookers to rate our customer service and the booking website.

Once the results had been collated our technical team sat down to discuss the data and identify any opportunities to improve the service and solutions we offer. It was surprising that such a brief survey could generate so much information and ideas.

We were pleased with the results regarding customer service satisfaction – many respondents were either ‘Very Satisfied’ or ‘Satisfied’ with the service they received. 83.1% of respondents were either ‘Satisfied’ or ‘Very Satisfied’ with the availability of our customer support. The general feeling is that our customer support is performing well. However, we have spotted opportunities to do better.

To enhance our service further we are introducing bi-annual full-service reviews at an agency level. A new management feature will be built into the site to allow clients to nominate and manage their own contact list. Additionally, all customers will be informed of our support escalation process.

These are just a few of the customer support enhancements we hope will give our customers the support they deserve.

Conferma has achieved 100% availability during the last six months and we believe this justifies our investment in the latest hardware and software. In June last summer we launched v4 of our hotel booking solution, this .NET version is faster and more reliable than its predecessor v3.

When asked how responsive they thought our booking site was nearly half of all respondents thought it was ‘Responsive’ and 96.8% rated the site as either ‘Very Responsive, ‘Responsive’, or ‘OK’. Many within the technical team believe that Conferma can better this score and will work hard over the coming months to make the booking website more responsive.

One pleasing conclusion was that many of the improvements suggested for the website are already in our development pipeline.

Upcoming developments for the site include enhancing the search function, removing guide rates, improving data quality and enhancing administrator functionality. We are also considering introducing GDS property locator codes to help experienced staff quickly search the system.

We have more improvements in the development pipeline and will issue these to our customers over the coming months.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Jevons Effect!

At Conferma we are always eulogising about the efficiencies and benefits our systems deliver to the corporate T&E industry. Improve your operations, use superior processes, reduce costs, reduce man hours, eliminate paper based processes and overcome the nightmare that is billback! These are just some of the benefits we tell the industry and anyone else who will listen to us.

What are the implications of these benefits you ask? Will we need fewer staff, can we process more customers, win new business? The answer is simple, about two hundred years ago a leading economist named William Jevons observed that increasing the efficiency with which a resource is used increases the rate of consumption.

In other words as your staff (human resources) adopt Conferma’s solutions they will suddenly be able to achieve more today than they could yesterday. Ultimately, the capacity of your team will increase as workflows are improved.

So where is this all going? The answer is simple, despite all our eulogies, many within the industry are still struggling to make efficiencies in the workplace, especially when it comes to hotel billback. Time after time I read numerous articles and blogs full of people wishing for an alternative to billback. Haven’t they heard? Didn’t they listen? Conferma overcame the problem of billback years ago. Probably about the same time, William Jevons was writing his notes up...

Taking billback as an example, this process is notoriously time-consuming as bookings and invoices have to be matched manually. In many cases, data is incomplete, delayed in arrival and can expose clients to a credit risk. Put simply the challenge is to match invoices with back office data.

Conferma have designed a solution that overcomes this problem using virtual card technology to gather and match booking and billing data and then pass this reconciled data to the correct parties involved.

This gathering and matching of data means frontline staff do not have to print off numerous documents or repeatedly enter the same data to make a booking. It is all done for them by Conferma powered technology. Additionally the automated reconciliation of data removes the tedious process of chasing up outstanding invoices.

Now you have learnt a little bit more, why not contact Conferma to see what we can do for you.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Data, data, everywhere, but not a report to run...

In a world where organisations seek end to end travel and expense solutions, often using multiple suppliers the missing link is usually the detailed payment information. In response, Visa and MasterCard introduced a solution, which allows merchants to submit additional data to the card issuers regarding a specific transaction (P Card). This additional data may include; tax amounts, product codes, descriptions, shipping information, etc - this is called; Level 3 data. The banks display this information on customer's statements. This provides an enhanced level of service from both merchants and banks enabling the end customer to account for their purchases automatically, potentially right through to the corporate ERP system.

So why do you still only receive basic statements (transaction date, merchant narrative and the charge amount), you ask? Well it seems whilst transaction fees from the banks/issuers are lower to merchants if Level 3 data is provided. The implementation process is both expensive and complex for small-mid size merchants and even larger ones don't hand off this data for "strategic" reasons.

Historically airlines do provide Level 3 data; the lower transaction fee is very enticing due to their volume. The data made available by airlines includes the traveller name, ticket number and route information. After looking at a number of examples of airline data we discovered some airlines are very consistent in the data they provide. However, some airlines provide a poorer level of data for instance Route information from some airlines were "XXX-XXX", rather than "MAN-JFK". This complicates the situation even more.

This lack of transaction level data received from their suppliers frustrates Business customers. To compound this Merchants tend to provide the data via email or post, which arrives in different formats and on a timescale that suits the merchant. Manual intervention is then required by the customer to reconcile all this non matched data to monthly bank statements.

An implementation barrier exists for banks and issuers which hinders the success of Level 3 data - the inability to push this as a solution. With the number of merchants' they deal with, where and how would they start? After all they are financial, not technology companies. Their core business is the transactions themselves - not optional data.

CSP puts business customers on the front foot, ensuring critical data is passes to Conferma at the point a virtual card is deployed. This gives our customers centralised, standard, well formatted, upfront data with visibility of incoming charges, proactive not reactive.

Together with our partners, we're bringing our customers a level of data and insight that is unprecedented in the industry.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Simplifying Travel Settlement

In travel, the majority of booking methods require a form of guarantee, primarily a credit card. This is how you're expected to book via the GDS, self booking tools, OTA’s or even over the telephone. When a card is available, it works pretty well; its quick, secure and all the backend processes work (for example, non-arrival or cancellation charges are billed back to the right travellers payment card). The suppliers like it, they don't have to chase an agent or traveller for payment as they refer back to the guarantee.

The problem comes for those travellers who aren't in possession of a corporate card. In a world where business is global and more employees, from all levels of business, have to travel - booking can be a pain. Where corporate cards are not available to the employee, an immediate barrier to travel is raised. Of course, the barrier can be overcome via varied clunky options. The traveller could chase down another colleague to use their corporate card (security alarm bells!), but what payment card is the checkout charge going to be settled with? Even agency level guarantee’s, such as IATA, doesn't solve non-corporate card holder travellers having to settle on departure. The traveller could choose to use their personal payment card and place a claim into accounts at a later date; not only is this problematic for the traveller, it also creates more work for your accounts department!

Without your own corporate card it is becoming more and more difficult to access efficient and simple business travel processes. By removing these barriers to travel your business could be better connected and more prosperous (your accounts department might also be happier?).

Billback powered by CSP embeds a unique virtual card into travel booking processes, enabling staff within a business to book travel and not have to worry about settlement. The card is never visible to the traveller or agent, increasing the security of the process. Card transactions are matched back to the original booking data which provides the greatest level of detail for reporting. The information is uploaded directly into the corporate or agency back office.

Last Friday we announced with we're partnering with Sabre to provide virtual payments directly into the GDS' flagship application, Sabre Red, empowering more travel agents to take-up CSP than ever before.

With both our travel agent, financial and technology partners we're enabling better business by simplifying travel settlement.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Community Product Development

In a competitive industry such as business travel, are off the shelf tools best or build your own?

At Conferma we don't believe we have an "off the shelf" product, where we are the designers and everyone gets the same tool. We have a community developed product, Hotel Booker, which is flexible and used in so many different ways! Here is a quick overview of the Hotel Booker V4 development:-

The Conferma community consists of our technology partners, customers and their corporate clients. Hotel Booker is used every day by thousands of travel agents and corporate users, ensuring the new V4 (launched last July) was going to be accepted well had to be carefully considered by the team. We started our development in March 2010 with a number of meetings with the development and support teams to outline what we would change in the current V3 and the biggest frustrations our customers had with the current site. With a constructive list, the lead developer on Hotel Booker set off to design some rough outlines of how the site may look and function. Each week we would meet up and review the outline of the site, how our new amendments functionality was going to work, how clients were going to be selected, how best to work the hotel search from any page, what fields should be mandatory, etc... Lots of thought was given to the new site; for the first four weeks not a single line of code was written!

Once we felt we had a practical vision of the new site we consulted our agency customers to gain reaction. Overall the feedback was very positive! Customers liked the fresh new design, with some commenting (internally we knew this) - they thought we'd completely forgot about look and feel in V3! Our customers gave us some good points to consider and also requested functionality they wanted which we hadn't even thought of. In some cases customers gave comment on the same features but with slightly different feedback that the other hadn't thought of, it was then down to Conferma to take all the feedback and merge it into one solution as effectively as possible.

Over the coming months, we developed the design into a working site, checking back in with our customers to gain further reaction. The excitement we were generating was a little unbelievable; our customers really engaged with the products development and couldn't wait to use it in production.

After three months of development we moved the site into our live environment for beta testing with a few key agents. We released beta 2 a few weeks later after some key feedback, including further enhancements and fixes. It was encouraging to see our customers support us through this busy stage.

In late June we announced to the world V4 was now live and ready for action. Our customers began to flood to the new site - new corporate users loved it and agencies were beginning to win more business off the back of a strong customer facing booking tool and productivity gains. The development was a success thanks to the community!

So our customers have a great tool, but they are all competing with each and how can a corporate decide between which agencies to use? The fact is our customers may use the same platform but each one brings their own bespoke adaptation. Implementation strategies vary enormously with our customers; some are very self booker focused, some agency only, some use our Booking API and access our hotel content from other booking tools, the levels of integration depth with GDS and data hand-off all vary, some take advantage of CSP and some don't, some allow self bookers to amend and some don't... The agencies own business practice is taken into consideration; pricing, commercial relationships, other services such as VIP access and CSP reconciliation. The corporates have a lot to think of. The entrepreneurialism and creativity of our customers together with the flexibility of Hotel Booker gives our agencies the ability to remain unique. That’s what community based development is all about!!

Does community based product development work for Conferma? Absolutely, but more importantly, it works for our customers.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Happy New Year

Firstly, let me wish a Happy New Year to all our partners and customers! Together we achieved a lot in 2010 and this year is going to be no exception; the team is already working on some exciting projects! We're ramping up our innovation and accessibility to our technologies to bring you fresh, cutting edge travel and expense technology throughout 2011.

Last year we spent time rebuilding our platform, redeveloping our core customer facing applications and expanding our financial partners. Throughout 2011 we'll be engaging with our customers to build on last years updates to take bigger leaps forward in the industry.

In Q1 we'll be updating Hotel Booker V4 with some exciting new features, they're all under wraps at the moment but we can't wait to release them into the live environment and see them being used. 95% of our customers are now migrated onto Hotel Booker V4 and the feedback has been great. With it's ease of use, connectivity, CSP support, community based development, configuration and deep integration into agency back offices, Hotel Booker is becoming a market leading booking tool for hotel bookings. Updates soon!

Last year the CSP platform grew from strength to strength. CSP is being recognised as the industry standard for billback - immediate payment, auto-reconciliation, finance partner neutral and tight integration into any platform. A strong network of CSP enabled travel companies is emerging. Launched last year, CSP On-Demand is truly in demand! Over the coming months merchants will start to see more payments powered by CSP, integrated into our partner systems.

Along with our financial partners, the team will be available at this years Business Travel Show on Feb 8-9th, Earls Court London. We have some great announcements that we're looking forward to sharing with you. If you'd like to schedule some time to speak to the team, please contact enquiries@conferma.com.

We're looking forward to a great year.