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Archive for June, 2011
By Guest Blogger Robbie Woods
Robbie is a university student. He works part-time for a company that services the travel industry.
As a university student, most of my modest income is spent before it even gets deposited. After tuition fees, residence, books, and food, I am left with only a tiny pool of cash to spend on myself.
And so I find myself torn between temptations. Should I save my money for a car? Buy the latest apple gadget? A PS3? What about that much-needed vacation I’ve been promising myself? That would really hit the spot.
You see, like most people, I love to travel. But travel is expensive, and my resources are limited. I could probably buy a brand new DVD collection for what it would cost me to take even the cheapest trip. When I look at my finances, I often find myself asking: “why should I travel?”
Buying a vacation isn’t like buying an iPod. After that week in the Dominican, there’s nothing I can hold in my hand and say, “look! That’s what I bought with my last $700.” It’s an intangible purchase, all too brief and fleeting. When it’s over, it’s over.
Moreover, travelling on a budget is always a gamble. It’s not as if I can afford to rent a Tuscan villa, or summer on the French Riviera, or stay at a 5-star resort. For me, the pickings are slim. And all too often, you get exactly what you pay for.
Paying is always a problem too. Even if I do decide to drop a couple hundred dollars on that little getaway, it means sacrifice when I get back. I can forget going to the movies for a few months, or buying those new headphones my friends bought with their student loan money (grrr).
For all these reasons, more often than not, I end up telling myself, “I’ll go somewhere next year.”
Well, fortunately for me, I did finally manage to get out of town a couple weeks ago. It was nothing too fancy ─ a little four-day trip to Montreal with my Dad and Uncle ─ but let me tell you, it made my summer.
Sure, it cost some money, and sure, I guess I won’t be eating out for a little while, but it was worth it to gain some perspective. People always say that travelling gives you perspective, but in this case, I actually think I learned something about travelling itself.
My trip to Montreal reminded me why people have an itch to see new places, even though the journey may be expensive and over far too soon. It’s about buying an experience, and although experience isn’t tangible or quantifiable, it’s much more important than material objects.
Each of us has only so much time on this big, wonderful planet, and it would be a terrible shame not to experience as much of it as humanly possible. Big screen TVs and Blackberries are great, but they’re dead things. Travel is alive.
I wouldn’t sell the experience I had with my Dad and Uncle for anything. That’s something worth going broke for.
After all, I can always buy an iPad next year.
By Guest Blogger Chris Black.
Chris is an IT security specialist at a company that handles information for the travel industry.
As an IT security specialist in the travel industry, one of my most important considerations is PCI security. For those of you non-techie types who may not know much about it, PCI security can make all the difference in the world to our customers.
Allow me to explain.
A few years ago, VISA, MasterCard, and American Express, the largest players in the payment card industry, were attempting to deal with the growing sophistication of credit card defrauders. In early 2008, VISA replaced their old Payment Application Best Practices Standard with the new Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, often referred to simply as the PCI Standard. Since then, it has come to be accepted by all of members of the payment card industry, not just VISA.
The standard has evolved over the past few years; we are currently on version 2.0. The PCI standard has 12 basic requirements, from installing and maintaining a firewall to keeping a security policy. However, it is important to note that while the standard is a good policy, it cannot guarantee all aspects of an organization’s security. For example, in my own company: the standard would do nothing to safe guard us from proprietary software theft or 3rd party software license compliance.
The focus of the standard is to safeguard credit card information. It does this through requirements for encrypting the credit card data whenever it is stored on computers or transferred over public networks. It also has requirements for logging that can be used to proactively prevent loss of information, or, if you’re unlucky, deal with the daunting task of determining the scope of a loss after the fact. In other words, it allows you to ask, “When did the door open?” “What was taken?” and “When was the door closed?”
What does all this mean for the Travel business? We deal with customers on the front-line; taking credit card information for air travel, hotels, car rentals and any number of things. We need to ensure that information is collected, stored and transferred securely. Access to personal information should be on a “need-to-know basis”. We need to take steps to keep our clients safe from dishonest opportunists, be they internal staff, or highly skilled external thieves. That means treating sensitive information… well, sensitively.
The travel industry has gone through some tough times, and it may be tempting to avoid seemingly unnecessary costs. In any business problem, we know there are often innovative ways to resolve issues. In this instance, the travel industry needs to understand and embrace the PCI standard. By working collectively to make our industry a leader in security, we can dramatically increase our customers’ loyalty and trust.
Keeping your clients’ credit card information safe? Priceless.
By John Woods
John Woods is the Vice-President of Client Support at a company that creates software for the travel industry.
Lately, I’ve noticed that there are an ever-increasing number of “Black Swan” events happening around the world. For those who think I am talking about a large graceful bird, you would be mistaken. (I’m not talking about Natalie Portman either.)
A “Black Swan” event is anything that causes travellers to pause and have second thoughts about taking that next big trip they’re planning. Perhaps the most famous examples are the terrorist attacks of 9/11. However, since then, I have noticed that there are more and more of these events making the news every year. And that can be very bad news for those of us in the travel industry.
In the last 12 months we have had an unprecedented oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, civil uprisings in Egypt and Libya, a devastating Earth Quake and Tsunami in Japan, and most recently a recurrence of volcanic activity in Iceland. Mother Nature, revolution, and industrial mayhem; what’s next?
While we can’t predict what evil will befall the world in the coming months and years, we can be sure that there will always be more Black Swans waiting in the wings (pun intended). So, what can we do to protect our customers and ourselves?
One agency in particular has a plan: Protravel – a large U.S.-based niche market agency headquartered in New York City.
When Eyjafjallajökull, the first large Icelandic volcano, erupted in 2010, agencies all over the world processed cancellation after cancellation for their clients travelling to Europe. Protravel quickly developed an action plan. They:
- Moved a number of travel professionals into a team to deal with this specific event.
- Identified which of their customers were already out-bound and made alternative plans for them to get home.
- Identified which of their customers had not yet travelled and altered their travel plans to try to accommodate them some other way.
- Kept a constant line of communication open between themselves and the travellers, thereby ensuring they had the best services available to meet the client’s expectations.
- Following the event, they went back and asked their clients what they had done right and what they could improve on, and incorporated these improvements into their action plan.
This is an agency that has their @#$% together. They have proven they are deserving of the trust that their exclusive clientele put in them.
It’s an example other agencies should take to heart. The world isn’t getting any safer, and an agency that is ready for anything will withstand whatever Black Swans may swim their way.
By Guest Blogger Mel Asuncion
Mel is an Application Architect and Development Team Leader at a company that makes software for the travel industry.
It’s Monday morning. It’s almost time for my kids to go to school, and they see me still at home. They ask, “Why you are still at home dad?” I reply, “Oh… there was a bug in our system last night, and I had to work til the wee-hours of the morning to fix it. So I slept in.” In their eyes, I can see their curiosity and confusion. What is a bug? Why did it happen?
In almost 25 years of working in IT, wearing various hats such as software architect, designer, data modeler, and developer, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as bug-free software. Now I am not talking about software that has few lines of code, but rather software that is written with thousands of lines of code.
Throughout my career, I have striven to design and build bug-free software, but despite my efforts, the dream remains unrealized. At times I feel discouraged when I know that I have worked my heart out to prevent glitches in our software development, and yet it remains imperfect.
It is a small consolation, however, when my kids call me up and say, “My computer isn’t working. Could you please come and fix it?” I say to myself, “Hmm, I’m not alone after all.”
Last month, I bought a tablet (a mobile computing device) to evaluate and to experiment on. The first thing I had to do was check for updates, and believe it or not updates are already available to fix bugs.
Software bugs are not insects ─ but from my perspective it often feels that way. They are unwanted and undesirable flaws in the software. They can be very disruptive to running a business, possibly costing thousands of dollars to the company’s bottom line. With my long years of working in IT, I have seen a lot of bugs and I have created a bunch myself.
There have been times when my software runs forever with no end in sight, using up all my computer’s memory, requiring my system to be shut down and restarted again. There have been times when my code does not give proper user messages because it was unable to handle all the conditions that can take place in processing different forms of input and output data. There have been times when I had to stop my software because it was keeping other systems from running optimally. There was a time when I made a seemingly simple change, only to find out that it was causing all kinds of problems in downstream systems.
Yes, bugs are annoying and expensive. But more importantly, on a personal level, they demoralize me. Every time a bug is discovered in the software that I wrote, I feel so embarrassed and disappointed.
So, in my quest for bug free software, I have developed software development standards ─ from designing user interfaces, to programming standards in database programming, scripts, and in various computer programming languages. It has been a very interesting journey thus far. I have looked at tools to help us work more effectively and efficiently.
The drive to push to the limit in quality software development and the pursuit for software perfection is a journey filled both with high fives and tears. When we have built a software, confident that it will run perfectly, and the first question from the client during a demo is a scenario we’ve never even thought of, I know we’re swimming in troubled waters.
Even with due diligence in understanding user requirements; in analyzing the business needs; in coming up with a design before beginning programming; in building the software and testing it to my heart’s content; even after 25 years of all this, I’m faced with the fact that my work is still imperfect.
Feeling empty, I ask myself, “Is bug-free software impossible, or am I just not good enough?” Whenever I interview IT software developers as candidates for placement, I always ask them if they believe in bug-free software. Is it attainable to build such a system?
So far I have yet to meet a true IT developer who will confidently tell me that it is attainable. And lately it got me thinking about my 25-year quest for perfection. When someone says, “let’s build a bug-free software,” perhaps it should not be taken literally. Rather, it should be seen as a goal ─ an impossible dream if you like.
In order not to stay complacent however, and to continue finding ways to cut down software maintenance and development costs, perhaps it should be taken literally.
In any event, my personal quest for bug-free software must go on. Perhaps you can share your own comments about your quest.