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Travel ticketsIn my book, Net Attitude, I said we were 2 percent of the way into the Internet; in other other words, we have only seen 2% of what the Internet has in store for our business and personal lives. More recently, I have been saying we are up to 5%. Now I am thinking of revising my estimate back to 2 percent. This is not a technical measurement. It has to do with expectations. Of all the things that could be done on the Internet to simplify our lives and save us time, how many of them are actually being made available to us? Five percent would be a generous estimate.
The banks, airlines, and hotel chains have made substantial progress compared to other industries, but when you look at all the things that you can do compared to what you can’t do you can see that they have a long way to go. Tonight I attempted to order a Marriott Rewards certificate. The Marriott web site is dramatically better than it had been but no where on the homepage could I find "Redeem points" or "Order certificate". I did find it under a "learn more" link and then found a link to "Use Points". I then found this…..
"To use your Marriott Rewards points for a hotel stay at a participating Marriott hotel brand, please make a reservation and indicate that the reservation is for a Marriott Rewards redemption.  You will receive an email confirmation, and your hotel will be sent an E-Certificate for your redemption reservation." (It then points out that E-Certificates can only be used by you yourself — not even an immediate family member).  "You can make your reservation online or by calling 1-800-MARRIOTT." Unfortunately, the reservation I had made was by phone because I couldn’t find what I wanted on the web site. Therefore I had not received an email because you only get an email if you make the reservation online. I called and went through endless call center menu options. The result of this was that I was short 7,000 points and so I was told I needed to call another number. I called. They were closed.

The problem is obvious. Like most travel related companies, there are multiple systems — an online system, and a paper/fax/phone system. The systems do not communicate with each other. They were likely built on different platforms in different decades and they were not built to interoperate. I then called American Express Membership Rewards to see if I could transfer points to Marriott. No problem, the person said, and by the way we notice you have been a customer for a long time and we just want you to know we appreciate your loyalty. Wow! And, by the way, we will be happy to transfer the points for you but also want you to know that you can do it yourself online. Double wow. I provided the information and the agent said it was “done”. The miles will show up in your Marriott account in three to five days! Done?

Here are two huge companies that are both connected to the Internet. A member of the American Express Member Rewards program or a member of the Marriott Rewards program can go online twenty-four hours per day from anywhere in the world and see their points balance, but for one company to move points from one company server to the other company’s server takes three to five days? How can this be? Interoperability again. Each company’s server is compatible with a web browser but the are not compatible with each other via the Internet. The American Express system undoubtedly sends some kind of message to Marriott that Marriott can’t read. Marriott goes through some kind of translation and validation, possibly manually, and then inputs the data into a daily system that updates the Marriott Rewards system.

Lack of integration and interoperability is the “Holy Grail” of on demand business. Before the Web, three to five days to move points would have seemed rapid, but because of the Web, our expectations have increased dramatically. Most of us would really like to see a big dent made in the 95% of things we can’t do. Surely companies such as American Express and Marriott would like to also — it has to be less costly to move the data directly and instantly. So what’s the holdup?

Until recently, it was just too much work to create a smooth and secure way to exchange data between incompatible systems. American Express and Marriott could work out something between them, but then what about the airline miles/points and the other hotel chains? In come “web services” standards. Just as the Internet and the Web have flourished because of standards, so too will the world of on demand business. “Web services” is a set of standards developed to solve problems such as the points transfer I am attempting to do. The new web standards provide for a set of protocols that servers can all understand. It doesn’t matter whether a server is IBM or Sun or HP or uses IBM middleware or Microsoft middleware. As long as the vendors all support the web services standards, they can interoperate. The idea is not a new one but it is now taking hold. The very recent introduction of a web services standard for end-to-end security (developed principally by IBM, Microsoft, and Verisign) will surely accelerate the adoption of web services. The result will be that when you click “yes” to move points from American Express to Marriott the Web page will say “Done” and it will mean it.