When Ben Frost first joined Bourne Leisure as Head of Product, he soon realised that getting users’ opinions was paramount. Bourne are the owners of Haven Holidays. Here he explains how he implemented a system that involved both users and devs.
Coming from the Times Educational Supplement, (TES) and with a successful business background behind him, Ben arrived at Bourne Leisure seeking a challenge. He started at Bourne right before lockdown - just as the hospitality industry was about to shut down. It became obvious that the “company culture needed to change as well as the tech. The tech was so archaic and so vast, and this revealed that the culture had to change, so that’s what I focussed on.”
Solving a problem
‘Historically, Bourne had never had an ‘in house’ digital or website software team. They did have a couple of IT engineers and Project Managers, though these acted as conduits between agencies and the company.” This short-term approach resulted in countless website add-ons and no cohesive strategy.
To find a solution, Ben focussed more on identifying the problem, and one of the first issues he addressed was to actually ask holiday homeowners what their experience on a daily basis was. To accumulate this data in a business that wasn’t data driven, was difficult. For example, even Google analytics hadn’t been set up correctly. The figures were all wrong and this was something Ben realised he had to rectify.
Building a business without data
By getting out there and talking to holiday homeowners, Ben started from scratch. Calls were set up with holiday homeowners by Ben’s team - this was all taking place during the pandemic. As a result of these calls one of the first changes implemented was to allow holiday homeowners to submit their insurance certificates online - previously this function had been carried out manually. This was the start of the dev team building “feature after feature to replace these manual processes”
Ben is one of the people who can say that he had “a helping hand with the pandemic.” This gave him time to approach Haven, demonstrate the new features, and then continue to implement “more complex stuff.” The business realised that there was a complete lack of alternatives and by focussing on the basics, Ben was able to solve problems for the holiday homeowners, and therefore Haven. He was also able to demonstrate that the smartphone generation isn’t simply in their 20s and there was a need for company-wide tech modernisation.
By starting from “ground zero,” Ben joined the new digital team when they were able to all fit in a small office of 8 called ‘the cupboard’, this has now expanded to over 100 team members all over the world working remotely. Outsourcing is a thing of the past, it’s more cost effective for the company and has proven that the team can create products to match both the company’s and holiday homeowners’ needs. Historically, everything had been built on Prem. This hadn’t changed since the 1990s, now nearly every bit of Prem has been moved into AWS.
Trying to implement a single view of the customer base is on Ben’s future wish list. This will be the biggest change that the business will implement. Previously, Haven had not been able to experience the ‘art of the possible’ - the in-house tech team makes creative change a probability.