How did the company come about?
In 1990 Redwing Holidays – the 3rd largest tour operator in the UK at the time, carrying around 1m passengers a year – was bought out by Owners Abroad, the 2nd largest in the UK at the time (later renamed to First Choice).
The new group decided to adopt the Owners Abroad booking system throughout and 32 Redwing Holidays system staff were made redundant.
For four years Redwing Holidays had been using their own home-grown system, which Jim Fatah, Redwing Systems Director, had been instrumental in building. Jim took ownership of the rights to the “Redwing System” as he believed his system to be superior to others that were available in the industry at that time. With this system Jim decided to create a new system supplier, JFA Systems (JFA stands for Jim Fatah and Associates) in 1991.
How has it evolved over the last 25 years?
When the company was formed it was very small – working out of Jim’s back room. However it grew quite rapidly, picking up clients such as Crystal Holidays, Turkish Delight Holidays and Riva in its first year. Jim was lucky to be able to re-employ the best of his previous colleagues at Redwing.
A very early development came for the company when it was decided to move away from a traditional weekly based package system, to a daily based system. That may sound like a simple change today, but back in 1991 it presented a major shift in how the platform operated.
Another development that jumps out was the creation of the JFA Systems bureau. This was a shared platform created to manage multiple customers hosted by JFA Systems; what you might call a very early version of the cloud.
It was also around this time that the internet was really taking off which obviously had a massive effect on the travel industry and on the company. JFA Systems could then create online sites for customers, and work also began on developing a new browser-based reservation system that would not require system hardware installed on a user’s PC.
What are the biggest industry changes the company has seen and how has it adapted to those?
The internet is an obvious one. JFA Systems was a very early adopter and was taking bookings over the internet from 1998. JFA Systems eventually took the jump to create a new web-based reservation system which was has gone on to become Diamond, our core product today. Diamond is constantly evolving, whether it’s new product additions, supplier integrations or new technology that’s become available to make the application more efficient.
Dynamic packaging also presented challenges back in the earlier days. Although this was no new concept, the process of packaging up several individual products from multiple suppliers was tricky for a business that was used to Tour Operators contracting and selling their own stock.
Today, Diamond still has a really strong offering when it comes to contracted products, whether it’s transport, hotels or extras. Diamond also has seamless access to multiple third party suppliers such as EasyJet, Monarch, Jet 2, P&O, Eurotunnel, and operators such as Gold Medal and Voyages SNCF. All third party products sit nicely alongside contracted stock. We also partner with Amadeus for GDS flights and Cruises.
Another challenge, or rather opportunity, has been the rate at which new technology now becomes available. One of my senior developers recently said to me: “Even if I knew everything today, I wouldn’t tomorrow”. That’s why we give our development team a lot of free reign when it comes to researching new technologies, or new ways of doing things. It really helps drive the business forward.
Lastly, both Mobile and Personalisation continue to evolve today. We are doing a lot of work to ensure our technology is able to help our customers tailor both product and service in a more personal way, as well as making sure key elements of Diamond are responsive for mobile and tablet.
What is your role at the firm?
JFA Systems has been around a long time, focusing most importantly on looking after its existing customers. While we will continue to provide an excellent service to our loyal customers, a big part of my role is to grow the business.
Over the last year or so I have rebranded the company, launched a new website and led the overhaul of our CRM platform within our core Diamond reservation system.
While my focus will largely be on getting greater brand awareness, I will still be involved in product evolution. Having worked for a major OTA, followed by five years with Disney as a JFA Systems customer myself, I feel I’m well placed to lead when it comes to understanding what product customers want from a travel tech supplier.
What are your plans to help see the company through the next 25 years?
We have a great product in Diamond. Diamond is web-based and available as a cloud platform or can be self-hosted by customers. We have 25 years’ experience in building and managing scalable robust systems that work for both large, enterprise-sized and smaller operators.
We have proven that we can create leading robust reservation systems, our challenge now is to add further value to that. The focus will be on CRM and personalisation, as well as ensuring our systems are evolving as the industry continues to do so.
We have a young team that are constantly bringing new ideas to the table. We are nearing the end of a new project to upgrade Diamond’s business intelligence module, which has been developed using an elastic database. This new technology delivers ultra-fast analytics to users and will be instrumental to helping us achieve our goals when it comes to managing big data.
What made JFA Systems different then – and what makes it different now?
JFA System’s original system was developed by a tour operator, and although JFA Systems and its products have radically changed over its 25 year history, we continue to build great products in partnership with our customers. We do this by having very close relationships with our customers, whether they are large or small.
By working very closely with our customers we have the opportunity to get to know their businesses very well. We’re not only able to deliver what they need, but also consistently present new ideas to ensure their businesses stay ahead of the game.
We are a close team, all based in the same office. So whether we are helping an existing customer with a challenge, or working on some new technology to improve Diamond, it’s a great team effort.