I interviewed John Samuel, head of Sabre Travel Studios at Sabre Holdings, and Denise Fernandez, the Studios’ head of Marketing this week. The Travel Studios functions as an incubator within Sabre, experimenting and releasing innovative new products that don’t fit in neatly within other business units. The first product the group is bringing to market is cubeless, derived from an enterprise 2.0 social computing platform they have been using internally about a year at Sabre called, “Sabre Town.”
Custom-built from scratch on open source tools, Apache and Linux, the software is a Rails application, according to Samuel. Sabre is announcing cubeless as the “industry’s first enterprise 2.0 community platform for the travel industry.” The app was built by less than a half dozen developers and launched within a few months, although Samuel notes parts of the application were built prior to putting it all together for the launch.
Hosted behind the company’s firewall, cubeless enables community members to inquire, in a traditional Q&A format, about ordinary travel questions (hotels, restaurants, etc.) as well as a host of other community topics such as Sabre Town’s private group on Rails development or a lifestyle group on Yoga. The platform fulfills all of the SLATES criteria for a standard enterprise 2.0 platform and excels at sharing advice and recommendations.
Sabre is working with American Express Business Travel on the initial launch of cubeless, scheduled for mid-2008. The focus is on business travelers, offering cubeless as a new module from Sabre’s GetThere which is the world’s leading corporate booking solution and a long-time partner of American Express Business Travel. Examples of how it will be used are explained in a statement by Tom Klein, executive vice president for Sabre Holdings, “It can be anything from finding out about services to support [an employee’s] business trip in a location others have been to, to what nearby restaurants are opened all night for a quick bite to verifying that a hotel they want t stay in has dependable, fast wireless Internet access and a gym that is open early in the morning.” Samuel and Fernandez believe users will make heavy use of the software, acknowledging people tend to trust people in their own organization to provide such personal insight into their travel plans. Fernandez says with Sabre Town, the ratio of questions to answers is running nearly 9:1. They’ve found people are eager to share their experiences and help other travelers.
Through GetThere and its affiliates (agencies and corporate travel departments), cubeless will have access to hundreds of thousands of members. GetThere already serves over 3,000 businesses in 40 countries worldwide and more than half of America’s 100 highest spending business travel accounts. More than half of the F200 that have an online booking tool use GetThere including Cisco, Oracle, GE, EDS, and Wal-Mart. Sabre has already proven its prowess with online collaboration and community via its IgoUgo with its 350,000 members sharing travel experiences, advice, photos and tips and stories on a multitude of worldwide destinations.
What’s interesting about cubeless is it has an easy, low-risk threshold for engagement for community members with a healthy incentive: self-interest. Everyone who is introduced to the product will “get it.” The benefits to using the social platform are obvious and immediate. In addition, the software scores high on the “fun” factor that facilitates rapid adoption. Sabre reports that over 10,000 profiles have been submitted since the internal launch of cubeless. And in a single month, more than 900 referrals had been sent to others whose profiles indicated knowledge or expertise they could address.
Launching an enterprise 2.0 community platform to suit a vertical market’s needs is innovative and should inspire others to follow suit.