Ai Editorial: Doing away with paper-based business processes via ONE Order

First Published on 29th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: With ONE Order there will be no tickets. The concept of a single customer order record holds a lot of promise. The key to ONE Order system’s readiness lies in creating it for a truly ticketless environment, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Airlines are attempting to overcome issues associated with archaic processes and protocols. They tend to hamper the overall passenger experience. 

With ONE Order, the objective is to eradicate the existence of various booking, ticketing, delivery and accounting methods. According to IATA, the plan is to do away with paper-oriented methods deployed for delivery tracking and accounting purposes. Eventually there is going to be phasing out of the current booking (PNRs) and ticketing records (ETKTs and EMDs), and blending the same into a single retail and customer-focused Order.

The customer Order in the ORA’s (Offer Responsible Airline) OMS (Order Management System) remains the single source of truth throughout its lifetime. The ORA holds the customer’s payment until services are operated.

Progress

There are companies that have been working on pilots featuring their respective ONE Order systems and have also achieved IATA certification.

One of them is Dublin-based JR Technologies. The ONE Order solution is a collaboration of its New Distribution Capabilities (NDC) Retailing Platform utilizing Chicago, USA-based MIS Choice’s Airline Choice Departure Control System and Frankfurt, Germany-based Lufthansa Systems’ Sirax Revenue Accounting system to complete the passenger handling business cycle. The company recently achieved the highest IATA ONE Order certification.

Ryan Harris, Director at JR Technologies explained that his team had “very few conceptual problems with the ONE Order process”.

This is because the company’s offerings were developed with the NDC core philosophy of offer/ order management from the beginning. 

“Since we didn’t have the legacy systems that needed to be adapted to the ONE Order processes, we were able to focus on the data flow through the customer journey,” said Harris.

Referring to the role of partners, he mentioned that they “were in similar positions” since their core systems were already adapted to the ticketless environment, which for DCS and Revenue Accounting systems will likely be a major hurdle to overcome if that is not already the case. 

What does achieving highest IATA ONE Order Certification mean? “Achieving the highest level requires that the company be able to handle the entire passenger experience from sale, through to flight, and finally into the airline accounting systems, including any additional products or services that the passenger may purchase,” mentioned Harris.

“We should remember that ONE Order is essentially a ticketless environment that has been elevated to an always available, passenger-centric world.  Since our partners had also already overcome the challenge of working in the ticketless environment, we simply had to ensure that the real-time communication from all parties was available through the NDC and ONE Order standard messages,” shared Harris. He added, “The biggest challenges that we faced throughout the entire pilot process was more due to when we were doing the pilot.  The project that was presented at IATA GAPS in October 2018 was largely done in the summer of 2018, before IATA NDC 18.2, which contained the first “final” ONE Order messages, was released.  As a result, we were constantly giving feedback to the IATA standards teams on what we were seeing and some of the issues so that they could be resolved before 18.2 was final.”

Explaining how the company has focused on concepts such as delivery status and internal values in order to replace current paper based mechanisms used for delivery tracking and accounting purposes, he said, “The delivery and accounting concepts, from a business standpoint, are not actually new.  They’ve been around for years, we just know of it as “ticketless”.  What ONE Order is able to do is to take the concept of a ticketless carrier, expand it by eliminating the structural constraints of the PNR, and make it a standard for the industry.  For carriers that have never worked in a ticketless environment, this is a major change that requires substantial modifications to business and accounting processes, not to mention the technical development to support it.” 

“One of the biggest roadblocks with ticketless carriers has always been how to work with a ticket-based carrier in interline or codeshare relationships.  The traditional approach was to make the ticketless carrier issue tickets, which solved the problem, but brought significant restrictions to the ticketless carrier by now having to issue tickets and EMDs.  What ONE Order looks to do is take that other approach, remove the tickets from everyone, and at the same time, free the airlines from the constraints inherent in the legacy, paper-based business processes,” said Harris.

Enhanced capabilities

One of the biggest advantages that the industry gains through NDC and ONE Order adaptation is that the communication of all information transitions into a standard XML interface, as opposed to the cryptic EDIFACT or proprietary APIs used today. 

“With that transition, it opens the door to any system or provider that can generate or consume an XML message, which is basically any modern system developed in the past 10 years,” said Harris.

“That opening of the door to the airline systems, which rather has been closed to the general public, will allow new opportunities for open communication to and between airlines. New opportunity breeds innovation, which the travel industry in general, and the airline industry specifically, needs to have to offer a better product more efficiently.  I have had the chance to attend several of the IATA NDC Hackathon events over the years, and to see what people outside of the industry can come up with as industry solutions is exciting, and is only possible through the open-source nature of the NDC and ONE Order world.”

 

Hear from senior industry executives about NDC and ONE Order at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

 

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: 6 examples of how travel e-commerce is counting on API strategy

First Published on 22nd March, 2019

The role of APIs in running a progressive organization is increasingly coming to the fore. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta assesses 6 ways in which APIs are helping travel e-commerce companies.

 

Be it for overcoming the issue of siloed backend systems and integrating data to improve the passenger experience or letting cross-functional collaborate and focus on incremental delivery of capabilities, the efficacy of APIs and API-oriented connectivity can’t be undermined.

Here we assess how certain travel companies are taking lead and moving ahead to make the most of their APIs:

  1. Evolving business model: The travel industry is taking notice of Airbnb’s end-to-end travel platform. This is reflective of the fact that Airbnb is gradually moving from its focus on “where to stay” and “what to do” to “how to get there”. For this, the expertise of engineering and data science in coming into play. The objective is to optimize the value of context i. e. to ensure content served or inventory presented clicks with the user.  Airbnb has been refining its knowledge graph to classify its inventory and contextualize the entire platform. One of the highlights of the graph is the presence of nodes (could be entities such as restaurants, experiences etc.) and edges (the sort of relationships that exist between the entities). To build on this, the company possesses a flexible API to query for neighbors connected by certain types of relationships and can index its inventory items by the unique identifiers of their corresponding representation in the knowledge graph. Airbnb asserts that this is a solid foundation to understand what one’s trip possible could be all about. 
  1. Expanding reach: The openness of an API, which is a mechanism to allows two applications to interact with each other, isn’t a restricting factor anymore. An established carrier, in an interview with Ai, acknowledged that their open API could be used in several foreign markets including China, except the booking capability which is being only trialled in a certain market. This restricted approach in China, for instance not introducing booking capability via open API isn’t surprising considering the hurdles - there is a language barrier, a broad domestic ecosystem of potential API users that follow different approaches when developing digital platforms and end-consumers with China-specific consumption characteristics. “Although travel is a global game, we do not believe in simply extending existing offerings made in our local market, but in thoughtful tailoring to the local needs with our distribution colleagues that have a substantial knowledge of this important market,” shared a senior executive working with the same airline.
  1. Sublime CX: Specialists like MuleSoft recommend that retailers need to rely on modern APIs (follow standards that are developer-friendly and easily accessible, and are treated more like products than code) to connect their customer behavior data through API-led connectivity. Eventually retailers are able to assimilate their customer data from distinct sources and capture the value of that data to foster better personalization on their own platforms. Overall, if agile organizations manage to connect, analyze, and use data from multiple applications and systems , then API-led connectivity is the key. Travel companies, including airlines, are already counting on APIs to capitalize on real-time information and improving the passenger’s experience.
  1. Featuring early in the booking funnel: Travellers shop for their trip on several channels, and the “dreaming/ inspiration” phase happens outside the airline domain. How can airlines jump into a moment when a consumer is liking a picture or a video on a 3rd party app? As shown by easyJet, the airline worked on a new feature for its app that leverages advanced image recognition technology to identify the location and leverages Microsoft Azure APIs to match the photo to easyJet destination. This feature helps users find out where an Instagram photo was taken and which flights users need to book to get there. So this way APIs are helping airlines to get passengers to add value and book with airlines directly. Destination discovery and associated experiences is one area where airlines haven’t excelled in a big way. But this way, by counting on mobile technology, social media and APIs, airlines can play their part in shortening the research phase of leisure travellers. 
  1. Development new projects faster: The payment infrastructure and internal alignment paves way for payment optimization at KLM. One of the core strengths of the group has proven to be the agile environment and the cross-functional expertise, involving the front-end, back-end API teams and payments team that helps in working on new projects faster.
  1. Distribution + data processing: As for those airlines trying to support distribution via their own APIs, one shouldn’t underestimate what it takes to adopt and execute on a strategy of NDC API distribution. They need to sharpen their data processing capabilities in order to process in real-time the potentially huge volumes of valuable search data from NDC APIs.  

 

How is your API strategy coming along?

Hear from senior industry executives about APIs at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: Optimizing flight shopping UX – where does the industry stand?

First Published on 20th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: The industry recognizes that a compelling offer alone isn’t enough. A passenger needs to fully understand the offer and options available before they make a commitment on any channel, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta  

 

Displaying what a flight shopper is looking for and getting them closer to completing a transaction with aplomb hasn’t really been a forte of the travel industry. If one gets to visualize a seat, in-flight entertainment, priority boarding, food on-board etc., all of this would make the experience much more enjoyable. As much as one can refer to the industry being slow to respond, there is no denying that flight as a product is fairly complex, and on top of it, airlines themselves are evolving their product as well. But the intent is clear and progress is coming along.

Selling air ancillaries and targeting the second wallet isn’t new, but letting travellers visualize what they can buy is what the industry is working on. How all of this is coming along on indirect channels?

If on one hand airlines are looking at being in control of the offer, via new airline-specific commerce systems and the NDC XML data transmission standard, on the other hand, there are initiatives like new data application and standard by ATPCO to showcase “like-type” airline offerings with the intent of showing of them in a way that makes it easy for travellers to understand.

Compelling offer alone not enough

Airlines, be it for full-service carriers or LCCs, are looking for ways to showcase their product in an appropriate manner. “There is a need to go beyond ticket pricing and to focus on showing the options airlines have to offer,” shared a source.

Airlines executives highlight that a compelling offer alone isn’t enough. It is also necessary that customers fully understand the offer and options available before they make a commitment.

“What really matters to our customers-- and to us as an airline-- is the total offer. The fare and the combination of flight-related options that each customer values,” Mike Robinson, Head of Ancillary Revenue, Frontier Airlines told Ai in a recent interview. “As a low fare carrier, those flight-related options are a core component of our total offer. So it’s really essential to us that our customers be able to understand and make the best choices possible for their trip.” While Frontier can manage the offer on the airline’s own website, presenting flight related options to customers booking elsewhere can be a challenge. “Without NDC (videos, pictures and text descriptions can be transmitted via the NDC API), it is essentially impossible to present such offers through intermediated channels.”

In a recent blog post on ATPCO, Delta Air Lines’ Sharon Mickelson mentioned, “…our customers deserve a great shopping experience in their channel of choice, including when shopping on third-party channels.”

The depth of what airlines have to offer, especially in the context of air ancillaries, is going deeper. It is imperative for the industry to find ways to let users compare multiple airline products in one single display.  

The industry is taking note of the fact that ATPCO is working on plans to sort this issue. The objective is to support modern shopping display, essentially portraying airlines’ offering aptly via simple representation of each product’s attributes. The Next-Generation Storefront or NGS initiative will set up common standards for amenity data. Plus, it would be easy to comprehend what’s included in a fare or whether available for additional cost.

According to ATPCO, the NGS initiative would:

  • Group similar fare products in shopping displays
  • Create data standards to consistently describe itinerary attributes 
  • Institute a common rating system to align and group features of an airline product

Trials are being conducted at this juncture, and ATPCO is constantly attempting to improve the accuracy of shelf algorithms, work out data and end-to-end processing flow for all data elements etc.

Fast and transparent CX

In addition to introduction of the retailing data standards, there are other areas, too, that the industry is working on. These include the overall UX on 3rd party channels – functionality, speed etc. to support comparison shopping. OTA and meta-search engines are gradually going beyond the base fare-oriented search results phenomena. A key here would be how such entities pull in more information from their visitors about what all they are looking for when they travel and accordingly coming up with ranking of offers not just fares in the search results.

Travel technology specialists are catering to more searches at faster speeds. Plus by banking on data analytics and artificial intelligence, they are also starting to improvise on their search algorithms. It incorporate several factors that assist in travel shopping – when to buy, where to go etc. Also, rather than analysing or computing every time, these companies are capitalizing on results stored as they cache judiciously.

All of this is going to result in more engaging flight shopping experience, one that is fast, transparent and offer choice in a simplified manner.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the retailing and NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: NDC and travel agents – how is the combo coming along?

First Published on 15th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: Working out multiple connections would require a substantial level of investment and IT skills. How can travel agencies prepare for both NDC and non-NDC content, probes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

 

The impact of IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) on the traditional agency channel is being keenly followed. A couple of issues are - how are these stakeholders going about the major booking flow redesign and also what sort of investment is required on their part to invest in NDC interface adaptation and costly IT integration.

Even airlines recommend measured changes to the agency workflows and evaluating the significance of scalability, even as they step up their focus on NDC content.

As airlines look to sharpen their retailing capabilities in their chosen indirect channels, its impact on agents’ is being assessed. For instance, how comparison shopping is going to shape up in the future. Indirect channel also acknowledges the need for supporting airlines in their quest to sell more seats, baggage, insurance and lounge passes through travel agents.

Seamless transition – is it possible?

As a key player in the entire travel distribution and technology domain, Travelport asserts that agents need familiarity and consistency with booking tools. “We’re likely to be operating in a world of mixed content for many years,” Ian Heywood, Travelport’s Global Head of Product and Marketing, mentioned at the beginning of this year. “It’s essential that we work together to drive NDC forward.”  

A couple of developments that stand out as far as Travelport is concerned:

  • Travel technology specialists like Travelport are trying to ensure that agencies are able to access NDC content in the same workflow as other content.
  • Last year the company chose to focus on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) methodology and lean agile principles for product development, working in conjunction with agencies and adapting via learn and test approach.

Another area that is being focused on upon – the impact on mid- and back-office processes being used today.  

Indirect channel also acknowledges the need for supporting airlines in their quest to sell more seats, baggage, insurance and lounge passes through travel agents.  

While the idea of presenting same offers/ content that airlines have their own channels on the all indirect channelsis enticing, how to work on the same demands introspection into certain areas.

Airlines are introducing their own platforms, offering a connection via NDC XML API. Among the recent ones is Qantas. The airline’s certified platform supports shopping, booking and servicing capabilities. Even as aggregators are looking at normalizing content to make it available across multiple point-of-sale interfaces, there are specialists who believe that agents can look at new solutions.  

Agents can connect via NDC XML API or an approved technology partner connection, but these platforms typically do not have a customer-facing user interface (UX or GUI). Direct connectivity isn’t new, so how are agencies looking at this commercial association considering they have to prepare themselves? As highlighted in one of Ai’s recent editorials, it is being indicated that various channels (APIs and airlines’ own user interfaces) introduced by airlines is not going to help airlines to scale and generate NDC transaction volumes.

“Agents are already dealing with multiple screens and they will be least interested to switch between multiple UIs provided by each airline,” shared a source, adding that a high majority of IATA registered travel agents lack the e-commerce infrastructure.

As a specialist, TPConnects recommends that travel agents should have their own supplier agnostic systems going forward.

The decision-making is being closely followed, as the industry is trying to evolve, with more airlines continuing to introduce segment channel fee on bookings made by agents who do not participate in the airline NDC channel.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about latest developments related to NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: What’s the secret behind Airbnb’s end-to-end travel platform?

First Published on 12th March, 2019

Ai Editorial: Rather than being an avenue only for accommodation, Airbnb is evolving to be an end-to-end travel platform. Ai’s Ritesh Gupta understands what is being done to power all of its verticals.  

 

In the second half of 2018, Airbnb made a couple of big announcements – crossing the 400 million-mark in terms of its total guest arrivals and 3.5 million guest arrivals in a single night in August. Earlier this month, the company stated that it has over 6 million homes. Airbnb is expecting half a billion guest arrivals in Airbnb listings by the end of first quarter.

A question that is being probed is - how Airbnb is gearing up to take the so-called network effect to the next level as it goes deeper into the booking funnel.

As it develops into an end-to-end travel platform which essentially means focusing on where to stay, what to do, and how to get there, what this would mean for the traveller?

Airbnb is definitely one of those brands that the entire fraternity believes can provide a better answer to the fragmented travel shopping experience. The way Airbnb goes about uniting its staff/ teams across product disciplines, making the most of “creative hacks” or managing complexities associated with product designing, it can provide an answer to when to travel, where to go, and what to do on trips.

Thinking like a traveller through “entities and relationships”

The best part about Airbnb’s platform is to let travellers get closer to taking a decision.

This means that Airbnb is coming up with the best possible result for users on its platform when it understands their intent. This is going to be based on setting up an environment for accessing structured data and enabling users to enjoy their trip planning and buying by a gamut of choice being presented to them. In order to attain this, the expertise of engineering and data science comes into play. The value of context i. e. to ensure content served or inventory presented clicks with the user.

For this to work, as explained by Airbnb, it is imperative to work on a meticulous way of ascertaining relationships between discrete but related entities such as cities, activities, cuisines, etc. Queries of users would be answered aptly or precisely by storing details about entities and the association between them.

To work this out, Airbnb has been refining its knowledge graph to classify its inventory and contextualize the entire platform. The focus here is on storing and serving structured data that connects what makes Airbnb’s inventory distinctive, what travellers are searching for, and what is there to be explored or availed. The concept of knowledge graph isn’t new. For instance, Google’s knowledge graph intends to offer precise information in response to users’ search queries, within the shortest possible time.

Generally relational databases store data in tables. Tables can shape up to have massive details, and have an array of columns and records. Pointing an issue with this, Airbnb mentioned that  there is an “operational burden when you have many table for distinct objects that may contain the same relational information in individual columns”. Referring to the utility of the graph structure, the Airbnb team says structuring queries in terms of this graph paves way for optimal data semantics maintenance. Citing an example, Airbnb referred to surfing – as an experience it should be the same surfing that a destination like Hawaii is known for. Such structuring around the relationships between the entities provides the scalability and flexibility needed to expand categorization to any number of things, mentioned the team associated with this project. This helps in avoiding duplicate data. The taxonomy in the knowledge graph has been applied it to classify all of available inventories at Airbnb.

One of the highlights of the graph is presence of nodes (could be entities such as restaurants, experiences etc.) and edges (the sort of relationships that exist between the entities). There are various types of nodes for diverse set of entities and different types of edges for different types of relationships (located in, tagged by, etc.). The team also acknowledges that an initiative like tagging restaurant with the relevant nodes isn’t easy.

“From there, we have a flexible API to query for neighbors connected by certain types of relationships and can index our inventory items by the unique identifiers of their corresponding representation in the knowledge graph,” according to Airbnb.

Airbnb asserts that this is a solid foundation to understand what one’s trip possible could be all about. Be it for designing of the interface, how the options are going to be presented to actually working on contextual travel insights to users in the booking flow is a fascinating journey. The action that a user can take could be finalizing a location to travel, a home to book etc. It would be worth watch how Airbnb shapes up this foundation further to add more trip essentials and excels in its quest of becoming an end-to-end travel platform.  

 

Hear from senior industry executives about how the industry is looking at offering the “end-to-end journey” solution at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: How to make data count?

First Published on 27th February, 2019

There are airlines that have embarked on the data-driven journey, and they are increasingly relying on the same to serve their passengers during various phases of their shopping and travel, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Airlines are focusing on today’s digital economy, and an integral part of the same is being adept at managing and acting on data.

There are certain airlines that are on the right track, and there are those that seemingly grapple with basic issues. Those who have embarked on the journey and are garnering positive results refer to few critical aspects:

  • Drawing more value from data means taking care of several hurdles: data inaccessibility (owing to unstructured and semi-structured data), the quality of data, and the lack of skilled people to show the way and capitalize on it.  
  • In addition to working on an apt architecture to access data across siloes, it also important to look at existing marketing stack and leverage a customer data platform for all contextual business intelligence, recommends Boxever. 
  • Set up a cross-functional team. For instance, alignment between data engineers and scientists, and data-based customer teams such as user experience designers, marketers and product specialists.
  • Also, as IBM points out, put in place an analytics foundation to ensure compliance, security, and data quality, and focus on a data-driven culture.

Tangible results from data

There are airlines that have embarked on this journey, and they are continuously trying to serve their passengers during various phases of their shopping and travel. The likes of JetStar are blending real-time behavioural and the historical transactional data to act not only on past behaviour, but also evaluating possible purchasing pattern/ intent. The carrier is experimenting with datasets to predict intent to travel to destinations the airline flies to and have personalised marketing campaigns and website initiatives for each individual customer.

The meaningful use of data from various sources, including the 1st party ones, and contextual selling will open new possibilities that are currently unimagined, asserted Catriona Larritt, Jetstar Airways’ Chief Customer Officer in a recent interview with Ai. "That data and customer insights will lead to the development of new customer experiences, products and services that is more personalised and offered at the right time, on the right channel at the right price,” she said.  

The improvement comes from the fact that whenever a new data source is added to the strong foundation laid for data collection, ingestion, analytics etc., then it further improves upon the insights, recommendations etc. resulting from it. For instance, the gap as far as single view of the customer is concerned, lies in capturing emotional data or offline data. Once a way is found to capture such data, it will be added to the existing set up. 

Even as retailers are grappling and coming to terms with data privacy-related issues, if there is apt master data management, platform and architecture in place, then they can only improve upon this. For example, in case of airlines, the day of travel or the airport experience is where the consumption of the product commences in a tangible manner. There is interaction with the staff at the airport. This is where a passenger shares certain experiences or even the expectations of the journey. Now can this be captured? Yes. The technology is in place. There is an opportunity to avail a voice recognition tool to analyze and record a spoken conversation. This can be useful for airlines considering the typical fast-paced environment (marked by limited time period for each passenger) of an airport. Once airlines get closer to capturing emotional-data emanating from an offline environment, this means they can have better understanding of the travel cycle.

“We don’t capture conversations at the airport. Being clear with customers about what data is being collected is important,” shared an airline executive with Ai.

Once airlines get closer to capturing emotional-data emanating from an offline environment, this means they can have better understanding of the travel cycle since they already have an astute data strategy in place.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the retailing and NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: Understanding Oman Air's NDC implementation journey

First Published on 22nd February, 2019

Ai Editorial: Oman Air has chosen a PSS agnostic middle ware as it finalized its offer and order management solution, and is ready with its NDC API. Ai's Ritesh Gupta understands how the airline is counting upon this move as a stepping stone for NDC implementation

 

The journey of gearing up for today's data economy and digital era demands deep introspection, especially in case of full-service carriers.

One aspect of this transformation is the domain-specific systems that are going to serve operational/ service and commercial requirements of an airline.

In this context, how airlines deal with legacy technology, opt for systems that are open and accessible, destroy data silos and old complicated message exchange systems, avail the NDC standard for a consistent front-end retail experience and then capitalize on it to modernize and simplify airlines’ back office functions, focus on their own APIs, sharpen data processing capability etc. becomes the key.

Each airline has its own journey for retailing, but the way all the carriers are going about crafting priced and interline offers, and ensuring there are no tickets in the future is where the role of Offer and Order Management system comes into the play.

On recent example is Oman Air opting to integrate the Offer and Order Management Solution (OfrMS) from TPConnects to enhance its personalized retailing capabilities and NDC-enabled distribution, with air and non-air ancillaries. Airlines are working with traditional means of distribution (via the existing fares filing and scheduling route) as well as stepping up their NDC channel, too.

If the partners are capable of consuming the complete NDC APIs, Oman Air is capable of providing NDC API at this stage.

"It's a transformation process for the airlines.  We have seen the aggressiveness in moving towards NDC@Scale (a minimum set of recognized capabilities to drive volumes of NDC transactions towards 2020) at Oman Air," says Rajendran Vellapalath, CEO, TPConnects.

Foundation for NDC implementation

For those focused on NDC, new certification levels or NDC@Scale are significant developments. As Rajendran mentioned, driving up volumes of NDC transactions calls for progress on several counts - technical set up, organizational set up, use cases etc.

Oman Air has chosen TPConnects' NDC Gateway middle ware offer and order management solution. It is being described as a PSS agnostic middle ware, integrated with all the user interfaces. The same offering, according to Rajendran, is a scalable, interoperable and SaaS platform deployed by other airlines, too, including Saudi Arabian Airlines and Air Mauritus.

In essence, Oman Air can focus on any number of travel sellers whether IATA - with the capability to report transactions to BSP/ ARC through IATA Financial Gateway (IFG) or NDC Link integrated to the middle ware, airline.com with a CMS, mobile application and corporate booking tool. 

"We provide airlines the capability to create their own NDC API out to any seller, OTAs or meta-search engines from the middle ware, which is also integrated with non-air components like hotels, cars, transfers, etc., mentioned Rajendran. Also, Oman Air is now equipped with a capability to push an offer from the middle ware to a passenger irrespective of which channel (user interface) the passenger uses depending on the value to the airline and personalized needs of the passenger.  

A middle ware like this is being counted upon as a stepping stone for NDC implementation.

A highlight is the utility of the user interface, along with reporting transactions to the BSP/ ARC airlines, that can replicate the existing capabilities which are currently available on the current traditional channel. "The traditional capabilities also include the multi-city travels, group travel management, after sales servicing etc.," said Rajendran.

As for being in control, he shared that merchandising can be managed from the middle ware including rich media, cabin fares, ancillaries, persona based business rules etc. Also, using the business rules at the NDC Gateway,  the airline can craft its own offers outside of the PSS currently and push the same to any channel.

He added, "In the first phase using the business rules on the middle ware the airline can start the basic personalized offers."

For example, setting up a business rule to provide x% discount or bundle an ancillary or offer a complimentary upgrade to a passenger with x amount of miles in a low load factor cabin flying from x origin to y destination  sold through xyz travel agency in a specific currency. Plus, during this phase, Oman Air can focus on rich media, air ancillaries and non air ancillaries. The airline would work with legacy technology and new NDC-based technology in parallel. "Since the middle ware is integrated with IFG (IATA Financial Gateway) any changes that happens outside of the filed fares at this stage is reported to the BSP/ARC using IATA Dish 22 format," he said.

This is where Oman Air stands - end-to-end offer and order management including servicing the passengers and partners.

In Phase 2, airlines will have the capability to have dynamic pricing depending on market complexity, internal factors like load factors, cost etc, value of passenger etc through upgrading the business rules on the middle ware. This will also have persona-based offers and order management, shared Rajendran.

"Airlines recognize the importance of amending the filed fares, packaging air and non-air ancillaries based on business rules they have opted for the BSP/ ARC reporting from the Middle Ware using IFG/ NDCLink," said Rajendran.  Oman Air has focused on complete shopping capabilities, and order and servicing capabilities including retrieve booking, exchange, cancel, voluntary and involuntary change, bundle and unbundle packages, report transactions to BSP/ARC and payment using credit/debit cards, BSP cash settlement, agency identification, miles and upfront cash deposit etc.

Expectedly, Oman Air is consuming interline through traditional ways at this juncture.

The role of agents

There has been discussion around the implications of NDC channels being introduced by airlines for travel agents. Agents can connect via NDC XML API or an approved technology partner connection, but these platforms typically do not have a customer-facing user interface (UX or GUI). Direct connectivity isn’t new, so how are agencies looking at this commercial association considering they have to prepare themselves?

"The various channels (APIs and airlines' own user interfaces) introduced by airlines is not going to help airlines to scale and generate NDC transaction volumes.  The sellers (travel agents) are already dealing with multiple screens and they will be least interested to switch between multiple UIs provided by each airline.  Out of the complete IATA registered travel agents, 99% of them doesn't even have a website today forget about booking engine to connect the NDC APIs provided by any the airlines," acknowledged Rajendran.

Considering the challenges, certain airlines in the last couple of years have been incentivizing the agents directly for using the NDC Channels (APIs or the user interface) and this in addition to implementing GDS surcharges. Rajendran categorically mentioned that travel agents should have their own supplier agnostic systems going forward.

NDC on track

NDC has been around for more than six years now, but it is making steady progress. "NDC@Scale is right on track," said Rajendran, who added that ONE Order will take some time as it's a major transformation project which will see major changes in 2020.

"NDC is new for airlines and travel sellers and it has major implications on their existing processes," underlined Rajendran.

Citing an example, he said his team is focused on supporting airlines with an implementation guide that is being constantly being updated, dedicated resources, established and documented registration process for NDC API access, new partner on-boarding policy, bug tracking tool, SLA in place on issue management (i.e. debugging, error solving, acknowledgement time) etc.

Rajendran is confident that as new offerings emerge for both airline and agents, such stakeholders are going to benefit from transformation underway.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the retailing and NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: Making mobile app count - easyJet shows the way

First Published on 13th February, 2018

Ai Editorial: Rather than only focusing on incremental revenue, easyJet has been looking at ways to capitalize on what role mobile devices can play as assistant and in turn take care of tedious tasks that drain out a passenger because of uncertainty, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

There are certain aspects of air travel that make it strenuous or uncertain. In this context, easyJet has excelled as a carrier, progressing with intuitive and simple mobile user experience (UX) to offer assistance where it is needed.

The latest move announced this week – availing augmented reality technology to let passengers scan their cabin bag and assess whether the same falls within the maximum cabin bag dimensions. The new app feature, which uses Apple’s ARKit 2 technology, is available on iOS initially and is a part of easyJet’s app. According to the airline, the scan itself provides an on-screen 3D box which when combined with the phone’s camera sizes the cabin bag and reveals whether it measures within the allowed dimensions.

Airlines selling air ancillaries including bags – be it for cabin bag or check-in luggage – isn’t new. Even in scenarios where airlines have been accentuating on the fact that they offer generous cabin baggage allowances, the onus is on passengers to ensure their bags/ luggage fits in the criteria. And this can make travellers anxious considering that there are times when one isn’t sure about the size of the bag they have chosen for travelling. easyJet intends to cut down on unexpected baggage queries on arrival.

Making mobile count 

easyJet has made steady progress when it comes to improving upon mobile interactions during various stages of a traveller’s journey. The way the airline manages its mobile app, which has now surpassed 30 million downloads, shows how mobile experience can be enhanced:

1.     Mobile isn’t just about incremental revenue: Airlines like easyJet have shown that the real opportunity lies in aiding customers throughout the booking funnel, be it for the dreaming phase, the booking phase, the day of travel etc. With easyJet allowing passengers to use their mobile app to allay their concerns, it not only simplifies the whole experience, but leaves a positive impact since the airline is leaving an impression of being an ally in this case. Also, revenue generation goes up as users find the app more useful. Travellers booked around 27% of all e-commerce bookings through the airline's mobile platforms last financial year, an increase of 4.5 percentage points over the previous year. The airline mentioned that this can be attributed to functionality and accessibility improving further. Taking notice of a cart abandonment and stepping up the conversion rate via a push notification, email or in-app messaging is important, but shouldn’t be the only focus. (As per the result for FY ending September last year, easyJet shared that ancillary revenue per seat increased by 11.7% to £12.71 (2017: £11.38)).

2.     Visualizing the journey experience on mobile: The blend of mobile design/ UX, capitalizing on intrinsic features plus emerging technology, can help in crafting intuitive experiences. Letting users to scan their bag is an apt example. Airlines know their product/ the travel journey inside out and by alleviating discomfort out of the monotonous tasks, they can benefit in a big way. Rather than leaving travellers look for help on 3rd party digital channels or even exploring things to be done on their own, airlines end up sharing vital information and ensure the ownership of the experience stays with them. According to the airline, 29% of customers used mobile boarding passes last year, up 4.5 percentage points from 2017.

3.     Connecting dots between what travellers are looking for: Late last year the airline introduced a feature on its app that allows users to instantly book flights after they share photographs they come across on Instagram. The tool merges the digital and real world, capturing the spontaneity of easyJet’s customers through an instantaneous image booking system. The feature uses advanced image recognition technology to identify the location and leverages Microsoft Azure APIs to match the photo to the easyJet destination. Once a user shares photos or download them on the easyJet app, then users are suggested the nearest airport. The carrier pre-populates the booking form with details.

4.     Stickiness of the app: Quite often travel e-commerce brands struggle with the stickiness of the app. Being a part of those 7-10 apps that are opened often isn’t easy for travel brands, but with features such as these airlines can give multiple reasons to a passenger to open the app. It is not uncommon to read tips about dos and don’ts when it comes to mobile apps even today. Brands struggle to keep the user experience succinct- struggle with the way they manage permission requests, push notifications etc. On the other hand easyJet has shown that with a virtuous design and apt tools that take care of the journey on the day of travel, passengers would build affiliation with the app. As the app is used frequently, travel brands can make the most of data trail (along with other 1st party data), airlines can strengthen their own ecosystem to truly understand where and why people are planning to travel. Once you have a user-specific data, you can understand the purchase journey and also what to recommend.

 

How is your mobile app faring? 

Explore the same at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).This year’s theme - Getting your Customer Experience to be First Class!

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: For dynamic pricing to work, what sort of leap is needed?

First Published on 28th January, 2019

Ai Editorial: The lure of banking on data sources and artificial intelligence to vastly improve on pricing for all channels in real-time can’t be ignored. But how can airlines, associated with the concept of booking classes and published fares over the years, take a vital step, probes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

Calculating the availability of a seat in real-time and pricing what is to be offered accordingly is one of the most intriguing facets of the overall offer optimization.

The prevalent inflexible cabin structure or reservation booking designators is being termed as an irrelevant way of functioning in today’s digital era. As IATA asserts, every possible grouping of “service, price, conditions and customer restrictions are issued” by the carrier prior to any request even being made. These are then chosen and utilized at the time an offer is priced. The industry is attempting to overcome limitations, including the number of price points offered.

In fact, what airlines can offer isn’t just about a seat or an air ancillary. Dynamic Offer refers to a defined set of products and services, with a defined set of conditions, offered in real-time, on a one-time basis, and, in response to a request. IATA states it features contextualized and relevant offers, referencing who is making the request, Total Offer Management of both flights and ancillary products, and continuous price points.

What is being envisaged is – working on continuous pricing (the airline does not pre-define price points, prices are worked out in real-time based on particulars of a request and guided by data science) and dynamically managing the offer (including ancillary offerings; to dynamically working out several bundles, promotions and offers). There have been discussions around drifting away from distinct inventory and pricing processes, capitalizing on data sources not being counted upon and eventually banking on the prowess of artificial intelligence. Sophisticated retailing entails AI-enabled dynamic pricing, and this encompasses all channels, with the same for indirect channels being facilitated by NDC standard as airline would respond to every shopping request with a tailored offer. Since AI’s efficacy depends on the availability of the input data, capturing and processing of the data is key.

So where does the industry stand today? 

On one hand the industry is making progress, with travel technology specialists working on industry-specific systems that bank on behavioral economics and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and IATA’s standard NDC envisioning up all offers being crafted from airlines’ Offer Management System with no filed fares to be used. There are offerings that work in conjunction with both ATPCO-based fares as well as non-ATPCO fares managed directly by the airline. On the other, the decades old methodology of pricing an itinerary, for instance, in case of two full-service carriers combining to serve a passenger means that taking a big leap isn’t a straightforward task.

“Dynamic pricing is very complicated. There are a couple of pilots at this juncture (pricing engines with such capabilities starting to emerge or being developed today). The industry is getting closer, with specialists getting ready for implementation,” shared a source. “Implementations have different aspects to it though. Considering that an airline has a large portion of revenue being garnered via a GDS or features an interline partner (since airlines currently publish fares to specialized organizations managing fare and rule data which is accessed by entities like GDSs), then it would need filing of fares of pricing an itinerary. It's difficult to collaborate with interline and codeshare partners on joint itineraries. The indirect distribution systems rely entirely on booking classes and published fares. It would take a while for dynamic pricing to take full adaptation into the industry.” This aspect can’t be ignored as current functioning is deeply entrenched, since booking classes also feature in many associated processes - in corporate travel contracts, agency agreements, and interline and codeshare agreements.

One big leap 

So what can be the turning point?

The executive explained: “It would take one of the biggest alliances to do this. That would give a critical mass to dynamic pricing.”

“Airlines, as an industry, are unique in a way. They work with competitors to complete an itinerary of a passenger. If one airline can do dynamic pricing and the other can’t, then the former has to go to the lowest common denominator, which means it can’t be done. If both can do it, then dynamic pricing would attain depth. Till the point 2-3 big airlines move deeply into this, partnerships get formed with a certain level of sophistication, filing of fares would remain (for a considerable period of time).”

Retailing for airlines as desired in today’s digital era requires negating several challenges, and the list includes distribution and technological-related ones for all airline commercial systems. Other areas include change management, people with the right skill set and approach (for instance, growth mindset), and training people. But such transformation won’t be easy, considering reliance on booking classes and published fares. Also, as IATA also acknowledges, the implementation of Dynamic Offer Creation involves a parallel transformation within distribution and internal systems that will necessitate a different outlook and considerable financing in the time to come. 

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the retailing and NDC at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

Ai Editorial: 3 considerations for laser-sharp API strategy

First Published on 23rd January, 2019

Ai Editorial: API connectivity isn’t new but airlines need to dig deeper while working on technical considerations and designing of APIs, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta

 

The battle for capturing data trail of consumers is an intriguing one. Making the most of 1st party data is imperative for every retailer, but considering the prowess of 3rd party biggies and travel intermediaries, airlines have to ensure they are ready to serve their traffic in the best possible manner.

Rather just relying on a handful of 3rd party sources for traffic, airlines have to collectively support fragmented distribution.

In this context, the role of APIs in sustaining agility and leveraging one's own data is under scrutiny.

"An API is just about moving data," mentioned Kevin O’Shaughnessy, CityHook, during one of Ai’s workshop in Long Beach, California recently.

Few recommendations from O’Shaughnessy: 

·          First rule of setting up an API is focus on it internally (organizations can run better with their own APIs. This way they can capitalize on data from their business applications and act on it for particular needs), then limited public API and eventually privileged services.

·          API means clear boundaries and ease of reuse.

·          APIs should be easy for developers to comprehend. This means designing them with clear uniform resource identifiers and non-complex data structure.

 

Commercial considerations 

Traditional ways of selling are being challenged and displaced by ecosystem models in which organizations compete and collaborate across multiple fronts. Organizations are gearing up to push a B2B business line via API to penetrate the market faster and leverage on the economy of scale thanks to high volumes generated by partners. API connectivity isn’t new but airlines need to dig deeper while working on technical considerations and designing of APIs.

Few considerations for airlines when it comes to API strategy:

1.     Open API: Airlines are working on open APIs, opening in all dimensions except the booking capability. Earlier there used to be concerns pertaining to unintentional impact of opening up APIs - the major one being the danger of losing out on owning the customer experience.  But APIs are being designed with clear uniform resource identifiers and non-complex data structure. At the end of the day, airlines can overcome limited number of coders within their setup and can leverage the prowess of APIs in engaging with 3rd party sites at their discretion.

An established carrier, in an interview with Ai, acknowledged that their open API could be used in several foreign markets including China, except the booking capability (which is being only trialed in a certain market).

This restricted approach in China, for instance not introducing booking capability via open API isn’t surprising considering the hurdles - there is a language barrier, a broad domestic ecosystem of potential API users that follow different approaches when developing digital platforms and end-consumers with China-specific consumption characteristics. “Although travel is a global game, we do not believe in simply extending existing offerings made in our local market, but in thoughtful tailoring to the local needs with our distribution colleagues that have a substantial knowledge of this important market,” shared a senior executive working with the same airline.

2.     UI-level API: There is an opportunity to boost the conversion rate via user interface (UI) level API. Specialists recommend offering a combination of both XML or server side request and UI widget. This means full UI all the way down through the technology stack is provided. The reason: when the UI and code associated with it enables one to continuously optimize the business and improve upon the attach rate along with the revenue metrics for that business which can be airline or any B2B partner that is taking the booking from travellers. In case, airlines use their own UI and only use B2B partner’s API, the partner may not able to influence the optimization of that UI.

3.     Supporting APIs with data processing: As for those airlines trying to support distribution via their own APIs, one shouldn’t underestimate what it takes to adopt and execute on a strategy of NDC API distribution. They need to sharpen their data processing capabilities in order to process in real-time the potentially huge volumes of valuable search data from NDC APIs. Airlines need to collect and process the recent search data across all their channels. They also need to have appropriate skills to analyze this data by market segment, formulate offers, set pricing and then adjust booking engine rules to deliver this at point of search.  This has to be a continuous process of set the rules, analyze the outcome and adjust.  In a NDC world this becomes dynamic.

 

Hear from senior industry executives about the role of APIs at this year’s Ancillary Merchandising Conference, scheduled to take place in London, UK (9-11 April, 2019).

For more info about Ancillary Merchandising Conference, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

 

 

Editorials

  • Ai Video: Curbing loyalty fraud with machine learning +

    12th December, 2019 Airlines are looking at ways to curb illegitimate access to a member's loyalty account and resulting imbalance in a member’s spending or reward activity owing to hacking. Considering Read More
  • Ai Video: Nurturing loyalty via positive emotion of being rewarded +

    6th December, 2019 Airlines are evaluating ways to sharpen their respective loyalty cycles, i. e. letting a member earn and burn faster. What makes the game interesting today is how Read More
  • Ai Editorial: Gearing up for the era of automated personalisation +

    4th December, 2019 Ai Editorial: Personalisation models in e-commerce are not only looking at aspects like predicting a visitor's likelihood of conversion, but machine learning deployed to match different offer Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5