First Published on 5th April, 2017
Ai Editorial: Airlines, as an industry, are gradually showing signs of being ready to what it takes to be agile, open and innovative. And APIs are playing a pivotal role in this, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta.
Connectivity in today’s “connected era” is what defines every passenger experience. And this means if enterprises can facilitate what it takes to deliver a relevant, contextual, seamless experience, buoyed by apt IT architecture, data management and API plan driving operations, then they are on the right track.
This way a passenger can presented with what they are looking for on their preferred platform, be it for a chatbot or completing a transaction outside non-airline environment.
In this context, the role of API is increasingly coming to the fore. APIs or application programming interfaces are key to pushing content and information across a variety of applications. APIs aren’t just restricted to the realm of developers and IT architects, they are entrenching themselves deep into various disciplines with an airline. Effort is being made to evaluate what does it take to create, secure, control, deploy, analyze, and manage enterprise-level APIs and services for internal or external consumption.
Here we assess a couple of areas where APIs are enabling change toward agility, openness and innovation:
· There are several considerations that are driving the face of IT set up today. How to deal with production and consumption of digital services? How to connect an airline’s applications, data, and devices? How to unlock data from legacy systems? For such queries, APIs are the much-needed answer. Airlines are focusing on decentralised access to data and capabilities without any let up on the governance front. Also, numerous layers are required in order to attain agility and flexibility. In this context, the first step is systems APIs (for accessing underlying systems of record), then process APIs (for management of non-central data, worked out mainly for processes in an airline) and another set of APIs (delivery of content, for consumption of content in a certain format customized for a particular device). Today carriers are reshaping the initiatives associated with PSSs. This is being worked out by designing of a middleware around offer management, order management and customer management. Right from managing bookings and reservations out of the airline reservation system without any 3rd party’s involvement to delivery of content to any channel, airlines are trying to be control of their offering. And APIs are an integral part of this move.
· Being agile: How do companies like Amazon, Netflix etc. end up defining experiences around their offerings that end up being a benchmark for anyone in retailing or e-commerce? Experts refer to the prowess of microservice architecture, complemented by APIs. Such architecture supports agility for refining or introducing a new offering by supporting shorter build, test, and deploy cycles. Business processes and transactions are automated with the composition of microservices. IT can step up by re-wiring services into new compositions.
· As for planning and booking, airlines have been working on their APIs and offer a direct link into their host reservation system for flight search, booking and ticketing. According to IATA, any airline that deploys an NDC API to make its content available, or any agent or aggregator that uses these APIs to get that content, may apply for NDC certification. Any vendor that offers NDC products and services for airlines and travel agents can apply to be NDC-capable. (Also, NDC certification and NDC-capable statuses have three levels of attainment: Level 2 requires a more extensive use of the shopping/Offer management API, and Level 3 targets NDC end-to-end deployments.) Airlines like British Airways have been publically sharing the documentation for each API, letting developers access information related to flight offers, lowest monthly prices, flight status etc. It is being propagated that when all channels and touchpoints are going to be driven by a common set of single, industry standard API, the need to maintain multiple (channel-specific) connections would go obsolete.
Airlines are signing exclusive distribution deals, for dynamically created, personalized, and channel-specific offers under full airline control.
“All we need from airlines is an API that they deploy to us,” states Stéphane Pingaud. CEO of Berlin, Germany-based start-up flyiin, an API aggregator focused on initiating a new B2C marketplace. “We will connect the airlines to flyiin through this API, and work with the content we get through this API. Some airlines may distribute more content than others through these APIs. It is important to keep in mind that these APIs evolve and as they become more knowledgeable about their API-based distribution, the more sophisticated and rich these will get.” He added, “And yes, APIs are the delivery methods. Airlines must adjust their internal systems to make their API-based distribution as effective as possible. This includes integrating dynamic pricing and rich media distribution capabilities.”
Airlines need to build, deploy, manage and upgrade APIs in a way that depicts uniformity.
Airlines acknowledge that service interfaces need to be customer-oriented rather than being system-centric, and also looking at container-based microservices model in order to scale aptly.
Proprietary APIs are being avoided as they tend to create “one-off” implementations that make repeatability more complex and therefore more expensive. Even standardized APIs are subject to implementation interpretation which we are already seeing with the NDC APIs.
Of course, carriers have to upgrade their internal systems to be able to support API-based distribution. And then, they must re-think their own organisation: a successful API-based distribution of their product will depend on their ability to bring various departments to work together on defining and implementing their API. This is not easy, especially in organisations such as airlines that are laden with complexities.
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