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

 

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