First Published on 24th April, 2017
Airlines need to look at several areas, including the organizational impact, IT, issues associated with access to data and their innate nature to detest change, in order to embrace digital transformation.
Where do airlines stand today when we talk of delivering a seamless, relevant experience throughout the passenger journey?
Ai’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Orlando, Florida-based Ryan Harris, Director of the Americas, JR Technologies, about the same:
Ai: Can you explain what sort of transformation is required by airlines – IT infrastructure and APIs - to gear up for offer management, order management and customer management in the best possible manner?
Ryan Harris: There is not an easy answer to this question, mainly because the operations and business goals of each airline is different than any other airline. But, it starts with internal education. The stakeholders within the entire corporate structure need to know what is coming and how it will affect not only their own business line, but also all the other lines in the company.
Next important step is to set your organizational goals and diligently plan how you are going to get there. Some of the biggest difficulties I see for most companies won’t be the technical changes, but the organizational changes that come with that through the changes in required business functions. For example, with a complete transition to NDC distribution and One Order, there is no longer a need to file fares. What do you do with your fares department, which is sometimes a rather large asset of human and information assets? Do you just cut the labor and salary cost? Do you transition them to other departments? If you transition them, how do you plan the required training while they are still providing a business-critical function? These are the types of issues that I see as a much bigger challenge to address, not just the technical side.
But, of course, you can’t just forget the technical side. This is an industry transition, not just a company, so while you may be fully ready to jump in and get into the Offer-Order management pool, your interline partners will likely still require the legacy connectivity to be maintained and you will still need the legacy systems to distribute through traditional GDS channels until a critical mass is built in the NDC Aggregator channel to replace it.
Ai: Flydubai has worked out end-to-end PSS API in public domain. How do you assess moves like these when we talk of collaborative approach towards serving passengers in the best possible manner?
Ryan Harris: Public APIs and the entire open-source community, I personally think, have been some of the greatest innovators in the digital revolution since the beginning.
Making things public and open generally leads to exposure to people outside the box. They can think of things that some of us in the industry just can’t conceive. Keeping things closed forces tunnel vision and can stifle creativity.
I think the industry is starting to come around a little bit on releasing public API’s, at least high-level. For example, the NDC, and eventually One Order, XML schemas are currently available for public download through IATA. This means that anyone can get them and create any sort of interface that they want, a fact that IATA itself has leveraged through its several Hackathons. I’ve been to a few of them now and it’s interesting to see how people from outside the industry want to interact with the industry. Most are good, some are questionable, but there are a few brilliant ideas that come from some of these participants. Events like that are only possible because of the open-source approach that IATA is taking on the industry’s behalf.
Ai: How can the power of APIs enable airlines to reach out to audience at the right time via the interface they chose to interact with? For instance, for instance, if I am chatting with a friend on WeChat or Facebook Messenger and planning my next flight, how can a link for search and booking be worked out by various partners via APIs?
Ryan Harris:That is very much up to the limits of the individual airline, which may be decided by either the willingness or ability of their system providers. Some of the airlines with the greatest ability in this area are the ones that run their own systems completely and can do whatever they want to do with it. The problem is, there are very few airlines in the world that either want to take that level of involvement or can afford to do it.
But, this also gets us back to the question of the open API. The airline industry is, by its competitive nature, very adverse to openness. We are also, by our safety-conscious nature, very resistant to change. An airline or a provider can fully publish interactive APIs to the public today, and it would likely be picked up and built upon in creative fashion. But, I remember a few years ago, there was a little bubble for apps that could consolidate all your loyalty points and show you in one screen what your balances were and I found it quite useful. But then one airline blocked access, then another, and another, until eventually there was no source for these apps to access. The reasons varied from security to lack of brand exposure, which after all, is the actual goal of a loyalty program, but the result was that the airlines removed that data source from the public domain and the innovation that was built on that data was quickly destroyed.
So, can something like this be done today? Probably. Will it be easier tomorrow? Likely. But it’s going to be up to someone in the industry to open the door and let the people in to do it.
Ai: So, how can airlines serve passengers in a seamlessness and relevant manner throughout their journey? Can the blend of data, cloud, IT, content and emerging consumer technologies propel ancillary revenue?
Ryan Harris: Knowledge is power. There are entire industries based on nothing more than the data surrounding an individual person’s movements and economic activity. There are likely a lot of things that would be completely possible from marketing, promotions and sales prospective through the data available in today’s mobile devices and the Internet of Things. There are only three issues that I see causing limitations, and technology is not one of them.
The first is consensual, as in most countries, companies are required by law for you, as the consumer, to opt-in to allowing the collection of that data by a company. The second is legal, as again, most companies are limited by the law as to what they can do with the data you allow them to collect.
To be honest, the third limiting factor, in my opinion, is what I call the “Creepy Factor”. I still get a little skeptical when an idea or a product that I was just talking about in a face-to-face conversation shows up in an ad on a website. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but maybe not, I don’t know. But, the fact remains that most people are not prepared to fully give in to the artificial intelligence big data machine telling us everything we want when we want it, even though it is pretty much possible today. If you build in too much of this predictive AI, you run the risk of spooking your customers and seeing exactly the opposite result that you were looking for.
So, yes, it is possible, but with some careful restrictions and customer education.
Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this week.
Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017;
Location: Mallorca, Spain
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