Ai Editorial: Digital transformation = getting connectivity + blend of technologies right

First Published on 10th February, 2017

Ai Editorial: Digital transformation isn’t just about dealing with archaic IT set up. Rather it’s a journey that is about getting IT architecture and connectivity right, that eventually paves way for collaborative innovation and customer-centricity, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


Which is the right way to approach digital transformation?

When we talk of the limitation of a PSS, extracting data out of a legacy set up, working on connectivity for SaaS, mobile, and the Internet of Things, delivering a connected experience…it is imperative to make sure all of this can be stitched together as part of an enterprise-level cohesive transformation.

Transformation that aptly depicts the strength of the travel product, and serves the traveller in the manner that suits them best.

It’s a huge undertaking for an organization, it’s an investment. What’s the right blend of architecture, and how to work out connectivity?

Digital transformation isn’t only about offer management

The way airlines craft an offer for a user, be it for their own distribution channel or on 3rd party platform, is undergoing a major change – creating it dynamically to offer travellers with the most relevant offer at any given time, through any point of sale. Plus there is a need to look at pricing, availability, and schedule building as part of real-time offer creation and delivery across all channels. But working only on offer management is just one aspect of transformation.

In addition to this, airlines also need to look at areas like speed-to-market and re-evaluate their connectivity approaches.

API-led connectivity can bring a change, and there are tangible benefits that are being worked upon. For instance, flydubai via its API-led connectivity approach is looking to cut down on passenger queues at airports with mobile check-in, speed up departure gate boarding etc. As for merchandising, the airline intends to bundle its offerings with supplementary services such as rental cars, hotels and adjust prices accordingly.

Such connectivity enables us to view the estimated pickup time on a map (Google Maps) when we are waiting for our cab service ordered via Uber. So how can airlines get closer to attaining such proficiency, which along the way can also improve upon overall merchandising?

API-led architecture

In a recent webinar, Mohammed Ahteshamuddin, VP, IT-PSS and Customer Experience, Dubai-based flydubai stressed on the need to transform, and this stands true for even those carriers that aren’t even decade old and carry no or less “legacy baggage”. In fact, LCCs of today are distributing via GDSs, interline partners, code-sharing etc. and this along with the call to serve today’s “always-connected consumer” calls for a change.

Need for transformation emanates from the fact that there are maintenance-related and scalability issues, dealing with data silos, monolithic systems etc.  

Ahteshamuddin, referring to digital transformation, underlined the significance of collaborative innovation via open API strategy in order to connect, collaborate and share, as well development of a platform for digital interactions and transformation. Such architecture is one critical aspect of digital transformation, and it is all about agility and speed-to-market. Importantly referring to how architecture has evolved over the years, starting from 1960’s to service-oriented architecture or SOA and eventually microservices-oriented, Ahteshamuddin said microservices archicture offers a huge opportunity to set up a scalable and available platform and also deliver contextualized personal services through APIs. Microservices are one component of working on digital transformation that are required to meet modern business demands. With it, an application is broken into smaller, completely independent components, enabling them to have greater agility, scalability, and availability. Such offering allows developers to focus on exact areas without adding unwarranted intricacies to deployment or other administrative tasks that are usually associated with isolated services.

Implementing such architecture

So how did flydubai go about choosing its API-led architecture?

Ahteshamuddin mentioned that the team, which worked with MuleSoft, chose to focus on the blend of service-oriented architecture, microservices and APIs. This was done to find a way to unlock data from legacy systems via an integration hub via SOA; flexible, scalable and available components, for composing these into more business usable assets; and APIs to standardize and simplify the interfaces. One vital area where airlines end up making progress is the resulting decentralised access to data and capabilities while not compromising on governance. At the same time, one needs to work on security capabilities for public facing APIs, e. g. presentation of data in a governed fashion. Entities need to focus on application of logic to data, such as transformation and enrichment, and access to source data, whether from physical systems, or from external services.

As for connectivity approach, multiple building blocks is the way to go in order to attain agility and flexibility.

The first layer, as explained by flydubai and MuleSoft, is systems APIs (for accessing underlying systems of record), second is process APIs (provide access to non-central data, designed specifically for processes in an organisation) and experience APIs (optimization of content, paving way for channels to access data in a desired format and accessibility for devices such as wearables, how the information is displayed on any particular device). “On this platform we have managed to transform the core system (PSS) of the airline that needs to be ready for the digital transformation. We have designed the middleware around offer management, order management and customer management. For offer management, we integrated pricing engine and merchandising platform integrated via MuleSoft hybrid integration platform, and with microservices components of availability, we have built on the offer management API. Similarly, the team has worked on order management API (encompassing sell, book, ticket, payment etc.). Also, the customer management component system interacts with the loyalty and CRM systems to create the single source of customer APIs. The API gateway exposes all these APIs to business partners.

In additon to architecture and connectivity, one also needs to focus on people – employees and travellers. For instance, if we talk of data, it alone cannot provoke change - rather accessibility, acting on it, training, incentivizing employees and ending up with the development of a customer-centric culture is key.

Making the most of APIs

So flydubai has worked on their API gateway powered by their platform, publishing end-to-end PSS API in public domain. APIs are available for flight and fare availability, ticket issuance, payment etc. and, as Ahteshamuddin says, one can build own booking engine on “our APIs”.

The objective of the airline is to collaborate with various stakeholders, primarily divided into three groups - business partners including OTAs, payment partners etc. (say enabling OTAs to build custom search and booking functions), user community including operators, agents, corporate clients (say for tour packages to include flights and travel services using  APIs or a corporate ensuring bookings are as per travel policy) and the developer community (for creating mobile and IoT applications).

How has this undertaking shaped up? Ahteshamuddin stated that agility and speed-to-market has been demonstrated with integration of the carrier’s reservation system into myIDTravel portal, a portal for airline staff to book tickets), and this project from design to going live was done in two weeks. Also, the airline garnered the IATA NDC Level 3 certification. As for the migration to the platform, the airline is facilitating migration of partners previously associated via web service page, but in terms of progress, flydubai has over 60 OTAs, meta-search engines including Skyscanner and KAYAK, IT providers and payment specialists. 

And finally, other than facilitating new apps based on the airline’s developer portal, the plan is to improvise on an ongoing basis to capitalize on data and analytics to personalise the experience. For instance, intelligence derived from machine learning can make product recommendations based on activity patterns or  ease off strict rules that force even legitimate customers to identify themselves at the time of payment. Similarly, the team is also looking at areas like shopping experience (few months ago easyjet introduced a mysterious plane door to inspire people to travel), as well as seamless, connected travel experience.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

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