Think about 2016 in 3 dates: 14th January, 20th July and 8th August. Hundreds and thousands of passengers of JetBlue, Southwest and Delta will probably remember one of those dates, because they were stranded somewhere in an airport as a result of an airline computer system outage.
It is hard to evaluate the tangible and intangible long-term consequences for the airlines but just for Delta the figure of $150M was quoted, not counting the costs of a damaged reputation that may turn out costly to regain.
The elephant in eagle clothes
Though the reasons behind airline outages vary, there is a consensus in the industry to recognize the increasing risk caused by the combination of the architecture of the airlines’ systems and the increase of complexity caused by new devices like mobile and more demanding practices like metasearch or merchandising.
For all airlines, the heart of their passenger management is a ‘PSS’ (Passenger Service System). Central systems built some 40 years ago (with the most recent one already almost 20 years old), launched at a time where the internet was just emerging, the word ‘smartphone’ did not exist, and merchandising, personalization, and NDC were not on the radar of airlines’ execs.
Airlines have increased their investment to adapt. According to SITA Airline Trends 2016 survey, nearly 80% of airlines plan major investments in passenger services via smartphones, 64% in generating ancillary revenues and 40% for IATA’s New Distribution Capability. But this is done by building more layers on top of their PSS, not by changing the PSS itself.
For a reason: adapting and changing their PSS will take years and millions of dollars. In the digital world airlines have a new marketing idea, want to experiment it the following week and will certainly improve or change it a month later. To accommodate such requirements, deliver user-friendly interfaces, or deliver innovative apps, airlines built additional layers on top of their PSS and hide the ‘old stuff’ behind the scene.
As a result, every time a passenger queries an airline from the web or a smartphone, uses a cool inspiration search, beyond the slick graphic interface the request is actually processed by the PSS… which increases the stress on that PSS and contributes to make it the single point of failure.
Time to find solutions ‘off-PSS’
Some airlines see their internal systems as a ‘cost per PB’ but the recent events prove it should be time to invest in the core processing capabilities of their systems, and not only on the sales and marketing tools.
The question is how?
The PSS market is dominated by Amadeus and Sabre, both with a full-fledged suite which locks their customers for 10 years. Should they consider a priority to evolve their PSS rather than cashing in on the investments made 15 years ago, it will still take years and millions of dollars investment to both airlines and vendors. Alternative solutions exist, offering agility and resiliency. Typically separate applications that interact with the PSS but take over the heavy-lifting instead of adding layers around the PSS core. Smaller PSS like Radixx, Hitit, IBS, who rely on their agility and flexibility to keep their customers happy, encourage such off-PSS solutions provided by their IT partners.
An ‘off-PSS’ solutions has tangible benefits from day 1: it supports a variety of business applications, ranging from shopping and pricing for web sites, distribution to metasearch or inspiration search, processing billions of calculations in the platform without hitting the PSS. In addition to the improved resilience, customers gain in flexibility, being able to quickly create and test sales offer to answer market needs.
When reviewing architectures that are able to accommodate the new NDC distribution standard, IATA themselves recommend to consider architectures ‘off-PSS’ because PSS will not be agile enough to evolve as fast as NDC, and more generally as the evolution of merchandising and digital will require. Airlines who look to transform their retailing capability, with a sound use of their dollars and without paying the toll of a weakened IT infrastructure, may want to think ‘off-PSS’.
About the AuthorMore Content by Gary Mayger