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Martin Cowen is a contributing editor to the Amadeus Blog. He is a freelance writer, editor and moderator with a global perspective on B2B travel technology and B2C trends.
“Simple, agile, open. Not the words you would usually associate with Amadeus”. So said Christophe Bousquet, Senior VP for Airline R&D at Amadeus, in front of 300 or so customers at the recent Amadeus Airline Executive Summit held in Istanbul.
Bousquet has earnt the right to veer from the party line. He has been with Amadeus for thirty years or so, holding several senior roles across Amadeus’ GDS and airline IT business (as was), giving him front-line experience of instigating and managing change at a global tech company.
The “simple, agile and open” mantra is behind Amadeus’ efforts to consign the somewhat static GDS acronym to the great recycle bin of tech – instead, the phrase of choice is now the more dynamic Live Travel Space,
which is “an open, dynamic, and connected space where all industry players can join and collaborate to deliver memorable journeys”.
Simple is a word that needs some PR of its own. In tech, the word is misleading – the simpler something is on the front end, the more complicated it is behind the scenes – a lot of effort is required to simplify how airline customers can not only access Amadeus’ products and services through the new platform but also to simplify how these products and services can be integrated into other workflows.
Part of the rationale behind simplifying the platform is that Amadeus’ customers’ customers – the passengers – also want simple. But, as airlines know, travellers also want personalisation and inspiration, sub-second response times to search, secure payments, a great deal on the price, multi-channel consistency, notifications and more. As passengers become more demanding, so too are the RFPs Amadeus – and the wider airline tech industry – get from airlines.
Internally, Amadeus has broken the platform down into four layers, so that airlines with a defined use case can engage with specific areas within the layers. So, there is a capabilities layer, a data and analytics layer and a commerce layer. All three support the experience layer, which frames the passenger’s digital interactions with the airline and supports the real-world real-time delivery of the travel experience.
The idea is to make it simple for airlines to engage with Amadeus so that their engagement with passengers is simple too.
The openness of the platform allows existing and new partners to connect with existing Amadeus products – and each other’s – to create services for airlines that can help them meet the demands of today’s traveller, generating additional and/or incremental revenues or simply just providing a better travel experience for passengers.
David Doctor, EVP, Strategy & Marketing for Airlines said in his session that the platform “allows airlines freedom and flexibility to grow with partners, with best of breed providers, including some competitors of Amadeus”. This “ecosystem of partnerships” is currently populated by large global tech and service companies, start-ups, payment providers and businesses Amadeus has invested in.
The latest partner to sign up is Salesforce, with a new service optimizer app. The benefits, Doctor said, are “a complete view of the traveller for seamless customer journeys and efficiencies for airlines”.
By connecting Amadeus’ Airline Platform with Salesforce’s customer relationship management platform, airlines will be able to build a personalised relationship with their customer throughout the journey. The best-case-scenario promo video shows how a disrupted journey can be handled when SMS flight delay alerts, messaging and conversational bots, call centre staff, loyalty scheme, even the cabin crew know what’s going on and have access to relevant data, to make decisions in real-time.
Taimur Khan from Salesforce explained that “every interaction shapes the customer experience” and insights come from “data applied at the point of engagement, putting data to work at the moment of truth”.
And while the full benefits of the Salesforce tie-up are still being worked on, there is one concrete, ready-to-go product which has come out of the new platform –“Avia Flight Compare” has been developed in partnership with Celerity. This plug-in for airline dotcoms allows passengers to compare similar itineraries offered by the same carrier on the same screen. Itineraries can then be saved, shared and booked.
In practice, airlines should see better conversions, lower customer acquisition costs and more upsell and cross-sell opportunities because of Avia. In theory, it reinforces that an open airline platform brings new players into the ecosystem. Celerity isn’t a travel tech player, it is “a business acceleration consultancy” which was bought in 2015 by AUSY, a “consulting and engineering firm in advanced technologies”, listed in France.
An open airline platform makes it easier for international enterprise tech firms – blue-chips and start-ups alike – to sync their expertise with the travel and aviation specialists to build better products for carriers and a better experience for passengers.
The term agile has been around since 2001 and is one of the few business processes to have its own manifesto. It is about working quicker and smarter, having a timetabled template for development. It is a cornerstone of how today’s tech giants are working and the Amadeus Airline Platform is agile-first.
Amadeus’ John Lonergan, Vice President of Airlines Digital, explained to the audience that agile is being adopted at scale within the organisation. Currently 400 developers are working to an agile agenda. A year ago it was 190 and in six months’ time the target is 600. Using the agile approach, Amadeus has already built live features for 20 different airlines, covering mobile, web and messaging.
Lonergan talked about agile benefits in terms of “time to value” – the quicker something is live, the quicker it can start earning. Products are built over a number of program increments, consisting of six two-week sprints.
Concentrating on “time to value” means some projects are carried out so quickly that they hardly warrant being called a project. In a session headlined “Speeding Up Innovation”, Thomas Blood from Amazon Web Service suggested that with short and prescribed development cycles “you can get rid of 90% of your project managers as you move towards continuous innovation”.
One manifestation of agile is hackathons – a standard feature in today’s tech landscape. Hackathons allow in-house and external developers access to certain components of an airline’s IT stack. The features can be mixed and matched, sometimes with third-party features, to create something fresh.
Hackathons are not about “time to value” but more of an exercise in lateral thinking. However, by structuring its approach Amadeus has been able to bring to market value-adding features for airlines. A transactional messaging bot for groups, developed by Korean Air using Amadeus’ digital experience suite, emerged from a hack in Singapore last year. Today it is live, and also promoted a redesign of Korean’s airline dotcom, based around the fact that most Koreans are using smartphones and messaging apps.
In honour of the hack tradition, Amadeus hosted a live 30-hour hackathon throughout the event. During this competition, the winners of the two previous hackathons, Qantas and Korean Air, battled it out to produce the most viable demo, based on themes voted by event attendees, and presented the solutions at the end of the event.
Agile means that products can go live much quicker, but it also means that products can be binned before they get to market. Airlines can discover if something isn’t going to work – technically rather than commercially – early on its development and address the issues accordingly.
The mantra that “businesses can always learn from failure” is regularly trotted out at events, often glossing over that there is sometimes a human cost when something flops. Another AWS speaker at AES, Ravi Bagal, insisted that “no-one suffered a career setback” as a result of the Amazon Fire phone debacle, which was responsible for losing Amazon $170 million in 2014.
And he said that a lot of the voice-recognition built into the phones was successfully repurposed as part of Alexa.
In an airline platform context, the lesson here is that airlines and their partners can try things out without having to compromise the entire back end. Phrases such as “guardrailing” and “sandboxing” are used to describe how an enterprise can close off certain parts of its tech infrastructure, allowing developers license to experiment, while keeping other components available.
Finally, the new simple, open and agile airline platform is part of Amadeus’ move towards bolstering its tech footprint, with a focus on travel and hospitality, rather than being seen as simply a travel tech company.
Niche travel plays will continue to exist – a foundational premise of the platform is that these niche players and start-ups can partner with Amadeus and others. But at the scale that Amadeus operates, the travel expertise needs a broader tech framework in order to satisfy the ever-changing demands of airlines who in turn are having to satisfy the ever-changing needs of today’s passengers.