The emergence of low-cost airlines has intensified competition throughout the industry. But as well as forcing airlines to cut costs and streamline processes the low-cost carriers have also changed customers' expectations of the range of services offered, for example being able to book tickets online.
Delivering the quality of service expected by customers can be a challenge. Airline Icelandair calculated customers took 11 minutes to book a ticket using its systems; that was potentially sufficient disincentive to present a risk to the business. The ticket booking system was also creaking under the strain of the sheer number of systems with which it had to interact.
"We had looked at where we were going with the business, and that was moving sales onto the Web," says Hjörtur Thorgilsson, CIO at Icelandair. "But the back-office processes that were supporting this were not in good shape."
Integration issues were nothing new, says Thorgilsson: "We'd looked at a number of ways before, screen scraping for example. But these were very complicated." In 2003, Icelandair decided on a new approach. Through evaluating its business processes, it became obvious that its financial systems were at the heart of all of its operations. Thorgilsson and his team decided to introduce a services-oriented architecture (SOA) that would start rationalising the existing architectural "spaghetti".
Icelandair chose to implement the Integration Platform from WebMethods as its hub for linking its various best-of-breed solutions. This involved working with a local services company to review current processes and build adaptors where necessary. By choosing the flight reservation system as a pilot project, the IT department was able to develop an approach that was repeatable in other areas, and would deliver a speedy validation of the new architecture.
The integration hub – christened ‘Boris' – was built within three months and since its implementation in Spring 2003 has been rolled out at every Icelandair sales office. Over 130,000 bookings have been processed using the system, and Icelandair has since been able to drive additional value from the system by linking with its frequent flyer programme, ensuring that customers are given the best available offers when they are booking.
Almost everybody in the company is now familiar with Boris, says Thorgilsson. "They don't know about services-oriented architecture, but they are really interested in Boris because we have been able to show the staff the value of the project. We have been able to humanise a robotic application."