Airline operations: What should replace the legacy systems?

Airline operations: What should replace the legacy systems?

As was explored in the previous blog post in the series, obsolete legacy systems are usually the result of a dangerously myopic IT strategy. Overcoming the heavy cost implications of migrating away from legacy systems could begin with looking at a cloud based approach. But that is only the first piece of the entire structure; it is critical for the new age platform to recognize and have the capacity to enable certain principles that are inherent for the business practices we can foresee for the next generation.

BBC Capital recently published an analysis of such decisions [to persist with legacy systems], comparing it to a gambler's intent of chasing losses with the hope of making a big win to offset it all. From a business management perspective, this means the airline's technology strategy may have been handicapped by the intention to avoid heavy capital costs and to prevent revenue slowdowns despite the impending promise of better efficiencies in the future.

What are some of the features that a new generation platform should ideally offer to suit the needs of a modern airline OCC? Let me list down some of the broad areas to be looked at.  

Enabling airline partnerships

As markets get broader and service demands get highly specific and elevated in quality, it makes sense for businesses to concentrate on certain areas of specialization to inorganically acquire expertise and capacity in others. But in many scenarios, the case for partnerships extends beyond capability and capacity. Certain cases of disruption management and business continuity assurance will demand more resources than an individual airline may find to be available. Strategic partnerships between groups of airlines, which can be governed effectively through the right kind of platform, enables the concept of Collaborative Disruption Management, whereby group resources are pooled to solve individual airlines' issues like staff shortages, equipment non-availability, etc.  

Effective governance is key to ensuring that such partnerships are able to realize the efficiency they have the potential for. Recognizing that despite the partnerships, each member of the group is a separate entity in itself with specific needs for data confidentiality, the ideal platform should be able to provide the right level of visibility for resource sharing without causing data leaks or customer confidentiality issues.

The solution therefore lies in a cloud based platform for airline operations management – one that is able to scale up and down according to the airline's requirements without placing great demands on infrastructure and processing power. SaaS mode implementations also provide greater level of flexibility to the end user who can access the system through a variety of devices without getting tied down to one massive system interface in a corner of the office. With minimal investment in technology infrastructure, airline companies are able to make use of volume based expenditure control, without shelling out money for a buffer of capacity which may never ever be used in the real world.

Adaptability to suit business strategy

Recognizing that there is a great level of heterogeneity in the various aspects governing an airline's operations management, it is important that the ideal platform would account for them in a feasible manner – not only helping to factor it into decision making processes, but also to enable airlines operating from multiple environments simultaneously to manage their global operations with sufficient level of granularity as demanded by the business models. The key to this is configurability of the platform.

Platforms must offer sufficient flexibility not just to support different business models for airlines, but also keep pace with the dynamic nature of the core business to deliver technology support for business strategy changes in a timely manner. Real world examples show us that sheer magnitude of reconfiguration efforts often lead to great inertia and lack of action towards initiating such projects. There must be sufficient level of configurability at the user/administrator level for immediate changes, without the need for coding or such deep IT intervention (such as a reprogramming or introduction of new code) for each change that the team desires to suit their daily operation. That would drive up costs and also result in a time investment that may offset any advantage which the OCC was planning to gain from the system modification. Thismust come from the basic architecture level of the platform and reflects the technology provider's understanding of the airline operations management industry dynamics. 

Collaborating with human expertise 

The ideal airline operations management platform isn't typically one that is expected to be a stand-alone system which eliminates the human element from the OCC. Rather, airline operations management platforms work with a set of data inputs, processing algorithms and outputs that contribute towards efficient decision making practices. The idea is to enable the human staff members (who bring to the table their practical domain knowledge and experience) with the right kind of information which they need to make the best decisions for each situation.

This is supplemented by a level of integration across various elements of the system that will ensure that the entire operations control centre is in ideal mode for problem solving, as well as synchronized with other allied departments which provide/control the resources for implementing the solution which is identified. Without such integration, there is a high risk of even a good solution failing for lack of coordination and timely action. OCC professionals, who are experts in the domain, must be bestowed with a level of flexibility to adjust their empowering platform in the best way possible towards the specific problems they are facing in a particular scenario. This is the key to ensuring efficient solutions, by focusing on the right parts of the problem and guiding the system to add value where it matters the most in a real world scenario! 

Conclusion

Key parameters in airline operations management are not as conveniently homogenous across the entire spectrum as many generic platforms may like it to be. Not all problems fall into a conveniently classifiable set of buckets, which an airline operations platform can then set about solving with easily available sets of well-defined data. This is where legacy systems often fail to fulfil their core operational objectives. They were built for a past reality which may since then have changed in many ways. Competition, customer demands, operational costs and other influencing factors which act as key inputs to the decision making may all have undergone significant changes. It is therefore important for airlines to use the right kind of models to understand them and make adjustments for sustainably efficient operation. The key lies in whether your airline operations management platform helps you tackle the predictable problems with actionable solution, and solve the unpredictable ones with quick responses which are most relevant to the situation.  


Daniel Stecher is Vice President of Airline Operations at IBS, and has more than 20 years of experience in the aviation and logistics industries. Prior to joining the IBS family, he was product manager and consultant for the schedule management, operations control and crew management product at Lufthansa Systems. Daniel is perpetually on the move, having raked up literally over a million miles of business travel in his career. He enjoys delicious home cooked food, reading books and the odd round of golf in his spare time.

Click here for more information on IBS' portfolio of solutions for the airline industry and more 

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Tuesday, 16 October 2018

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