19 July 2010

So What’s The Real Problem and What’s The Real Answer?

The launch of Open Axis as the standards group for Airlines in Ancillary Services and Direct Connections last week caused a bit of a stir. It has definitely miffed a lot of people. The Legacy GDSs and those who depend on them are good examples of that camp. Indeed also last week at the same time that the Open Axis group was holding its inaugural press conference – in Washington there were hearings where outraged players were moaning that the airlines were not playing ball and providing the Ancillary Services information to the GDSs. I never thought I would see the day when a Hearing in the US Capitol would be held to support the GDSs!

In sifting through the responses over the past few days – I was enjoying a degree of reading how different groups want to see it play out. There is a very good article by Ian Tunncliffe in Travel Technology Update. (Sorry this is by subscription only). So I will give you the essence. Travel Industry Technology needs to get a life and the debate over standards is irrelevant to a market where a vendor can deploy a solution such as an iPad and get traction of thousands of Apps and users without paying any attention to such standard. (OK so this was my interpretation of the piece but I am sure Ian will forgive me for this latitude).

What’s more he is right.

The Professor definitely believes that standards help and has already put his money where his mouth is by endorsing the Open Axis standard (via my alter ego). I am also a great advocate of the Open Travel Alliance and I really hope that the two bodies come to an accommodation if nothing else.

So are these views inconsistent?

Actually not in my view and here is why. I have for a long time believed that the rigid structure of the legacy GDS controlled travel workflow restrained innovation not to mention the free flow of commerce. In the early 1980s it was very useful for piggy back technologies such as Lanyon Boards. In the 1990s the standards enabled the OTAs to come into being. However the real Travel 2.0 the one we all use didn’t want to be constrained. In the past 5 years new businesses in search and itinerary management emerged and have done a very good job. Much better than the GDSs did. So the footprint of the legacy GDS shrank further and further inwards. Having worked in extensively in the OTA world I have witnessed all the major functions of the GDS have been replicated and indeed far exceeded bar one. To wit:

Fare Search – OTAs do better – and Meta Search does just as well particularly in combining fares and availability
Availability – OTAs do better in presentation
File Management/Itinerary – OTAs do better – and Itinerary management services do even better
Customer Management – OTAs do better
Supply Chain access – GDSs do better.

Then add Web 2.0 with the Social components to it and there is no way for the legacy GDSs to hope to match that capability. Even in the interaction of their customer users they have abandoned their dedicated networks in favour of web based solutions.

With the commercial model being driven by the supply chain component – it was only natural that for both commercial and technical reasons (as well as a host of others) that the suppliers would want to tap into the broader market where innovation and customers live. This meant that there was an inevitability about the Supply side wanting to open up access to the general market. (I need not elaborate for my readers that the restraint of the GDS so called “incentives” to users is an evil thing in my view.)
And this is not just theory of the world being a happy place where the GDS model alone addresses distribution to the open market. The legacy GDS global market share of airline traffic has been falling steadily for years. Eroded by both the emergence of LCCs and the greater direct distribution by the Full Service Network Carriers.

Returning to my questions… The real problem has been that the bootstrapping of airline and travel IT to extend the old GDS based model has reached the end of its life cycle. And yes – a new world where Apps can be built and deployed in hours vs years in a far less rigid world has become the de facto standard. Open Access by what ever name has become the norm. The real answer is that we have to now go back to the core reservations systems providers – the PSS vendors – and start beating the drum of revolution. Now is the time for the IT infrastructure to become open and decidedly more nimble. I can imagine that the airlines will not like this. Decidedly the big hosting companies – Amadeus, Sabre and HP/EDS will hate it. The GDSs who have depended on this closed architecture for years are going to be very unhappy. But in my view they have no choice but to change and reform. Then we can stop having IT get in the way of business.

So what are we waiting for?

1 comment:

SeHo said...

I Agree 100%. Thanks for broadcasting these observations and arguments for a long overdue and needed industry change. I would add; Ready or not it is happening with or without you.