Customer experience is a key competitive differentiator for airlines, and increasingly depends on digital channels. How could American meet its customers’ appetite for instant information and services?
Accelerated development: the move to microservices
During the negotiations for a big-picture transformation contract, American Airlines asked IBM for help with an urgent requirement – which would also act as a proof-point for IBM’s proposed way of working. The airline wanted to give customers better self-service capabilities in the event of a forced rebooking due to a major weather event disrupting operations.
While American’s algorithms typically rebook passengers on the next best flight, customers had to call the reservation desk or visit an airport agent if they wanted to discuss other options. American wanted customers to be able to see other possibilities and update their flight selection via the website, mobile app or at a self-service kiosk.
With the busy summer season approaching, the company president challenged American to deliver a new customer-facing Dynamic Rebooking app within just a few months – a challenge that could not be achieved with the legacy approach and would have taken at least twice that amount of time.
American approached IBM for help, and keen to prove its credentials, IBM stepped up to the challenge. The centerpiece of the IBM transformation is the IBM Garage Method, a holistic methodology covering technology, people, processes, and organization. As the first step in the Dynamic Rebooking project, IBM and American Airlines’ developers met and rapidly built more than 200 user stories to guide the development of the new app.
Next, the teams identified their first MVP (minimum viable product – the simplest possible application that meets the business requirements) and started to code. The use of microservices, paired programming, and test-driven development enabled a highly parallelized approach that accelerated the creation of the new cloud-native code.
Microservices allowed each business function to be broken down into simple, reusable functions that can be composed and called as many times as required by any connected platforms.
After just four and a half months, the Dynamic Rebooking app was released to production in eight airports, and steadily rolled out to more airports while testing, development, and updates continued in the background.
Hyperscaling – a cloud advantage
Hosting on the IBM Cloud Foundry platform paid further dividends when Hurricane Irma struck. The business decided overnight to deploy the app globally to all of America’s airports.
Patrick Morin, Managing Director of Customer Technology, American Airlines, comments: “One of our expectations with the IBM Cloud was that the hyper-scale should relieve concerns around infrastructure when rolling out an application globally. When the hurricanes hit, we put that to the test and our confidence turned out to be well-founded: the application worked flawlessly, and we’ve since rolled it out to all 300-plus airports without any issues.”
Key to transformation
While there are some cloud solutions that will apply across industries, many cloud applications will be specific to a particular industry. The development of successful cloud applications needs to be guided by experts that understand the strategic goals of the target organization, and the competitive context in which it is operating. True transformation occurs always when the understanding of an industry is combined with technical capability.