Do You Wish Air Travel Was More Personalized?

by | Oct 2, 2020 | Digital Transformation, News

Etihad Airways is giving its guests more choices by migrating to IBM’s public cloud.

Since its inception in 2003, Etihad Airways has prided itself on giving its guests a more personal travel experience than they might receive on other airlines. They can choose a seat in a quiet zone, select a meal inspired by their destination or shop from duty-free catalogues customized to their interests.

But making a wider range of options available to passengers is much more difficult than it sounds. It requires linking dozens of different systems and processes — from baggage handling to seat selection to in-flight services — and making them more intelligent than they’ve typically been. The web of technologies should be able to determine how a change to one part of a passenger’s itinerary (a rescheduled flight, for instance) affects the rest of the trip, like that preflight spa treatment or a prebooked rideshare.

To unlock an array of new choices for customers, leaders at Etihad realized they had to find an experienced technology partner to enhance the airline’s cloud architecture. Each day the aviation industry and airlines build new technologies, so Etihad needed a cloud provider that could help it quickly launch products without disruptions to fliers.

“Without a strong partner to work with,” says Yousif A. Yousif, the head of commercial systems at Etihad, “we faced a great deal of risk in our journey to a modern digital infrastructure. We have a very specialized platform inside a platform. It’s not just a private cloud but a travel service.”

Yousif and Takhliq Hanif, the head of enterprise architecture, technology and innovation at Etihad, understood that not every cloud provider would be able to smoothly migrate the airline’s unique cloud architecture and accommodate its fast-moving timeline. So when they met with IBM, Yousif, Hanif and other Etihad executives gave the technology company a stiff test: Develop in just seven days a proof of concept that revealed how IBM developers could migrate Etihad’s cloud systems to the IBM public cloud and enhance them. Would IBM be able to pull off this colossal challenge?

Challenge Accepted

Etihad passengers have become accustomed to a standard of excellence. If they can use a tablet to book a flight and a smartphone app to reserve a taxi to the airport, they expect similar digital conveniences during the rest of their journey.

To build a range of new travel experiences, Etihad’s IT technical teams sought to forge a development environment in which they could safely tap into open-source technologies to rapidly build, test and deploy digital products, Hanif says. Luckily, IBM’s public cloud was up to the task, and it passed Etihad’s nearly impossible test — a result that stunned even seasoned Etihad staff.

“In less than a week,” Yousif says, “the IBM team showed us that they could connect our existing platforms with their clouds and get relevant APIs, which are protocols that let products speak with one another, to communicate reliably. When we saw that, we knew that choosing IBM as our long-term partner would bring the design and cloud services we needed.”

Partnering with IBM, Etihad moved its existing systems to IBM’s public cloud and supercharged them. Once there, Etihad tapped into IBM’s ecosystem of open-source technologies to create robust APIs and microservices, small components of a larger application that streamline development by sharing processes. Both handle back-end tasks and continuously monitor traffic against emerging cyberthreats.

Most importantly, the IBM public cloud lets Etihad nimbly develop and test digital products — all of them protected by IBM’s enterprise-grade security — that help customers personalize their trips. And because IBM’s public cloud offers a variety of code bases, Etihad ensures that it’s never committed to a particular product, offering greater flexibility as the aviation industry and customer behaviors evolve.

“It’s easy to go out and buy your own cloud,” Hanif says. “But it’s not so easy to build native cloud applications in an efficient way that supports your vision of a world-class digital experience. That’s why we needed IBM’s public cloud.”

New Ways of Working

Since moving to IBM’s public cloud, Etihad’s IT technical teams have become keenly focused on experimentation, Hanif says. Groups that used to spend months building and continually updating software now look to IBM’s open-source ecosystem for inspiration. They’re finding creative ways to leverage existing products and modify them to launch new user experiences, Yousif says.

“A key reason we selected IBM’s public cloud was its support for open-source projects,” Hanif says.

By following IBM’s Garage Methodology, an end-to-end development philosophy that encourages technical teams to work together more closely and continuously design new solutions, Etihad’s IT technical team began launching digital products in weeks rather than months. To further accelerate development, Etihad developers sat side-by-side with IBM consultants and asked them questions about the best ways to leverage the reservoir of services inside IBM’s public cloud. They weren’t alone during those conversations: IBM recommended different ways for Etihad senior leadership to look in and get involved early for clearer feedback and faster approvals.

“Using the Garage Methodology and IBM microservices,” Hanif says, “we were able to move at a speed never before seen at Etihad.”

Technology teams match this transformative approach with agile development principles to deliver products on an uninterrupted delivery schedule and DevOps to automate processes between Etihad developers and IT technical teams. Enterprise Design Thinking has also allowed Etihad to integrate many traditional design techniques into a repeatable approach for expedited product design.

Security, too, is a major part of the airline’s ongoing strategy. Programs baked into the IBM public cloud provide a layer of protection for APIs and Etihad’s microservices by letting the airline monitor and protect all data that enters its cloud network.

“Security was critical for us from the outset,” Hanif says. “All of our new digital offerings, including protected check-in and cloud platforms and an API gateway, which safeguards our APIs and microservices, were created at every stage of development with a security-first mindset.”

The Future of Flying

With IBM’s public cloud doing the heavy technical lifting, Etihad has shifted its focus to innovations that enhance every aspect of the travel experience.

“Everything we do is for our guests, and everything is about customer experience,” says Mike Papamichael, Vice President, Technology and Innovation, Etihad Airways. “I wanted the team to transform our current system leveraging cloud technology and microservices and build this complex solution in less than three months.”

Indeed, Etihad customers don’t need to gaze into the future to understand how the company’s cloud transition has created opportunities to personalize their journeys. Since the airline moved to IBM’s public cloud, more of its guests are using the expanded services and benefits the airline offers, including mobile check-in. Etihad’s digital suite is continually improving to keep customers satisfied and engaged.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a world-class aircraft,” Hanif says. “It sets the wrong tone if you don’t have an integrated digital experience. Our partnership with IBM lets us match a smooth digital journey with an already fantastic in-flight experience.”

This article originally appeared on The New York Times. To learn more about upcoming webinars, visit this page.