Smart Airline Apps Need Smart Databases

By Hélène Dubos | Technology

Jul 01
Airline app

Airline marketers around the world will be thinking about the next generation of their own app … and keeping an eye on their competitors to see what innovations they are implementing.

But the challenge for marketers and app developers is not to do with creativity, but in being able to source the data which will drive the most exciting apps.

And the stream of data that app developers feed comes from two sources: data which is internal to the businesses, and might be found in different silos; and data which is external to the airline, usually via APIs.

First, an insight into how other airlines view their app investment.

Data drives apps. Apps drive revenue.

The potential of smartphone apps to help an airline earn more and spend less are incredible. Fernando Estrada, chief strategy officer at Spanish airline Vueling, was recently quoted on the Routes website as saying: “At Vueling we have a dedicated team for mobile technology. For the first time Vueling’s IT budget will now see much more spent on our mobile application than the web platform.”

In the Routes article – titled ‘The Relationship Between Innovation and Technology: Why Airlines Must Adapt’ – Estrada goes on to say: ““Of course we do aim to better serve our customers but at the same time to sell more. Take Vueling’s geo-location technology for the iWatch app as an example, this will enable us to locate the passenger within the airport and create personalised proposals that the passenger may need at any time during the trip.”

It’s a pragmatic win:win approach to apps. The airline invests in technology that meets the traveler’s needs on multiple touch points, and in exchange is rewarded when the passenger makes purchases. And it’s significant that Vueling invests more on its app than its web platform.

Of course airline apps also go a stage further than increasing income through extended monetization. An app can also save on many pre-smartphone business processes.

For example, if the airline app makes it easy for passengers to change their flight – as with Vueling’s Bring Your Flight Forward – then the passenger is actually doing the work that a call center used to do.

Similarly, airlines like Delta can use their app to manage frequent flyer programs. In the days before apps and web portal, frequent flyer programs were an enormous marketing expense that involved plastic cards through to printed magazines and snail mail communications. Now all the expense involved in creating physical promotional items can be replaced by a digital equivalent.

Internal data. Turning data silos into rich traveler experiences.

For most airlines, their data legacy systems have grown organically from an inward-facing IT strategy going back 20 years, where databases were created to meet the specific needs of specific teams of people. These silos of data were right for when the airline was simply using data as a way to support its operations.

But now that databases are fast becoming the enabler for new services and apps (or to comply with new regulations like the EU PNR Passenger Name Record legislation), silos of information can hold a company back.

One solution is the ConztanzOne data platform. As airline IT specialists we have seen how silos of data can limit a company’s potential, so we developed ConztanzOne as a way of integrating various legacy databases into a centralized asset. The benefits include enabling diverse initiatives like getting independancy from PSS, easy enablement of IATA NDC schemes, facilitating PNR compliance … right through to driving the next generation of smartphone apps.

External data. Developing an API mindset.

Airline apps have the potential turn from useful to compelling when they expand beyond the core business of the airline and extend their functionality to what the traveler does before and after the flight.

So the latest generation of apps, say like those from Delta, include managing parking at your home airport through to getting an Uber ride at your destination airport. That extends the airline brand experience on each side of the actual flight.

We’ve dedicated a blog post to the subject of How An API Strategy Can Revolutionize Airlines & Airports, but the bottom line is that airlines who want to move their app to the center of their marketing need to give customers a wider experience and, ideally, monetize that experience. Hotel bookings, multimodal travel, shopping experiences, entertainment … these are all part of the bigger travel experience.

To be radical, airlines could even re-think the core flight as merely being the trigger for all the other experiences a traveler will have. And as the flight is the likely the first component of a journey that the traveler will book, that gives airlines a potential head start in booking the other components too.

But, to do so, airlines will have to acquire the adequate and powerful IT means to intelligently collect and use those external data sources. Developers will face the challenge of correlating external data (such as geographic location) and internal data (such as progression through the sale cycle) in order to display only relevant information.

A logical way to enable this is by developing APIs, even for internal databases. The airline then has a flying start if it chooses to share those APIs with other players in the value chain at a subsequent stage.

As a specialist in data management for airlines, Conztanz can help airlines to commoditize their data.

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