What do SaaS, IaaS, DaaS and PaaS all have in common? Obvious answer: they’re all part of the parlance of cloud technology – namely, Software-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Desktop-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service.
Perhaps less obviously, each in its own way is capable of bringing about radically new ways of working that are particular to the air transport industry’s operations.
We talked to Benoit Verbaere, SITA’s Director of ATI Cloud, about the implications. “The industry’s requirements are unlike many others,” he explains. “The delivery of much-needed industry software through new cloud models is already bringing great advantages and it promises even more.”
So why is it that cloud-enabling software is so significant to the air transport industry?
What’s clear is that a lot of air transport organizations need much easier entry to markets. Workforces and passengers need mobile solutions.
And, given the unpredictable and fast-moving nature of air transport, there’s a massive requirement for responsiveness and adaptability to market conditions. There’s a big pent up demand for cloud-enabled software, and a great opportunity for software suppliers.
For smaller and regional air transport industry organizations with less capital, lower barriers to entry offer a clear advantage. Thanks to very limited start-up costs, software delivered through the cloud resolves the issue.
That helps the industry’s myriad smaller airlines and airports who need IT and communications with lower set-up costs.
With cloud-enabled software leveling the playing field, they can compete with larger players.
It’s certainly good news for Europe, which has the highest number of airline groups of any region with the longest tail of smaller carriers (217 in May 2013). Not far behind is Asia with 189 airline groups, according to the CAPA/Innovata database.
These are key markets for software suppliers to the air transport industry. This is just one of several cases demonstrating the business imperative for cloud-enabled software in our industry.
As air transport embraces mobility, applications and software in the cloud have a huge role to play. For one thing, they’re extremely mobility-friendly.
This is a big plus in addressing the essential day-to-day air transport operational tasks that can be powered by software on a mobile platform.
Maintenance and repair operators, baggage handlers, in-flight crew, and airport ground staff all depend on immediate access to applications and data that’s in the palm of their hands.
Only by using cloud-enabling applications can air transport organizations bring such tools to their employees’ own devices so quickly and at such a reduced cost.
If there’s one clearly observable characteristic of air transport in recent years, it’s the industry’s sensitivity to multiple external factors, such as cost of crude oil, the weather, labor dynamics, and of course, political unrest and economic shocks.
According to Verbaere, that drives the need to respond quickly to events. It means that flexible software consumption models and scalability are of paramount importance to the industry’s health.
“Flexibility in how IT and communications services are priced, charged, and consumed arms the air transport with the responsiveness it needs to adapt rapidly to changing factors,” Verbaere says.
For airlines, this can be software that’s priced by fleet size or by the number of crew members using it. Only SaaS can truly provide such flexibility.
Making the move
Steadily, the industry is making the move to cloud ways of working. For easyJet, IT modernization via the cloud began in 2005, by moving commodity systems to managed services. In 2009, the airline began looking at Microsoft’s Azure.
Since then, easyJet has cloud-enabled other services. They include customer-facing and domain specific applications, among them the consumption via cloud apps for flight planning and seat allocation.
As for the airport sector, London’s Gatwick Airport is a great example of how airports can gain a radical cloud advantage. In 2012, Gatwick formalized a plan to transfer key elements of its infrastructure and applications into the cloud.
By 2016, the airport plans to move from three data centers to only one. Some of the areas cloud-enabled by Gatwick include employee identity management, internal messaging and file sharing.
The Airline IT Trends Survey figures show that nearly half of the 255 airports surveyed around the world expect to evaluate cloud services through trials over the next three years.
So, embraced in the right way, cloud brings great advantages to air transport. But there are risks, three in particular, that face the air transport as it navigates through the cloud revolution.
But not all cloud enablers have the industry-specific focus required to limit the inherent challenges during a cloud transformation for a typical air transport service provider.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of pre-connectivity in the air transport industry. Choosing a partner with cloud infrastructure and solutions already connected to a high performance network of airlines and airports brings immense agility.
Only where a secure pre-connected network is available is it possible to provide secure behind the firewall access for both airports and airlines.
- Don’t forget that location is everything. Some cloud-enabled software providers offer limited locations for where applications run and data is stored. But typically air transport organization employees are all over the globe and have diverse requirements.
Critically, IT needs to be close enough to these employees to provide consistent performance, guaranteeing service excellence and ensuring global user adoption. Good cloud enablers will provide numerous locations to address a widely distributed user population and offer a choice of where data is stored.
- Don’t ignore air transport regulatory standards. You’ll need to effectively secure data. Security is fundamental to a successful cloud transformation, and there’s a requirement for regulatory compliance and adherence to International as well as air transport standards.
Different customers should be able to work on separate environments with guaranteed traffic isolation, while not sharing data. A cloud designed specifically for the air transport industry can offer this, with design transparency assured.
“With many of its key software applications already in the cloud to meet air transport needs, SITA anticipates a bright future for cloud-enabled software in the industry,” concludes Verbaere.
Cloud is making its mark in delivering software across the many and varied operations of the air transport industry, as the examples here show.
Small and regional airports: SITA and regional airports the ATI Cloud plays an increasingly key role in raising the performance of the industry' core processes through new cloud-enabled business models.
Air navigation: SITA's ATI Cloud is a vital piece of the jigsaw in a collaborative initiative to give Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) access to next generation invoicing and revenue solutions. It includes a new SITA cloud-based business for over-flight charges and billing, called SITA Bureau Services (SBS), which works in partnership with CANSO and Airways, New Zealand’s ANSP.
Aircraft: In a significant development, the ATI Cloud is also bringing new ways of working to those responsible for aircraft operations and e-enablement. (See ‘Revolution in the air.’)
Cloud marketplace: In the same way that SITA’s own applications are being rapidly cloud-enabled, an evolving online marketplace store will make new air transport apps from third party developers available through SITA software-as-a-service model.” Read more in the next issue of the IT Review.