Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) wanted to build an IT infrastructure which would offer its passengers an outstanding experience no matter what their departure point or destination across the 250 sites in its
Achieving this would necessitate a complete overhaul of its existing IT infrastructure and a move to a robust IP-based infrastructure. This would enable Saudia to move to a new passenger management system, a modernized flight operations and planning application, and the deployment of a new corporate HR and finance management platform.
The challenge was to find an IT partner that could provide accelerated, reliable network optimization to help Saudia replace its existing silo-based IT infrastructure and low-speed legacy leased lines. The partner would also need to create a network architecture which could support new
business-critical applications for passenger reservations, flight operations, supply chain and maintenance and repair.
Another key consideration underlying the move was the opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency through eliminating the need for costly levels of support for legacy equipment and connectivity.
The story of IMCAN
And so Project IMCAN was born.
IMCAN (International Managed Converged Advanced Network) is a strategic partnership between Saudia and SITA which has overhauled the entire IT activity of the airline’s outstations in 55 countries by outsourcing it to SITA, a strategic partner with a worldwide connectivity network.
This has provided the airline with the platform and skills for a transformation of its business processes.
“For such a large-scale, advanced and complicated project, SITA stood out as the obvious choice. SITA is the only company which can handle projects of this size, not only with limited risks and high chances of success, but also providing a portfolio of innovative solutions and services that will enable us to better meet our future business goals and privatization plans,” said Dr. Omar Jefri, executive Vice President, Saudi Arabian Airlines.
In January 2009, Saudia signed a US$76 million, five-year contract to outsource its entire communications, telephony and desktop activities to SITA. The motivation was to give the airline the robust platform needed to implement a wide-range of business critical applications such as a new passenger management system. The vast project would involve replacing over 300 legacy leased lines and 5,000 desktops, printers and servers at 100 airports and city offices in 55 countries. A project team was established comprising over 80 staff, drawn from both SITA and Saudia.
IMCAN provided a unified concept for the IT migration of all Saudia’s international sites in a coherent manner which allowed business targets to be translated into realizable time-bound action plans.
Implementation began in 2009 and was completed on time for the roll-out of the new business applications in 2010. The SITA project team, including up to 20 specialists in program management and five solution designers, worked closely with their counterparts on the Saudia project team and were in daily communication on both implementation and operational issues. Stringent service level agreements governing all activities were reviewed quarterly.
A virtualized environment
“Rapid proactive support is vital because the network supports business critical applications. SITA would know if network traffic behavior is irregular before the customer experiences it, and we can fix it before they have a problem,” says Hani El-Assaad, SITA President, Middle East, India & Africa.
Because many of Saudia’s business applications are now in a hosted environment, they do not require as much local support as previously. But not all are virtualized, some require remote desktop management which Saudia is also able to carry out through the SITA managed desktop.
The underlying network is also very flexible. “The network is very dynamic. It can easily be upgraded to support new applications so that Saudia can grow at the pace they want. The network classes of service means it is easy for us to manage new types of traffic,” adds Hani El-Assaad.
Essentially, IMCAN can be seen as a ‘wagon’ which carries all the business applications necessary to support the airline’s mission critical processes including passenger reservations, departure control, baggage management and flight operations.
IMCAN has also eliminated any issues – including possible fines – with the European Union authorities which consider the operation of legacy equipment such as green screens illegal due to environmental regulations.
Thanks to IP-based solutions, Saudia can now take advantage of total scalability and network integration to meet business requirements at any one of its locations for data, voice and, possibly, video while avoiding the ‘per use’ charges which prevailed under the mix of legacy and IP links and replacing them with a flat fee.
Previously the airline’s IT profile included an unwieldy mix of legacy and IP links including some 400 legacy low-speed connections and another 50 IPVPN connections. Optimization is now assured through unifying the virtual links in one physical connection with traffic engineering.
Major savings are being made on international telephone charges thanks to IP Telephony and the Saudia connection to the SITA network.
Saudia’s successful IT migration has been taking place in a context of sweeping modernization as the national flag carrier moves to becoming a private entity ready to build on its core business. This includes a major seasonal logistical exercise, the carrying of two to three million pilgrims every year to Makkah and Medina for the Hajj. As part of its fleet modernization, Saudia has recently bought 90 new aircraft from Airbus and Boeing, bringing its active fleet to 103 aircraft, and is planning to purchase a further 50 new aircraft.
“We have already privatized the catering, cargo and ground services sectors. Prince Sultan Aviation Academy and the Technical & Maintenance Services division are in the process of being privatized. We are making intensive preparations for the privatization of the core airline unit by modernizing its fleet and developing its technical infrastructure and are presenting a proposal to the Supreme Economic Council (SEC) to complete the privatization process,” Abdullah Al-Ajhar, Vice President of Public Relations told Arab News prior to the airline reaching agreement with SITA on Project IMCAN.
As Saudia moved to privatize the main airline operations, it embodied analyst company Gartner’s observation that “Companies will continue to see growth in communications needs, with more network technology and more convergence between voice, data, and mobile. Increasingly, IT and networking are becoming the dominant components of business process innovation and process fusion.”
Project IMCAN has not only provided full IT migration for all Saudia out-stations but a complete managed solution:
- Telecommunications lines via state-of-the-art IPVPN connections
- Customized desktop PCs and printers that are built based on the applications’ requirements
- IP Telephony for all the applicable sites
- Security management
- Mobility solution for Saudia travelers
- Complete operations and support plan
"We are delighted with the new ICT infrastructure provided by SITA. It allows us to roll out our new business critical applications on a consistent, global basis,” said Mr. Muhammad Ali AlBakri, Vice President IT Saudi Arabian Airlines. “We can now also improve our customer-facing operations such as the call center and online booking. This will give our customers more options when they want to fly with us.”
The future does not stop there. The airline is now well- positioned to take advantage of the full-range of passenger self-service functionality which requires an IMCAN-level of investment in IT infrastructure.
Worldwide trends such as the growing adoption of the smartphone, particularly by premium passengers and frequent flyers, justify the level of Saudia’s investment which will allow it to cater to a passenger base increasingly used to remote check-in, mobile boarding passes, self-tagging and bag drop.
Saudia now stands proudly on the threshold of the new age of intelligent digital travel.
“We can now also improve our customer-facing operations such as the call center and online booking. This will give our customers more options when they want to fly with us,” Mr. Muhammad Ali Albakri, VP IT Saudi Arabian Airlines.