Software applications run and rule our industry, so getting them integrated easily, deployed instantly and adopted fast, can be a competitive advantage.
Cloud application and development
It’s no surprise that cloud computing, which brings all of these benefits, is transforming the industry’s approach to IT.
Today, cloud is acting as the key enabler to exploit a host of technology trends from mobile to the Internet of Things to big data, while representing a significant opportunity to improve the bottom line.
One of the great things about cloud is that it can deliver data and applications whenever and wherever you want.
Increasingly, that access comes from a mobile device. Today, internet usage through mobile devices exceeds usage through desktop PCs.
This continued drive by people towards a mobile world does cause some headaches in software delivery, and it raises the question of how easily air transport can shift its business models towards mobile.
According to SITA’s 2015 Airline IT Trends Survey, around four out of five airlines are investing in the mobile space for either passengers or employees, but much of this is still at the R&D project level rather than wide scale deployments.
With 83% of passengers already traveling with a smartphone, the bottom line is that today many airlines and airports are not prepared for the pace of change that mobile is bringing.
In particular, the task of supporting and synchronizing applications across a route network for a roaming workforce and a roaming aircraft is a struggle. Add to that orchestrating mobile device management, security, and bring your own device (BYOD) and the problem takes on a whole new dimension.
The cloud is the common denominator for every digital service we want to access. Customers know that if they are not already on the cloud today, they will need to be tomorrow, just to go faster and to stay competitive.Benoit Verbaere, Portfolio Director, Cloud Services, SITA
The issue is taking on more significance as the Internet revolution expands beyond people to include objects.
Airports and aircraft will be filled with sensor equipped devices that provide real-time data points used for improving operations and the passenger experience.
This natural partnership of mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT) will drive an exponential growth in data collection.
It will need to be processed and analyzed to glean insights, and these insights used to drive decisions and automated actions.
The challenge for airlines and airports is how to successfully exploit these technology trends, given the constraints of their own IT infrastructure and the added complexity of integrating from a variety of complex interfaces and data silos in the backend.
Moving to the cloud can take away a lot of the pain.
On top of the well cited economic benefits, it also drives top line value far beyond any dollar savings.
For a start, cloud infrastructure is hugely scalable, so the headache of processing and storing large amounts of data disappears. When extra capacity is needed it is seamlessly added, without requiring up-front investment in new hardware or programming.
This on-demand nature of cloud computing also makes it more suited to application development than traditional approaches. IT resources for short-term, one-off projects can be turned on and off at will and at minimal cost, allowing application projects to become modular and iterative.
It means more innovation can be delivered, faster, letting airlines adapt to the rapid change incrementally.
Building an IT platform that could harness the potential of a mobile and data driven industry was the driving force behind SITA’s own adoption of cloud technologies in 2011.
That was even though at the time, the concept was not so well understood in the business world, says Benoit Verbaere, SITA’s Portfolio Director of Cloud Services.
However, he believes that over the last four years there has been a shift in attitude and that the benefits of cloud are now well established.
“With so many connected devices, the Internet has changed the way we consume and generate data. The cloud is the common denominator for every digital service we want to access. Customers know that if they are not already on the cloud today, they will need to be tomorrow, just to go faster and to stay competitive.
“If you look at desktop, mobile, big data, and further out, the Internet of Things, the single unifying technology that can integrate all of this into coherent, seamless services for end-users is a cloud platform.”
“It’s the fast adoption of smartphones and other mobile devices that has been a catalyst, and now passengers and employees expect adopting apps should be just as fast and simple as the experience you get with the AppStore©,” Verbaere explains.
“Most mobile apps need web-based services behind to make them useful and powerful. The glue that holds it all together is generally much more simple to activate in the cloud, so people have become very comfortable with using cloud based applications and services.”
“That confidence has spread into the business environment through employees. Now we see businesses wanting to capitalize on the easier integration and management by moving software delivery to the cloud so that their employees and customers can start fast, build more process value from integrated applications, and achieve performance.”
SITA has seen healthy adoption of its own community cloud platform, the ATI Cloud. Through its software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, the ATI Cloud serves more than 100 air transport customers, delivering applications to end-users worldwide, whether they are an employee using a handheld device on the airport apron or a passenger using a check-in kiosk at an outlying airport.
As well as providing the agility and flexibility for airlines and airports, the ATI Cloud also ticks the boxes for reliability, security, and consistency of service.
Network connections between the data centers are secured with premium levels of protection against malicious threats. Highly resilient service is ensured through high-availability infrastructure combined with redundant connections, failover sites, all hosted in high-end data centers.
Verbaere believes that because the ATI Cloud has been designed to meet industry standard security and reliability that customers have gained confidence to move their business critical applications over quicker than with public clouds.
“Today, the ATI Cloud hosts over 20 mission critical applications, including AIRCOM Server and BagManager, as well as the recently added AirportConnect Open and AirportConnect Kiosk that enable airports to move their common-use services offsite and into the cloud,” he says.
It’s not just the operational and efficiency benefits drawing interest in the ATI Cloud. SITA’s vision is to combine the faster development times of cloud computing with the availability of huge amounts of industry data to turn the ATI Cloud into a powerful platform for innovation.
To this end SITA has made a number of application programming interfaces, or APIs, available through its developer.aero portal. APIs give access to raw data sets which developers can blend to create new apps for the industry.
As Verbaere explains “Our aim is to stimulate new apps and web services by making industry data available through APIs.
“For example, by combining a number of APIs on the portal we have been able to build a powerful set of contextual passenger services, known as ‘Day of Travel’ that airlines and airports can integrate into their own apps.” (See: 'A new era of intelligence')
Today, the developer.aero portal contains 10 APIs, including a free Airport API, giving access to data on airports worldwide. The portal will see the continuous addition of new APIs, along with sample code, case studies, data registries, and other services that will help software developers build new apps fast and efficiently.
With the innovation potential of the ATI Cloud really grabbing the attention of software developers, it’s been a natural progression for SITA to open up the platform for independent software vendors (ISVs) to promote their latest applications to the industry
In December the first release of Marketplace.aero, a virtual store for ISVs to distribute their industry and generic apps to the air transport ecosystem is planned. The ATI Cloud will act as a gatekeeper to reassure end-user customers that each service or application meets industry standards and policies.
As Verbaere says, “The Marketplace.aero platform brings some obvious benefits to ISVs in terms of extending reach to potential customers and bundling with complementary applications, but there are other less obvious ones.
“For a start, it is much easier for ISVs to deploy their software and connect to the end-user customer on a cloud platform, while using the online ordering and billing capabilities brings additional efficiencies.
“The marketplace will also open the door for us to work on projects with the wider software vendor community, which should foster greater collaboration and in turn generate new innovation ideas for our industry”
As the cloud delivery model gathers pace, the expectation is that Marketplace.aero will become the go-to shop window for everything from hardware to networking solutions to mobile apps. A full commercial launch with all functionality and features is currently planned for later in 2016.
With the vendor marketplace piece of the puzzle soon to be in place, Verbaere believes SaaS delivery has moved to a new level of maturity and offers increasing value for air transport businesses.
“The cloud method of software delivery empowers us in ways that are not possible with traditional delivery mechanisms. In particular, the ATI Cloud has become a key enabler of better, integrated service delivery for airports and airlines through the different channels,” he says.
“It helps customers and ISVs to partner and innovate rapidly while still delivering industry-grade performance, resiliency and security.”