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New Distribution Capability (NDC): How do you solve connectivity challenges?

Published on  21 June by Pierre Guiol , Senior Product Manager - NDC and New Data Services, SITA
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So, you made up your mind. You looked at all the options and have decided to embrace the trend and increase your exposure to direct sales channels. You finally built your New Distribution Capability (NDC) application programming interfaces (APIs) to give your airline’s brand the visibility it deserves and your passengers the ability to select your services for what they are and how they differ from others (not just based on the price they pay).

Now what? 

Now you face your next challenge: How are you going to connect your seller partners to your NDC APIs? Do you have enough resources to connect your NDC API to possibly hundreds of sellers? Here are the top five questions you should consider now.

1. How many travel sellers do you plan to connect to via NDC? 

If you only want to connect to a limited number of travel sellers, I’m sure your existing IT department has the XML skills needed to set this up. But the likelihood is that there are a number of online travel agents (OTAs), travel management companies (TMCs) and travel agents already reaching out to you to get connected. As a result, you could quickly find yourself with an increasingly long ‘connection backlog’ to manage and prioritize.

Once connected, it means that you now have to provide support to all those ’shiny‘ new direct sales channels. As a result, the sheer volume of channels and associated impact on resources will need to be reflected in your airline’s IT budget planning. Depending on the complexity of your direct distribution plans, you will have to decide if you want to absorb the extra cost to self-support by creating all the required technology skills, people and processes to support and manage every single new connection in-house.

2. Is the lead time to connect sellers a priority for your airline? 

NDC gives your distribution strategy more flexibility, allowing you to implement changes more quickly…but does it really? Time-to-market is often a key consideration for airlines. NDC has enabled a configurable B2B sales approach, but it still takes time to connect a new seller.

At this point, you need to consider upward scalability. How many connections can you onboard per month? Is this enough to meet your business demand? You need to implement a repeatable and standardized process to help you scale up and connect new channels to your APIs quickly and easily.

A standardized, industry-driven NDC hub owned by the airline community could be an effective alternative approach to reduce both the time to market and the IT costs needed to connect new sellers.

Beyond the obvious technical benefits of speed to market with an NDC-compliant API and the ability to support multiple standards and schemas, Air Canada is keenly interested in the community effect, whereby the benefit of a distribution network of like-minded partners grows exponentially with each new participant in NDC Exchange.

Keith Wallis, Director of Global Product Distribution, Air Canada

 

 

3. What about airline-to-airline connectivity to enable interlining? 

Maybe you are part of an alliance and want to enjoy the benefits of NDC when selling products that are delivered by your partners. If so, you need to consider how you want to find, connect and engage with your airline partners. Communications between offer responsible airlines (ORAs) and participating offer airlines (POAs) can be complex and typically need specific integration work. A community-driven marketplace could provide a path forward. In this model, participants can access all their airline partners’ content without having to build each connection separately. By participating in this community, you can extend your market reach and explore new business opportunities. A software-as-a-service model allows your team to focus more on the commercial aspects of the partnership agreements and less on their delivery.

4. How do you support the multiple NDC versions? 

The IATA NDC standard was launched in 2012, and we are now on NDC schema version 18.1 with around 12 versions in operation. Every iteration has improved the standard. Yet this also means that with more than 140 NDC-capable companies, there are multiple schema versions in operation today, which to date are not backward compatible.

In addition, some airlines have also decided to build on top of the schema to introduce their own customization. As a result, when your distribution partner wants to set up a connection, it needs to consider how to handle the message translation in real-time. Message translation is the data standardization process that translates data from many different versions and formats into one standard.

5. Do you want to include rich content? 

When considering your NDC deployment path, you will also need to think about rich content – additional digital information such as images, videos, audio or other elements describing a product that is supported by the NDC shopping schemas.

Such rich content makes it much easier for an airline to differentiate its brand and offers from others. You need to decide if your deployment strategy can absorb the additional integration costs to include rich content technology such as Routehappy by ATPCO, or if it should follow a pre-integrated path

A community approach

With up to 500 airlines connected to various GDSs and over 100 actively considering NDC as an option, participants would have to develop and maintain a multitude of connections with numerous airlines. Making NDC a reality can put extra strain on already tight IT budgets.

ATPCO and SITA are industry-owned and trusted partners who joined forces in 2017 to provide the airline industry with NDC Exchange, a community-driven platform to support the adoption of IATA’s NDC for airfares and ancillary sales in a cost effective manner.

NDC: Luxury or necessity? 

Graham Wareham, Director, Distribution Portfolio, ATPCO  commented during the recent SITA/ATPCO Webinar that  “The future NDC environment will ensure a more flexible and consumer-centric shopping experience. The big change is the ability to deliver the richness of the airline’s product to the consumer through their channel of choice.” If you would like to dive a little deeper into this topic, the webinar is now available on-demand for your convenience.

Alternatively, if you have any observations or insights to share on this topic, please add them to the comments below. 

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