The deployment of business intelligence systems and the sharing of data through collaboration were key themes of this year's SITA Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels, but some airlines aren't sure obstacles can be overcome.
Over the next three years, all airlines plan to invest in IT systems which will allow them to "get to know their passengers better" and deliver tailored services directly to them, according to the 15th annual SITA/Airline Business magazine IT Trends Survey.
This year 100 percent of airlines surveyed planned to invest in business intelligence (BI) solutions, which allow them to know more about their customers and have better information for decision making in their operations.
This is a huge jump from last year, when one in five airlines had no plans at all.
At the conference Aleks Popovich, senior vice president for industry distribution and financial services at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), called on airlines, other transport providers, airports and other players, like hotels, to share more information on passengers to "create ideal journeys".
Such sharing of data, said Popovich, would allow airlines to give a better service to customers and help alleviate problems if anything went wrong at any stage in their journey, whether on the way to the airport or on the way to a holiday resort after leaving the airport at the other end, for instance.
First, however, the conference was told by various airlines and other companies, the airlines had to get to grips with Big Data, by putting systems in place that could collect disparate pieces of information on passengers, retail sales and social media from various databases, and then put that information in a single front end for easier digestion and action.
Jean-Christophe Lalanne, executive vice president for information systems at Air France and Air France-KLM Group, said his operations were in the process of doing just that, with the help of open source Hadoop data processing technology.
"For instance", said Lalanne, "we are linking a Big Data/Hadoop platform to our revenue management system". While the moves by Air France and KLM are aimed at internal data management in the near to medium-term, the calls by IATA for wider data sharing were questioned by some delegates.
David Bulman, CIO at Virgin Atlantic Airways, asked, "My main concern about the data sharing talked about is who owns the data and privacy issues."
Bulman expressed strong views about data privacy at last year's SITA Air Transport Summit too. He told ComputerworldUK.com at the time that there was no way his airline would deploy cloud-based destop productivity apps from Google, as its Google Apps product would technically allow it free access to the airline's data, according to the smallprint in Google Apps contracts, Bulman maintained.
Bulman said such contracts were a threat to the airline's confidential financial information and operational data, as Google may use it for its own future and potentially rival services in the retail space.
At the same conference last year however, Bulman did call for the airline industry to work together on the development of open source apps to serve the whole industry.
In response to Bulman's concerns about wider data sharing at this year's conference, IATA's Popovich said, "The customer would obviously have to give permission."
Another delegate said, "Both courts and government have made judgements on data sharing and what you can do with personal data, but those judgements are often different depending on which country you are in."