A Conversation With Etihad Airways On Driving Better Business Results And Harnessing The Vast Potential Of Sabre Intelligence Exchange
In just over a decade, Etihad Airways has become one of the fastest-growing carriers in airline history. Considered to have the world’s most modern fleet with 116 aircraft (and more on the way), the Abu Dhabi-based airline is rapidly adding global destinations and continues its trend of expanded codeshare and equity partnerships. During the past year, 14.8 million passengers chose Etihad, up 24 percent over 2013. Driven by double-digit growth targets, it is no surprise that the airline is currently experiencing its strongest operational performance to date.
As a poster child for consistent success in a highly competitive environment, what is Etihad’s secret?
It starts with a strong business plan and ambitious leadership. Sprinkle in continual, robust industry analysis, strategic investment, an emphasis on brand differentiation, resilient equity partnerships and a highly focused, multi-cultural workforce, and at least part of the equation has been identified. Culturally, Etihad also places heavy emphasis on technology as an enabler. Since implementing Sabre Airline Solutions’ broad portfolio in 2013, Etihad has leveraged the long-term partnership to continually adopt and deploy game-changing innovation.
Robust Data Integration Platform
Etihad uses a unique data integration platform to gain traction around data complexities that enable it to improve the customer experience, anticipate and quickly respond to issues around flight disruptions and gain overall operational efficiencies.
Like the rest of the industry, Etihad is faced with data-related challenges. Passengers create huge data footprints when traveling, yet most airlines lack the infrastructure and tools to harness it, leaving almost 90 percent of passenger data unstructured and unused. The inability to harness this data inhibits business agility. At the same time, typical silos across internal departments hinder rapid innovation. Add to that a lack of available technology, cost-effective data integration and huge data latency, and passenger insight becomes further constrained. The solution to these challenges lies in technology that enables passenger-responsive innovation, which is the key to brand differentiation and revenue growth.
The Sabre Intelligence Exchange platform addresses this sizable industry challenge — how to gather, analyze and action siloed data from across an airline, in real-time. Solving this problem drives immediate results by enabling an airline to generate incremental revenue, reduce costs through IT efficiencies and deliver a truly personalized experience to customers.
As such, in 2014, Etihad joined an expanding group of forward-thinking airlines to begin using this new technology, allowing it to re-think how to bring innovation to information technology and deliver better business results, faster and more efficiently.
In a recent interview with Ascend, Etihad’s Barry Rodgers, manager of reservations development, and Dave Manners, manager of business automation (both participants in leading Intelligence Exchange adoption within the airline), discussed how Etihad uses this unique data integration platform to gain traction around data complexities. Rodgers is an Intelligence Exchange advocate and the original business-case sponsor. Early on, he partnered with Sabre Airline Solutions to bypass the limits of legacy systems, as well as develop a proof of concept and initial business cases to demonstrate the value of the platform to Etihad executives. Manners, a self-described Intelligence Exchange evangelist, is responsible for enterprise promotion and is heavily focused on leveraging the platform to its fullest potential.
Q: The industry has many pain points around data. What are some of Etihad’s specific business challenges that prompted you to seek a real-time, data-integration platform?
A: (Rodgers) First and foremost, improved customer experience that comes with real-time quality control of reservations, followed by up-to-the-minute alerts of sales opportunities. How can we positively impact the guest experience? We also looked at the technology in terms of automating manual processes and the obvious efficiencies that come with that. Right now, Dave is identifying ways to get airline operations involved and incorporate real-time movement data and additional use cases [business processes that solve a specific problem leveraging uniquely applied rules].
We also appreciate Sabre Airline Solutions’ comprehensive offering of professional services, which helps us accelerate the value derived from the platform. The managed services and consulting teams have been instrumental in helping us identify, prioritize and execute opportunities.
A key object to Etihad Airways’ use of Intelligence Exchange is to deliver a better, more consistent travel experience. For example, the new data integration platform can help identify and prevent mistakes made by travel agents that can negatively affect a customer’s experience, such as not offering a vegetarian meal when requested.
Q: What were the business objectives Etihad sought to address with this new technology?
A: (Rodgers) Of course, the obvious ones — increase revenue, reduce costs and improve our guest experience. We also wanted to expand automation. So far, everything delivered by Intelligence Exchange is purely about cost and process efficiency. T date, Etihad currently has about six to 10 use cases in production. Now we are looking to go out and chase additional gains, and the great news is that we have an influx of ideas from across the teams. For example, to deliver a better, more consistent travel experience, Intelligence Exchange can identify and prevent errors made by travel agents that can negatively impact a guest’s experience, such as not offering a vegetarian meal when requested. As we identify more and more use cases and leverage the real-time and data analysis capabilities of Intelligence Exchange, Etihad is beginning to see increased benefits. Up-selling upgrades are on the rise, reservations agent efficiencies are improving, and we estimate that we will soon expand our customer reach by up to 6 percent. All of this directly translates to our ability to provide better service.
Q: What are your plans to increase the usage of Intelligence Exchange more broadly across Etihad?
A: (Manners) Originally, we engaged with the Sabre Airline Solutions consulting team to identify how we could promote Intelligence Exchange internally. We formed a cross-organizational steering committee and will continue with that format. We want to ensure participation within our work plan encompasses all departments so we can solve the right problems and maximize value. We have wide committee participation, which is great. The environment has become quite competitive — everyone has cool ideas that will deliver real business impact. At this point, we have a backlog of ideas, and our challenge is to select the best ones. Through our partnership with Sabre Airline Solutions consulting, we built a tool to quantify the value of these ideas, which helps us prioritize them accordingly. /p>
6 Percent CustomerBoost
Improved customer experience is a principal reason Etihad Airways implemented a real-time, data-integration platform. The airline expects to expand its customer reach by up to 6 percent as a result of providing better service.
Q: Looking forward, what excites you most about Intelligence Exchange?
A: (Manners) There are endless possibilities! But to narrow it down, we would say the new Intelligence Exchange operational domain and operational data. Enabling Etihad to anticipate issues that will happen with flight disruptions or late arrivals, and quickly getting that information to the right place to better support us during normal operational challenges would be ideal.
Q: Your airline has employed Sabre Airline Solutions technology for several years, and the two companies know each other well. Why was there a need for an internal business advocate within Etihad to bring Intelligence Exchange into your environment?
A: (Rodgers) The “internal-advocate” approach is standard with any new innovation. Essentially, it is needed to secure executive leadership buy-in and, of course, funding. In the end, we also had to ensure that the platform and its rules engine could be appropriately configured to manage our unique set of data challenges. We spent several months identifying our initial use cases and validating the value they bring. Ultimately, the real-time data feed and
Error Prevention, a key object to Etihad Airways’ use of Intelligence Exchange is to deliver a better, more consistent travel experience. For example, the new data integration platform can help identify and prevent mistakes made by travel agents that can negatively affect a customer’s experience, such as not offering a vegetarian meal when requested.
The ability to react immediately convinced us that, yes, the Intelligence Exchange platform would enable us to deliver better results, more quickly and efficiently. In fact, between the implementation and a handful of use cases, Intelligence Exchange will certainly pay for itself. As with any platform play, the value is a direct function of the use cases that are built on top of it.
Q: Etihad implemented Intelligence Exchange in mid-2014. After a year of using the technology, would you recommend it to other airlines that wish to leverage the power of real-time, data integration?
A: (Rodgers) Absolutely. First, the platform itself is agnostic. It is not limited to customers of Sabre Airline Solutions or SabreSonic Customer Sales & Service users. This means Intelligence Exchange can bring a lot of value to any airline and bypass limits of legacy systems, many of which were built in the 1960s. Any airline can take the data, add their own rules and return the data in a ready-to-use format — anyone can benefit. I should also add that the Sabre Airline Solutions team behind Intelligence Exchange is one of the best teams we have ever worked with, and the expertise that comes along with the product is exceptional!