Within the airline IT and commercial departments, everyone is talking about the Order Transformation, or the airline’s digital transformation in more general terms. Ignoring this completely will put an airline into a position of vulnerability in the next few years – vulnerable to the competition which has moved forward, and vulnerable to your PSS (Passenger Service System) provider which might dictate your pace of change.
There are several elements to consider in the case for change – future state architecture, functional benefits, how to transition and many other aspects. However, none of the elements are quite as daunting as trying to build the business case.
Luckily, airlines do not need to start from scratch. Some work has been done over the years which can be used as a reference or starting point. These are mainly the McKinsey study from 2019 and the more recent business case created by IATA (International Air Transport Association) with the Modern Airline Retailing Consortium specifically for the Order Transformation. Of course, many airlines will have their own experience with similar business cases due to investments in NDC (New Distribution Capability), enhanced eCommerce and similar digitally transformative projects.
There are several factors to consider when working through the business case for the Offer and Order Transformation.
- The starting point and approximate target state: without knowing this, or at least having an idea of what the target state may be, it will be difficult to identify costs and benefits. And, while we may not know with which solution providers we may be working, or which new ancillaries or better services we may be able to offer in three, five or ten years, having an idea of the direction is essential.
- What the revenue drivers are likely to be: this will often be linked more to the offer transition than the order component, however several airlines have already found that they cannot realise their offer vision without solving the “order” challenge as well. Moving to dynamic pricing may be possible with enhancing the offer and not the order, however will you be able to exploit all the benefits? Or do you calculate factors such as a potential increase of conversion of sales due to the better offers or improved customer servicing you can enable through order? There are many potential revenue drivers, however many of these are often based on various prerequisites – some of these not being technical but rather contractual.
- The cost savings: this element ranges from potential distribution cost savings to process enhancements which simplify the business to, potentially, having the ability to remove certain solution components altogether. Often, the challenge on the cost saving element in such a large transformation programme is that the business case is made for a three or five-year period. However, with the offer and order transformation, many of the benefits will only be achieved towards the latter part of the transformation, thus only having a positive contribution once the transformation is complete. Thus, we recommend creating a post transformation calculation as well, which should help show if the cost of the transformation will render financial benefits during or only after the project, and which savings (and revenue) can be expected after completion. The removal of software and solutions is an important one. There are considerable opportunities to modernise the system landscape and interfaces well beyond just the offer and order management solution, as the processes are undergoing considerable change. Thus, a solid sketch of the future potential solution and business processes will certainly help understand which solutions are needed in the future and where savings can be achieved.
- The less obvious and substantiable factors: can factors such as customer satisfaction be converted into revenue? There are studies which clearly state that customer satisfaction and conversion are linked. Or that personalisation and increased conversion go together. However, conversion, the effects of customer service and satisfaction and similar are much more difficult to put into numbers which are not based purely on statistics. Furthermore, there are many other factors which could influence this. For example, if we enhance customer service capability considerably and NPS (Net Promoter Score) shows that we have great customer satisfaction, however we then have considerable delays due to airport congestion, customer satisfaction may well sink.
- The investment: of course this could (and some may argue, should) be part of the cost aspect. I have separated this to differentiate between cost savings in operations, servicing, processes, and sales from the actual capex spend. The main investment factors will be in new solution components (or re-engineering existing ones) and into the workforce needed for the project. The investment into people and processes should not be underestimated at this stage. Moving to offer and order without considerably reviewing and rethinking business process and data flows will end up in the rebuilding of legacy. However, with the redesign towards a retail environment, we must also invest into a retail mindset, and an organisation which is structured and trained to understand, live and breathe airline retailing.
While the above categories (cost, revenue, etc.,) are obviously part of any business case, Travel in Motion has seen some of these ignored or forgotten. In some cases, we have seen airlines and vendors challenged to define and decide which elements should be considered for each, and for example, if the soft factors such as improved customer service should be considered or not. These choices will be individual to each airline, and may either be ignored (after careful consideration), included, or used to sway a decision.
Pulling the business case together will not be an easy task. It cannot be done in isolation. The business case must be part of a concept phase where the future target state is discussed, where the architectural concepts are outlined, where the business is involved in helping identify process improvements and current challenges to be overcome and numerous other aspects. Thus, to create a solid business case, there must already be investment into time and resources, and potentially external support from companies such as Travel in Motion or many of our other industry colleagues and competitors. There will be workshops to share knowledge and align concepts between departments, and some airlines have even held workshops with vendors to understand their views on the change. Not a single vendor in the airline commercial space is ignoring this change and each has their own ideas and plans for the transition, which makes them great sources of ideas.
Do not expect the business case to be completed in a week. It is complex and multi-faceted. Do not assign one person in your organisation to try to master this – it is an unfair expectation, as this is extraordinarily complex and requires many parts of the organisation. Do not ignore the true costs, and use a realistic view of the potential revenues. While we would never criticise what companies like Bain and McKinsey did in their studies, we would say that those are ideal and very generic cases.
After all those “do not’s”, here is what we think you should do: plan a process of several months for the concept design of your offer to order transformation, involving various departments in the airline with clear expectations of what offer and order should deliver. Do not shy away from external help, be that from IATA to get an industry perspective, vendors to understand their paths to the future or industry experts like us to give a broader perspective and potentially an “outside in” view.