The Air Transport Cloud – why it really does matter?

This blog is written with my SITA Chair ‘hat’ on… As some of you may know, SITA is the “Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautique”, founded 62 years ago to provide telecommunications to airlines.

Earlier this month, SITA announced its programme to build the Air Transport Community Cloud, dedicated to the aviation industry.

Now, ‘the Cloud’ is a much over-hyped concept – especially by IT suppliers. Seemingly not a day goes past without some cumulo-nimbus decorated piece of supplier propaganda dropping into my inbox! But last June I went on record at the 2010 Airline Business IT Summit as saying the Cloud is one of my “Big 4 C” trends for the next decade for Airline IT. Had I succumbed to the supplier hype?

Well, I hope not.  I still believe Cloud Computing is one of the major trends of the current decade, not least because it enables the CIO to become the best friend of the CFO and their CEO, by accessing economies of scale at the same time as increasing business flexibility.

This is because – if well executed – the Cloud allows normal companies in normal industries to access flexible computing processing and storage capabilities comparable to – and sometimes provided by – companies of the scale of Google, IBM, Orange, eBay or Microsoft.

What is this magical Cloud then?  Well, as with all hype there as many definitions as suppliers.  To me, the Cloud is the provision of a shared computing service remotely from the user, which is charged on a business usage basis.  The cost of the hardware and operating systems, the cost of licences and so forth, is aggregated and borne by the supplier.  This enables you as a IT provider to acquire your basic computer processing at costs lower than you could on your own and to use them when you want them.

It can be used to switch on and switch off test systems.  It can be used to provide for peak loading.  It can be used to provide fundamental services.

This development is very much helped by the arrival of the Internet and web connectivity.  Thus Software as a Service is provided in the Cloud.

Indeed, the air transport industry (ATI) is no stranger to such Clouds.  In my definition of a Cloud, the airlines’ invention – the Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) – is one, and thus Amadeus, Sabre, Galileo and Worldspan are Cloud Computing providers – they just did it with older technologies.

Some background about how SITA got here may – I hope – be interesting, plus some explanation of why we believe this is going to be a winner for the SITA’s Community Concept.

This hit me in a flash almost two years ago (check out last year’s ATI Summit video, where I talk about this) and I have been encouraging SITA to develop the Air Transport Cloud programme since then.   This is because the Cloud is a service that is particularly well suited to SITA with our unique Community services, the telecommunications infrastructure for which is provided on a not-for-profit basis for the whole Air Transport Industry.

SITA’s investment in shared Cloud Computing infrastructure is now well underway and the ATI Cloud applications and the SITA Cloud services will be going live from June. They will include infrastructure, platform, desktop and software-as-a-service offerings. Even better, the Infrastructure Cloud Services will be provided by SITA as a Community Service on a not-for-profit basis to all SITA Members!

As I recall, the Cloud came up at a SITA joint Board/Executive Strategy Day way back in 2009.   As I said, it is not a new idea for air transport.  We already access economies of scale in terms of reservations and check-in, where airlines pay per passenger boarded for a centrally hosted service by the GDSs and SITA.

However, the idea of extending this to a wider range of services, facilitated by the new technologies in datacentres, networks and software-as-a-service, is absolutely made for SITA; since SITA uniquely has global network connections to almost every major airline and every major airport in the World.

Francesco Violante (SITA’s CEO) and  SITA’s Vision has been that the air transport industry’s very special needs are brilliantly suited to an Industry Cloud.  Each flight that takes off is of course a miracle of process and systems integration: involving many different entities including airlines, airports, manufacturers and GDSs that share numerous business applications and for that take-off to occur safely and efficiently, they must co-operate across the complex air transport eco-system. The aviation industry operates within complex national, regional and global regulations and standards.

SITA has therefore built an integrated cloud combining network and IT infrastructure solely dedicated to and – best of all – specifically tailored to the air transport industry and our integration complexities.

Our SITA Air Transport Community Cloud is based on six large regional virtual data centres across five continents; together with virtual data centres based at large airports. Services will be delivered through regional portals, providing airline CIOs with on-demand computing.  Every end-users will be no more than 100 milliseconds away from one of the SITA data centres.

And the SITA Air Transport Cloud will not just be limited to SITA apps: as well as providing the basic applications to run an airline or an airport, we are going to provide the platform for independent software vendors and application service providers to distribute their applications to aviation customers.

So I really believe the ATI Cloud is a game changer for the air transport industry.  Airline and airports around the world can have their applications instantly and flexibly.

Watch for developments.  I think the Cloud will revolutionise ATI technology, both in service  and in time in cost.  We have seen this happen already in passenger service systems (PSS), and the Cloud makes this open to all air transport services.

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

7 Responses to The Air Transport Cloud – why it really does matter?

  1. Douglas \\\\\\\hollsnd says:

    A very useful post and I feel I shall be referencing it a lot in the coming months.
    Thanks Paul, I only wish I could summarise the subject so well.

  2. Paul,

    Whilst the cloud undoubtedly provides a scalable, reliable and available infrastructure, we need lots of development work for the current ATI portfolio and suppliers to become “cloud compliant”.

    However I do think you make an interesting point.

    We need the developers to step up and we need airlines to work together through industry organisations with infrastructure and development horsepower like SITA.

    Richard Clarke
    Travel Technology Research

  3. A fascinating insight as always. I always look forward to your blog.

    I am very interested by the concepts about how the air traffic industry works together to ensure seamless transfer of passenger and other information. I have done a lot of work with the public sector and this is a model that certainly local authorities could learn from to meet their challenges of continual service delivery and cost management/reduction.

    While I understand that a lot of folks in IT are rolling their eyes at the over-use of the term “cloud” it is important to see the real benefits. Perhaps its easy to overlook because there aren’t the high profile individuals in the sector but SME is the real hot house for commercial “public cloud” applications. As a small business leader I’m not into buying anything unless I have to. Two words: Capital, Liquidity.

    Thanks again, look forward to the next one.

    • paulcoby says:

      Alistair
      Thanks for your comment. Interesting question as to why the air transport industry acts as a Community – indeed we sometimes talk about the ATC rather than the ATI.
      It is probably because the complex networks of airlines, airports, air traffic control cannot function – and function safely – without common standards and connectivity.
      As you say why this does not occur more in the public sector is interesting?
      The benefits of buying on the basis of usage in terms of lower costs and avoiding capital are key elements of a mature cloud model.
      All the best
      Paul

  4. Paul, enjoyed reading this article and agree that Cloud is the direction – we are seeing this from airline clients and indeed the investment SITA made in SuccessFactors to accelerate workforce productivity and results. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Regards, Russell

  5. Pingback: Information Technologies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: