On 15 October, IATA announced the creation of the NDC Innovation Fund in partnership with Travel Capitalist Ventures (TCV), a private equity and venture capital firm specializing in travel industry investments. The announcement, which occurred during the recent World Passenger Symposium 2014 in San Diego, generated quite a bit of interest, as was made clear by the number of tweets and re-tweets immediately following the news.
Because the NDC Innovation Fund will become an essential pillar of the NDC program moving forward, we asked Abrar Ahmad, Partner at Travel Capitalist Ventures (TCV), to tell us a bit more about this new fund.
What motivated you to create an NDC-related fund together with IATA?
As a travel-focused investment firm, it is pretty clear to us that the NDC standard will have a positive and wide-ranging impact on how (air) travel will be distributed in the future, and with countless possibilities for new entrants to leverage. With this in mind, we at TCV were convinced that investments in NDC-based solutions providers will translate into strong returns, hence our interest from day one in partnering with IATA for the launch and management of the NDC Innovation Fund.
How big is the NDC Innovation Fund?
The Fund has US$5 million in capital to invest in small- and medium-size companies. We will be looking at pre- and post-seed stage investments between US$500,000 to US$1 million, in exchange for equity.
We believe such ticket size is large enough for these companies to comfortably develop minimum viable products, especially as the partnership with IATA will enable the startup to get easy access to airlines and validate business models with them, and therefore not spend valuable investment money on this key aspect of their ventures.
To what extent do you think this fund will foster innovation in travel? And more specifically, in which areas?
Our primary goal with the Fund is to promote innovation in any technology developments that will enhance the distribution capabilities of airlines, travel agents and other content aggregators, using the NDC standard. Having said this, the Fund will invest in both consumer- and business-facing products
Have you identified possible start-up candidates for the fund? And when do you expect to be able to announce your first investment?
Within days of announcing the Fund launch we had received more than ten applications via the Fund’s website. In parallel, we reached out to four startups we identified prior to the announcement, and which exceed our innovation criteria, so I am confident that together with IATA we will be able to announce a first investment soon.
How will the fund be run?
TCV and IATA will run the Fund together, jointly deciding which ventures and projects to invest in, based on our respective areas of expertise: technical and industry for IATA, while for TCV it is experience in travel and financial management.
Among the many announcements that took place during our annual World Passenger Symposium last week in San Diego, IATA released a new White Paper
on the topic of managed business travel.
Because the managed business traveler is a major source of profitable revenue for all across the chain, we thought it would be valuable for our member airlines, and their technology and agency partners to learn more about them. Based on a combination of quantitative and qualitative research, this white paper addresses the following questions:
- How will managed business travelers purchase flights in the near future?
- Which products, services and experiences will managed business travelers expect from airlines and travel agencies?
- Which value-added/ancillary services will be most popular with managed business travelers?
- Which factors will drive changes in the way airlines, travel agencies, and corporations and the traveler will conduct business with each other?
Here are the key learnings:
- 3 out of 4 managed business travelers are not completely satisfied with the way air travel is planned and booked. The primary reasons are related to the lack of flexibility of booking tools and average user experiences;
- Although it is difficult to draw a standard profile of the managed business traveler, two key aspects bring them together: their avid use of technology and their strong consumption of ancillary services;
- Their views of the future of travel planning and booking is mobile-based, which should lead to greater automation and customization;
- Technology will play a critical role in satisfying the needs of the managed business traveler, namely through improved devices and more flexible communication protocols such as NDC;
- Airlines, travel agencies, global distribution systems and other IT providers will all gain from embracing technology changes for the ultimate benefit of their respective relationships with the managed business traveler.
If you are interested in learning more about this key traveler segment, please feel free to download this White Paper and circulate with your peers and business partners.
On September 26, 2014, the Article 29 Working Party (WP29), an independent European advisory body on data protection and privacy, issued a letter outlining the results of their extensive review of NDC and its potential implications for passenger data privacy, in which IATA cooperated fully.
While the WP29 wants to monitor the implementation of the NDC standard in the future, we were encouraged that they identified nothing to warrant any action at this time.
Imagine my surprise then, to read in the media that my colleague Christoph Klenner, the Secretary General of the European Technology and Travel Services Association (ETTSA), had described the WP29 letter as a “stern warning” to IATA and “the strongest possible position” against NDC.
I wonder whether the WP29 is not just as surprised. But perhaps it is all in Christoph’s over-heated imagination. After all, over the past year, he has continually peppered the WP29 with the tiresome allegation that NDC will eliminate anonymous shopping. He has continued to recite this charge even as IATA has committed to both the WP29 and to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation that anonymous shopping will be preserved.
Of course Christoph knows this to be the case, because ETTSA is a member of Open Allies for Airfare Transparency. And it was Open Allies, working with IATA that offered DOT specific language to include in its approval of Resolution 787 to preserve anonymous shopping. Which raises an interesting question: Was Christoph being disingenuous when he helped craft the language that contributed to DOT’s approval of Resolution 787? Or is he being disingenuous now?
Earlier this month, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) granted final approval to Resolution 787, effectively completing the inception phase of NDC. It is great news for air travelers, airlines, travel agents and distribution technology providers--and for competition.
Now, the question that many are asking is what happens next?
First and foremost, we are about to release the first comprehensive set of end-to-end NDC schemas, covering shopping, order management and payment and ticketing. This means that developers will now be able to get their hands on the schemas and start ‘playing’ with them.
As the schemas become publicly available, increasingly our focus will shift toward market adoption. Although NDC will be a voluntary standard, it is in the interest of air travelers and the industry at large to see NDC widely adopted.
With that as background, here are three priorities the NDC team will be pursuing in the coming months.
Expand airline knowledge and participation
The NDC pilot phase will continue throughout the rest of 2014 and into 2015. Concurrently we expect to see rising interest from more and more airlines to learn about implementing NDC and standard deployment. As our experience with the pilots grows, we will share learnings and best practices with airlines - and their technology partners - that have chosen to test or to deploy the standard.
Strengthen our relationships across the value chain
Over the past 12 months or so, NDC has transitioned into a true industry initiative with broad participation across the travel value chain (an example is our agreement with Open Allies for Airfare Transparency on conditions to the implementation of Res. 787). The upcoming release of the comprehensive end-to-end schemas presents the opportunity to take our engagement with global distribution systems and other technology providers, travel management companies, online travel agencies and travel metasearch engines to the next level.
Get travel technology innovators behind NDC
Lastly, as we work with Open Allies and the GDSs, we want to extend our outreach to be inclusive to travel technology innovators looking at ways to re-invent the flight shopping experience. Reaching these smaller and less well-known firms will take some fresh thinking and we expect to have a big announcement in this regard at World Passenger Symposium 2014!
Timothy O’Neil-Dunne is usually provocative and always interesting and his recent thoughts regarding specific technology and commercial issues linked to NDC are no exception. While ultimately concluding that, “Airlines and other stakeholders in the airline distribution marketplace need to focus on adoption of NDC, rapid deployment and sponsorship of innovation,” Timothy is unsparing in his critique of NDC as having “lost its way,” while its goals and promise have “become clouded by different agendas and competing forces.”
With regard to different agendas and competing forces—we have certainly reached out to other players in the travel distribution value chain whose agendas may well diverge on some issues from those of IATA and airlines—but there is more that unites us than divides us. And we want NDC to be an inclusive standard, broadly supported across the value chain.
Unfortunately, much of his most thought-provoking analysis lies outside of the scope of IATA’s activities—we do not get involved in or comment on commercial issues involving our members and we have emphasized that NDC is a standard, not a business model.
However, we can respond to one of his biggest concerns: that NDC is taking too long to arrive in the market, which in his view ultimately is putting at stake the very benefits it promises to deliver to the industry.
I’m sure everyone associated with NDC would like to move faster but in building a standard that isn’t always possible, particularly one that offers such a dramatic change and which is being developed with broad input from a number of different participants in the travel value chain. Think about the transition to e-ticketing, which also was a multi-year project. Arguably, NDC touches on even more stakeholders and more business activities.
And in fact, NDC has achieved significant progress, particularly over the past twelve months, especially in the areas of:
- Standard development – where working with 30+ industry partners, IATA has been able to put together a complete set of business requirements and XML schemas for the most critical steps of the airline distribution process (Shopping, Booking, Payment & Ticketing, Interline and Servicing)
- Industry stakeholder management – where through regular contacts with the travel trade global distribution systems, industry suppliers and corporate travel buyers, IATA is gaining acceptance for NDC from more and more industry stakeholders.
Other aspects of NDC are not entirely under the control of IATA for example:
- The need for airlines and their technology and distribution partners to prepare their respective organizations to NDC and evaluate and execute the process change and investments associated to NDC;
- The technical limitations of market-leading Passenger Services Systems (PSS), which prevents developers to source airline’s rich and unique content in an easy, agile and immediate manner;
Still, there is a need for greater speed in standard deployment and greater access to the schemas by the developer community and we expect to see progress accelerate as the Resolution 787 approval process at the US Department of Transportation is completed this summer.
As IATA increases its focus on industry adoption of NDC during this second phase of the program, we are excited about upcoming developments which include the release of the end-to-end schemas, a new study on business traveler needs and two other exciting projects which we expect to announce at the World Passenger Symposium, 15-17 October in San Diego. These initiatives will move us further down the NDC path. And they will help to deliver the key success factors that Timothy cited: “deliver value, deliver speed, deliver what the user and his/her consumer want”.
If you have visited the NDC web page recently, you may have noticed that an “Alignment” tab has been added to the top of the page. But what exactly is an "Airline Alignment" session?
Conducted by 2 experts from the NDC team, these sessions, which are approximately four hours in duration, bring together senior representatives from different departments within the same airline: revenue management, distribution, e-commerce, sales, marketing, IT, revenue accounting, finance and government affairs.
The session is structured around three well-defined objectives:
- Ensure a common understanding, across the airline, of the NDC Standard and the benefits it can offer
- Review the potential changes in the distribution process (shop, book, pay, ticket and settle) with all impacted departments
- Understand the airline's assessment of the opportunities and their position regarding NDC
And it is organized around four building blocks:
- Description of the NDC program and the scope of the NDC standard
- Review of the end-to-end distribution process today and in an NDC world
- Examples of the benefits delivered by NDC to the airline
- Discussion on next steps
So far this year, five airlines have participated in alignment sessions: SAS, Aeroflot, Emirates, Etihad and Iberia. In the next 3 months, we have another 10 sessions planned with other airlines in the European, Middle East-Africa and Asia-Pacific regions.
These sessions constitute the first step in these airlines’ journey towards NDC, leading to possible pilot projects with their preferred technology and agency partners.
As we speak, our team together with XML Working Group is busy working on a new version of the NDC schemas. Version 1.1 will provide airlines and intermediaries with the capability to sell more air products and offer more shopping scenarios, such as buying ancillary services from interline partners.
A key aspect in the design of any schemas is their performance and feedback from the 2013 NDC pilots was that the Version 1.0 schemas were too heavy. So over the past couple of months, the schemas have gone on a strict diet, resulting in a significant reduction in payload sizes.
In more general terms, version 1.1 of the NDC schemas leverages a stronger architectural foundation; the schemas are more robust, reflect a new fault- and exception-handling approach to schemas design, and finally are compliant with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) best practices.
It was possible to adjust and fine tune the NDC schemas in a matter of months owing to the soundness of the methodology for the development of the NDC standard:
- The Distribution Data Exchange Working Group (DDXWG) supports the definition of the business requirements and associated schemas.
- The NDC Pilots validate the schemas and provide feedback and insights to the DDXWG for the next iteration.
The main limitation of this iterative approach is that, well, it is iterative! First adopters that have chosen to test earlier versions of the NDC schemas will need to migrate to the latest versions in order to benefit fully from the improvements. In view of the costs associated with migrating to newer versions of the schemas a “translation tool” will be included in any new releases. This tool will convert an NDC XML message from one version to another version of the same XML, for example from a 1.0 message into a 1.1 format.
If everything goes according to plan, Version 1.1 should be ready in August. Access to draft releases/work in progress will also be possible between now and then.
A rising number of players across the distribution value chain are recognizing the benefits that the NDC Shopping standard will bring: greater product differentiation, greater access to full and rich content and a greater and more transparent shopping experience for the customer.
One of the areas I am often asked about has to do with the assembly of the offer: with the NDC standard, airlines will be able to make sales offers to travel agents without them being prepared by intermediaries – just as airlines do today through their websites.
But how can this be done efficiently? A crucial innovation in NDC, which is not present in the Open Axis and other XML shopping schemas, is the formal tagging of an offer with an ‘Offer ID’ which links a price to a specific set of products. It lists the flights, specifies the payment conditions, the arrangements for making changes and clarifies ancillary products that are included - as well as the price of course.
As a result, the NDC messages become much ‘lighter’ and functional. The airline that created the product offer has ticketing and accounting built entirely around this offer, with no reliance on data from the intermediary except for the chosen payment method. The new controls for order management and ticketing against the ‘Offer ID’ should ensure that the fare to be paid is indeed the valid offer and so eliminate the need for revenue integrity checks and ADMs.
Of course, airlines, agents and aggregators will each need to make their own implementations of the NDC schemas. Airlines will also need to decide individually how much of the full NDC schema will be implemented when it comes to booking and ticketing. For example some airlines may choose to just implement NDC shopping and request their GDS/Aggregator perform booking and ticketing services.
So why did the earlier XML schemas not include an Offer ID which makes all this possible? I don’t know, just like I don’t know why the Romans never introduced the concept of zero in mathematics. The Romans never managed to develop mathematics to an advanced level, and airlines and agents that miss out on the Offer ID won’t get the full benefit of the NDC standard!
Two weeks ago, we enjoyed significant progress with regards to standard development, as representatives from 7 IATA Member airlines and 9 System Providers and other business partners gathered at our Geneva offices for the PADIS Messaging Week to:
- Review and validate the business requirements for NDC Booking, Airline Profile, Interline (for ancillary services only)
- Examine the business requirements for NDC Payment & Ticketing
- Review and validate the change requests to the NDC Shopping schemas (version 1.0)
What is PADIS?
The PADIS Board develops and maintains Electronic Data Interchange and XML message standards for passenger travel and airport-related passenger service activities. For instance, the PADIS message standards support the following application areas:
- Publication of schedules and slot management
- Airline shopping
- Reservations and electronic ticketing, including electronic miscellaneous documents
- Airport resource management and airport handling, including baggage handling
- Data exchange between airlines and governments concerning passenger data (PNRGOV)
- Data exchange between airlines and airports for operational flight related data (AIDX)
- XML schemas for exchange of data on the bar coded boarding pass (BCBP)
What came out of last week’s PADIS?
The PADIS Board responded positively to the submissions as it confirmed that the business requirements for NDC Booking and Interline (for Ancillary Services only) were seen as generally fit for purpose, when those include the descriptions of the data elements in individual messages.
The business requirement for NDC Payment & Ticketing also received positive comments while the requirements for Airline Profile are still a work in progress.
Based on the results, the DDXWG’s XML Group will now proceed with reviewing the feedback over the coming two months with a view to enhancing these business requirements and developing the XML schemas to support them; the task force was meeting in Boston last week to come up with a first draft of the schemas.
As a result of this very positive Messaging Week, an extraordinary PADIS meeting will be scheduled for late June via a series of conference calls to review the amended business requirements and proposed schemas.
This is great news for all the innovators and travel startups out there who are keen to start looking at the schemas more closely, in order to develop new ways of retailing air products and deliver brand new air shopping experiences to leisure and business travelers.
The first anniversary of the NDC Pilot Phase--which began in February 2013—provides an opportunity to review the achievements and learnings of the past twelve months in this critical aspect of the NDC Program.
How many airlines are participating in the NDC Pilot Phase?
- Five airlines have launched pilot projects in cooperation with their respective technology (and for some, travel agency) partners
- Another six airlines are discussing the framework of a next round of pilot projects with the NDC team.
The five pilots that went live in 2013 are:
- “Endeavor” by American Airlines, together with JR Technologies and a consolidator
- “Skycouch” by Air New Zealand, together with JR Technologies and a consolidator
- “SkyDreamer” by Hainan Airlines, together with TravelSky and CTBA
- “Sunshine” by China Southern, together with TravelSky and Ctrip
- “Alpine” by Swiss, together with HP, PROS and Datalex
What’s the scope of the NDC Pilot Phase?
The first five pilots have focused on the NDC Shopping schemas, using in some instances the airlines’ existing booking and ticketing processes to fulfill the shopping request.
The NDC shopping schemas enable airlines to construct their full product offers and to merchandize their baggage, seat maps and ancillary services, using rich content, in an anonymous or personalized manner.
What’s been the main achievement of this first year?
On 29 November 2013, the Chinese online travel agency CTBA issued the first e-ticket resulting from an NDC-based shopping transaction through the TravelSky system. The booking was a one-way trip between Beijing and Hainan Island on flight HU7782 on Hainan Airlines.
Successfully processed, this booking demonstrated interoperability of the NDC Shopping schema with existing airline processes and that it can support China’s domestic travel.
What did we learn from this first year of pilots?
Our pilots provided us with a great amount of valuable feedback. As a direct consequence, we are fine-tuning the schemas so the messages can be more efficiently processed by airlines, with reduced impact on their inventory systems.
We will shortly release a version 1.1 of the shopping schemas. This new release will address performance/scalability issues, information model harmonization, compliance with W3C standards and offer consistent error/exception handling.
From a functionality perspective, this new release will support product-only shopping, calendar shopping, group shopping notification, and other functionalities.
While we await approval of Resolution 787 from DOT, we are advancing into the second year of the NDC Pilot Phase, we will make sure to share our learnings from the existing pilots as well as from those that will be initiated in the coming weeks and months.