By Stephani Hawkins

Making open solutions a reality:

A conversation with Todd Richmond, vice president of architecture and technology strategy, Sabre


By Stephani Hawkins

Making open solutions

a reality:

A conversation with Todd Richmond, vice president of architecture and technology strategy, Sabre

In our last issue of Ascend, we featured an article titled, “Digital transformation: The technology evolution.” The article explains how open, state-of-the-art technology enables airlines to:

  • Accelerate innovation by bringing new products to market faster,
  • Drive efficiency through code reuse and modern software practices,
  • Enhance flexibility to meet changing market needs.

In a recent interview, Todd Richmond, discussed some key challenges facing airline IT departments, how airlines can become better retailers and how open technology solutions play a key role in the future success of airlines.

Question: What are some of the most prevalent challenges facing airline technology departments?

Answer: One of the bigger challenges I believe airlines face is managing the complexity of fulfilling customers’ expectations of retailing. Airlines have struggled both internally and with their service providers with how to deliver on the experience they want to offer. For example, during operational disruptions, how does an airline manage a customer’s complete booking, not just the air itinerary? Does the airline have the tools to properly rebook or refund non-air items? Does it have the support of its IT providers to ensure they can deliver consistently through a disruption?

Our goal is to make this process as seamless for the airline and the traveler as possible by ensuring our advanced retailing platform not only brings the initial offers to all points of sale, but it can manage the process through day of travel and beyond.

Another common theme I hear from airline IT department leaders is the challenge they face when building system interfaces to integrate their IT systems via application programming interfaces (APIs). They are aware of the cost pressures all airlines face and the time spent either reconnecting systems to a new provider or adapting to changes in the underlying services, which takes resources away from delivering new capabilities to their business. This is one of the reasons our offerings in this area are generating so much interest.

Q: Retailing has been a buzz word in the industry for a while now. How do you believe airlines will become intelligent retailers, so they can remain competitive in this dynamic environment?

A: For this to happen, we must help airlines turn the corner from believing that deep personalization is possible to delivering the tools that make it real. A big part of this solution is the ability to integrate the insights that deep analytics illuminate into the engines that deliver the offers. We are combining the insights gained through our work in data and analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence directly into the next-generation retailing platform so airlines can do what traditional retail giants like Amazon have done for years now – go beyond just offering the lowest price to putting a truly tailored package of travel products in front of the buyer … one that is based on customer preferences extending beyond just that of travelers’ past trips.

Q: Sabre believes that airlines need “open” technology solutions. What specifically does this mean, and why is it important to airlines?

A: We’ve used the term “open technology” for many years. What I believe that term means to most airline IT departments covers two related concepts. First, airlines want a system that doesn’t appear monolithic. They want the ability to orchestrate the way in which services provided by their IT partners function without having to constantly go back to the IT provider for additional development. This is one of the reasons Sabre is making significant investments in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) APIs. This approach helps transform traditional business processes into more discrete functions that can be combined into workflows that meet an airline’s needs.

Moreover, our new JSON APIs and, especially the SDK (software development kit), built on Sabre’s rich history of open, standards-based APIs, make it even easier for airlines to connect to our technology.

While investing in the foundation of open technology with the items I’ve outlined is crucial, airlines also look to Sabre for support in building out the rest of their brand experience. I believe this is where our technology platform will be a key enabler in both a seamless and technologically stable way. Sabre has invested in a digital airline commercial platform that provides both ready-to-deploy business solutions and an open platform that enables an airline to create the digital experience they want for their agents and travelers.

Q: How can airlines begin to incorporate open technology solutions into their current retailing strategies?

A: With our platform approach, we are ready to help an airline be successful with this in several ways, such as providing support for the latest New Distribution Capability (NDC) API standards as they become available, as well as our Sabre Commercial Platform, that has the flexibility to deliver ancillary products and services exactly when customers want them and at the right price points. To make this happen, airline IT departments should place emphasis on adoption of our latest JSON APIs, ideally by adopting our Sabre API Hub.

We encourage this approach because the Sabre API Hub provides an ideal abstraction layer between the airline’s applications and the underlying service domains so minimal rework is required should there be a major rewrite of a service or change to the underlying data formats.

We stand ready to help with this by engaging workshops with airline IT departments to chart the best way to migrate from previous API versions. Doing so will greatly simplify the integration effort airlines undergo when connecting their applications to our technology.

In addition, we are building on our strong history of APIs by releasing our first software developer kit (SDK), built on the same technology that powers our SabreSonic Digital Experience and SabreSonic Digital Workspace solutions. The SDK and the JSON APIs it incorporates will allow airlines to move away from traditional low-level transactional APIs to workflow-based implementations that provide further abstraction from the implementation details of the underlying technology, which speeds time to market for their developers and simplifies testing and deployment. /A

Todd Richmond

For additional information contact Todd Richmond at todd.richmond@sabre.com

Todd Richmond

Todd is vice president of architecture and technology strategy for Sabre. He leads the company’s architecture strategy efforts and provides IT thought leadership across the enterprise. During his 29 years with Sabre, Todd has led IT-consulting and software-development engagements at many of the world’s leading airlines. Before joining Sabre, Todd designed avionics software for Boeing and General Dynamics, and he holds a degree in electrical engineering from Wichita State University.