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QF now up in the cloud

Always at the forefront of airline innovation, Qantas is now operating its IT systems “in the cloud”.

Tech cloudBy Bruce Piper

Always at the forefront of airline innovation, Qantas is now (very appropriately) operating its IT systems “in the cloud”. The days of maintaining large, expensive data centres full of quietly humming computers and big air conditioning systems look to be over for the carrier, which has moved many of its systems to “cloud architecture” provided by Amazon Web Services – the same US company which made its name as an online retailer and which has now established a significant business in cloud computing.

Under the Amazon model, users don’t maintain any of their own computer hardware but instead have full control of a range of internet-based services on a “pay as you go” basis. This has a number of major advantages. There’s no set-up cost, and if you need extra capacity – perhaps a faster, more powerful web server – you can simply “provision” more power on demand. Amazon has seen a strong uptake for the option and QF’s move to the cloud is certainly an endorsement of the model.

Within the Qantas group, the move to cloud computing was pioneered by its accommodation-focused offshoot Hooroo.com. Hooroo was founded some years ago as a completely separate business with a mandate to develop an accommodation retailer from the ground up. Rather than sharing resources with its giant parent, the idea was that by making Hooroo stand alone it wouldn’t be hampered by established thinking or structures.

The result was that Hooroo set itself up in the cloud using Amazon servers which allowed it to instantly scale up its computing power in response to demand.

At the Traveltech conference some years ago, Hooroo’s then chief marketing officer Bruce Fair confirmed that the business’s monthly Amazon bill amounted to some $10,000 at that time – a fraction of the cost of maintaining and staffing a traditional data centre. Hooroo continues to grow – not least because it supplies all of the hotel content for the Qantas and Jetstar websites – so it’s probably costing more by now, but still less than a non-cloud solution.

Moving to Amazon is just one of a host of innovations being introduced by Qantas chief information officer Luc Hennekens, including a major project to enhance the airline’s yield with the introduction of the PROS revenue management system, forecast to be completed mid this year.

PROS is an American software company which utilises so-called “big data” – promising that by unlocking patterns within the millions of transactions undertaken by its customers they can “unleash your sales”. For airlines, the software analyses data to “identify bottleneck sectors” and maximise inventory by identifying low-performing markets and “monitoring potential seat spoilage”.

Interestingly for customers, PROS also offers to determine the “minimum acceptance price” – that is, work out exactly how much money it can extract from passengers based on a host of individualised factors such as other travel plans, previous booking patterns, and prices charged by rival airlines – not to mention the number of empty seats on each aircraft. The sheer scale of an operation like an airline means systems like this can help pricing decisions which were previously made on gut instinct.

“The industry used to be a lot simpler when you had two different classes and two different prices, there are many more variables coming into play in today’s world,” Hennekens told Fairfax Media.

But it’s not just about pricing, with data analytics also set to be integrated more fully into QF’s’s operations centres to help provide management with better information on what to do in the event of a disruption.

“Whenever there is anything that disrupts our planned schedule, it is an incredibly complex task to recover from and to make decisions around which flights are delayed or cancelled,” he said.

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