OOPS – I did it again

As an engineer I’m not used to write public posts often, but I thought I want to share my views with the readership this time.

Anyhow, during the last two years I made approximate 100 flight bookings using one of the big passenger reservation systems. Whenever I made a booking the system stored my passenger and contact data as part of the booking. While I understand that contact information can change over time, the chances that I rename myself are rather low and throughout my 50 years of existence I have never changed my date of birth. So over time the system which I’m not going to name, as all the others do exactly the same, saved my data 100 times. Needless to say that with such a redundancy tracking individual information or getting decent marketing information out of it is almost impossible.

In order for the poor airline to track my preferences, feedback, complaints and travel history they have to invest in a frequent flier system. So all my personal information and the contact data can be saved in a central database, without redundancy. But even then, when I create new bookings all my information is copied over into the booking again and again … They would have thousands of HELLER/ROLAND MR somewhere in the database if they would not purge bookings out of the system after one year – mainly due to the limited disk space – funny, isn’t it.

Yet with all the information available and with, what they call, a ‘customer-centric’ approach they still do not really know who I am and what I really like and dislike – except that I dislike having my name stored thousands of times.

On the other hand, there is Facebook (and Google+, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). I have never made a booking on Facebook nor did I give them any money to fly me from A to B, yet they do know more than the airlines. Well, don’t think they know too much about me as I’m reluctant to be too transparent, but a lot of us upload their holiday pictures, hotel reviews and trip details and Facebook makes more money with all the data than the airlines we use to fly. Facebook has a big advantage: they don’t create a new profile for every picture and status I post, but they link everything back to a single profile. That of course gives them clear advantages and we all know how good they are in making use of it.

So why is it possible that Facebook can do what airlines cannot do? How can Facebook keep a single profile with cross-linked information, but airlines need to have all the information copied into all bookings and then have to invest in Loyalty Systems, Data Warehouses or just stay blind. Why can’t airlines do the same? Why haven’t their systems evolved?

My only conclusion is that “we’ve done it like that for the last 40 years and this is how the airline industry works”. And the interesting aspect is that there are companies developing new systems, but they change the technology only and drag 40 years of legacy processes with them. Because people involved cannot break free and cannot think out of the box. Yet they spend millions in new technology – only the latest is the best. And they will always tell us why it has to be like that. Paper-based thinking in a digital world.

However, all these systems stick with their cores – “oh no we can’t change the core as it would generate too many issues”. So they simple take old processes, move them onto new servers, call these open systems, enterprise architecture, shiny mainframes, distributed computing – and keep on saving HELLER/ROLAND MR hundreds of times, but only for a year due to disk-space issues.

One year ago, when I retired and wrote my last line of commercial source-code I said to myself that I will never ever develop a system again. But James Bond was right: “Never say never!”. Don’t get me wrong, the world does not need yet another airline reservation system – we have enough of them, and some aren’t too bad – except for keeping my name – you already now.

So what I’m thinking of; if Facebook (and the others) can do what they do – why can’t a reservation system be like Facebook where people are identified once, can make bookings, buy services, contribute with information and participate in a more social experience – and even better – provide the airlines with an integrated view of their business and most importantly their passengers.

Welcome to “OOPS – I did it again”