The Raise of the Order

Space, the final Frontier, we write the year 1988 as the by Captain William T. Riker commanded Federation Starship Titan …. Well, time is running. 27 years ago some of us got beamed up by Scotty to the new Fokker building in Amsterdam. We were on a secret mission called ‘Galileo’ and our assignment was to build a global distribution system, in short ‘GDS’. While I was there representing Swissair, we also had members from Alitalia, KLM, United Airlines, Olympic Airways, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, TAP, IBM and Covia (United Airlines’ IT company). I might have forgotten to name some of the airlines – please forgive me.

Anyhow, it was the time when we were supposed to discover space, the unknown frontier of distribution systems. We all were full of energy, excitement and enthusiasm to achieve the unachievable. Hans Eisele, Walti Schärer, Urs Leimgruber, Stefan Märki, Peter Maurer, Anselmo Mazzoleni and others represented the crème de la crème of Swissair IT. I can’t remember what my initial assignment was, but I was with a small team squeezed into a small office using IBM PCs running DW4 (IBM’s text system display write 4). In a later stage I was moved to the transaction manager design team led by Novak Niketic, a real expert and a person I learned a lot from.

My colleague, Walti Schärer, was assigned to a team that was supposed to look into the future of passenger name records (PNR) as some of the people believed that using PNRs was outdated and not flexible enough. That team had to come up with something completely different, sort of a key-differentiator to other existing systems and to add more flexibility to the way products and services are sold and to improve customer recognition. In the beginning this all sounded confusing to me as I was raised as a PNR-follower and I couldn’t really imagine life without a PNR. However, their task was really interesting, and they all worked hard to invent a flexible and future-oriented solution.

After almost four months of design work they came up with something called “The Order”. Not a passenger name record, not a booking file but an order management solution, in short “OMS”OMS offered a completely different structure without the hierarchy, limitations and inflexibility of a PNR. Products and services managed under an order where called order items or order positions and passengers became participants. The OMS was so flexible that it could handle dynamic packaging, tour operator products, non-air products and any other type of services. It was really impressive, and the result was something the team could be really proud of.

Unfortunately, most of the ideas never made it into the Galileo System. The board decided to use the Apollo system as a core due to time-to-market and cost issues and only alter certain areas to turn a US-domestic CRS into an international GDS. Guess the pressure they had to launch a system was driven by the competition they had from Amadeus. Besides all the hard work, documents produced, data flow diagrams designed and the experience to build something completely new there was not much left. Some of us moved to lovely Swindon – I did – and others went back to their jobs back home.

27 years later, IATA, as part of its StB initiative, has started an initiative which will replace the PNR with something new, more flexible and more future oriented. The raise of “The Order”. While the initiative seems to come rather late, it is an important step into the right direction. It has to be seen if IT providers are able to transform their existing legacy systems and replace PNRs with Orders. Sounds easy, but of course there’s a lot more than just replacing one data structure with another one. Maybe it requires a more drastic approach and build new generation airline systems from ground up.

Some StB team members worked with me at Galileo. I hope they managed to keep the floppy disks.