An industry with multiple standards bodies using the same type of technology addressing the same business functions could be seen as an indication of an industry in some disarray.
I think it’s fair to say that the airline industry, while not actually in disarray, could be said to be in a period of violent evolution.
At an ATPCO meeting last week, the airline industry started talking about the impact of several organizations – ATPCO, IATA, Open Axis and OpenTravel – each working mostly in silos to create standards to solve the various issues in the electronic distribution of airline inventory.
There are some relationships between these organizations – Open Axis and OpenTravel have executed a memo of understanding, ATPCO sits on the board of Open Axis and is a member of OpenTravel, IATA and ATPCO have joint working groups – but nothing formal or consistent.
So there was a fair amount of confusion, and a bit of frustration, in the roomful of airlines, distributors and technology providers over which organization did what under whose governance to meet which business needs.
To be fair, this was the first time the four organizations have been in the same room together with the audience all four serve so it’s not like we as organizations have been ducking the issue.
And we’re all going to be together again at an IATA meeting in March, so the face-to-face conversation will continue.
But the confusion and frustration is understandable, especially when companies in the airline industry are forced to choose how to allocate resources, financial and human, amongst four organizations that have not clearly delineated, to the industry’s satisfaction, their respective roles with regard to standards creation.
So in the interest of clarification, or at least the beginning of clarification, here’s a brief statement of purpose of each organization.
ATPCO (from Tom Gregorson, Senior Director Product Strategy and Development):
- ATPCO’s mission has three components, to lead the airline industry in defining standards and implementing industry solutions, to collect and distribute fare and fare related date efficiently, and to provide products and services that help the airlines protect their revenues or grow incremental revenues. As we currently provide products and services for over 450 airlines we have established a robust set of standards for airline fare and fare related data as well as the airline revenue accounting supporting processes. To achieve our mission there is a need to have a set of aligned standards across all disciplines and technologies within the airline industry, we actively participate in industry forums to try and achieve this.
- IATA is the international airline's trade association which specializes in developing industry standards to transform the total air travel chain. A recent example is electronic ticketing (ET), whereas currently much work is focused on e-services regarding the electronic miscellaneous document (EMD) to support ancillary services. Since 2005 IATA has been working with airlines, airports and industry suppliers to develop XML schemas.
(from Jim Young, executive director):
- Open AXIS Group’s primary goal is the advocacy for and promotion of XML as the optimal electronic messaging structure for airline system connectivity used in traveler authenticated content distribution. In support of this purpose, Open AXIS Group maintains a standardized traveler authenticated based set of XML schema and distribution practices, known as Distribution 2.0, tailored to the airline industry and is capable of delivering comprehensive content and functionality for use by the third party distribution channel worldwide.
- OpenTravel creates XML schema and other artifacts to support passenger/guest-facing distribution functionality in all segments of the travel industry, including airlines and their technology and distribution partners. With the direct support of the industry, OpenTravel staff creates and modifies schema, and then freely distributes the schema to anyone interested. With thousands of implementations around the world and across the travel industry, OpenTravel has created a true industry standard.
More conversation leading to more clarification. Open Axis, ATPCO and IATA are all participating in OpenTravel’s airline merchandising project that just kicked off so we’ll treat that as a prototype for future collaboration and see how it works.
While all four organizations have comprehensive governance policies in place, I believe there is room for more formal structure between the organizations.
NB: Author is executive director of OpenTravel Alliance.