IBM and AA – An Innovative Partnership Heads to the Cloud

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 7, 2016

In an IT industry that is both dynamic and frangible, an organization like IBM stands out. That’s partly due to its remarkable longevity which at a century and counting is more than two of its senior-most major competitors, HPE and Oracle, combined.

But the company’s durability and its approach to computing innovation is also reflected in its relationships with customers and partners. Last week’s announcement concerning one of those customers – American Airlines (AA) – marked a notable strategic partnership and significant milestone for both organizations.

Why notable? Because the agreement means that AA, the world’s largest airline (currently offering about 6,700 flights per day to nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries), has chosen IBM to be its cloud computing provider “for greater enterprise flexibility, scalability and reliability.”

Why significant? Because the new deal is just the latest development in a partnership that dates back over six decades to the 1950s when AA and IBM developed the airline industry’s first electronic reservation and ticketing system.

AA – At home in the cloud

To be clear, AA did not reveal exactly how it would use IBM Cloud in great detail. Mainly, that’s due to strategic discretion—no company wants its competitors to know how it believes it can or will gain significant advantages.

Instead, the announcement commented that AA will be able to leverage IBM Cloud’s 50+ data centers in 17 countries, and IBM Bluemix’s wide range of application development capabilities. AA also noted that IBM’s advanced analytics capabilities and technologies will enable it to “advance its enterprise into a cognitive infrastructure that offers greater resiliency and better customer experiences.”

What does this mean in plain English? Consider that many if not most airlines currently interact with customers via individual, typically separate online portals, airport kiosks and ticketing/reservation systems. Leveraging a robust, resilient, globe-spanning infrastructure like IBM Cloud should offer myriad opportunities to create interactive, deeply integrated applications and processes that seamlessly interconnect backend and front office infrastructures.

Where does IBM Bluemix fit in? Like other businesses, airlines recognize that their success requires serving customers increasingly comfortable with and dependent on robust mobile applications and cloud-enabled services that can be tapped anytime from anywhere with any kind of device.

But getting to that promising future requires companies to provide their current developers and developer organizations with state of the art tools and technologies, like those available via IBM Bluemix. Businesses also need an organization like IBM that can provide everything required for moving to the cloud, including the platform, the software, and the services that help companies achieve their planned transformations.

How about IBM’s advanced analytics and cognitive infrastructures? As the demand for and complexities of air travel continue to grow, airlines will need to fully leverage cognitive capabilities to ensure that they effectively interact with and serve customers and partners no matter wher they work or reside.

In other words, AA once looked to IBM in the 1950s to provide the business acumen and technical knowhow to create a system capable of supporting tens of thousands and eventually tens of millions of reservation and ticketing transactions. The new deal to leverage IBM’s Cloud, Bluemix and advanced analytics solutions should provide AA the innovative means to extend its business into the future and engage new generations of global customers.

Final analysis

If this sounds overly optimistic, consider that AA is just one of several airline companies that have recently engaged IBM to assist in strategic and modernization efforts. In the past two years alone, the company has inked deals with:

  • Lufthansa to take over the airline’s information technology – saving costs and allowing the airline to compete in Europe and the Middle East
  • Ethiad for flexible infrastructure, new apps and improved customer experience
  • Emirates to deliver new apps and APIs, and improve infrastructure management
  • Air Mauritius for operational efficiencies and improved customer experience
  • FinnAir to aid in improving efficiencies and iOS app development, and
  • Gategroup for improved catering services

While not unique, the scope of the AA deal makes it notable as does the length of the strategic partnership between the companies. But the longevity of that relationship and the individual success of its partners attests to the innovative value that IBM and American Airlines have created and found together.

Overall, it seems reasonable to say that before IBM and AA first got together in the 1950s, the airline industry was flying pretty close to the ground. In that context, it is entirely appropriate that the companies focus on a future where their operations are enabled and enriched by the cloud.

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