From the internet booking engine to digital experience platforms

Although 2020 is not far into the future and self-driving cars have arrived, we notice that our airline industry has not yet fully let go of the 1990’s term “Internet Booking Engine” (IBE).  For many airlines, it remains a term that conveniently encapsulates the selling and servicing application for online channels.

However, the role and orientation of such a system, regardless of how it is labelled, has fundamentally changed in every sense.

A swiss army pocket knife

More than ten years ago, I was the CTO of a fast-growing company delivering a successful IBE to the market. I led a bunch of enthusiastic staff involved in product design, architecture, development and delivery. It was a great learning experience to deliver an ambitious tech roadmap and see this IBE enable online transactions for airlines in Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific.

Looking back, I would describe the system that emerged as akin to a Swiss army pocket knife. Our customers wanted the solution to do everything which was not adequately and cost-effectively handled by the core PSS. For that reason, and being insanely customer-focussed, the solution my team built perhaps ended up being too broad in its focus. Besides covering the multitude of selling flows (B2C, B2B, B2T, FF, MYB etc.), it included a plethora of components to cover merchandising, promotions and vouchers capabilities, a simplified fares shopping and pricing engine, a user data system, a notification engine, stored credit payment functionality, and the list goes on.

Since then, there has been a clear shift in mindset to favour a Best-of-Breed approach. Airline architects are seeking the best components to assemble in a flexible, service-oriented architecture. To give an example, offer management systems, including flight shopping and merchandising, have matured significantly in particular. They present clear revenue growth opportunities for airlines who benefit from employing the best solution for their needs, rather than compromising on a less effective system bundled into another application.  The same applies with other capabilities previously seen as part of the IBE’s core functions such as notifications, customer profiles and promotions.

Goodbye IBE. Hello digital experience platform.

At Branchspace, we feel that the new role of the ‘IBE’ is no longer to provide a diverse collection of in-built functions for eCommerce. Rather, its new role is to enable the ultimate selling and servicing customer experience.

It is essentially a digital experience platform – a flexible orchestration engine that integrates with best of breed offer and order management systems, payment, customer data and personalisation systems. Rather than handling separate user functions (book, change, check-in) in silos, the experience is unified across them all. Furthermore, such a platform must address not only the traditional web channels but also native mobile, chatbots, messaging applications, new marketplaces, intelligent assistants and emerging digital touchpoints.

Another key aspect of such a platform is to enable airlines to dynamically present differentiated experiences and user journeys in different contexts – whether it is a different user, itinerary, market, time of day etc. It should harness analytics data available to it to guide the airline on how best to adapt the experience, as well as provide the basis for easy experimentation.

By collaborating with innovative airlines, we are taking measured steps in this direction as we evolve our Triplake platform.