Innovative and Agile. Can industry standards be both?

10 March 2021

Innovative or Agile?

If we learned anything during the last 12 months, it’s that the airline industry must be able to adapt quickly. But the underlying data structures can seem difficult to change, and building to suit brand-new specifications is even more daunting when resources are limited. One of the ways ATPCO adds value to the industry is through its standards setting, which took the spotlight in 2020 as the industry responded to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Did you know? Standard-setting activities ensure consistency between all the connection points involved in serving more than 3.5 billion passengers and delivering over USD 700 billion in revenues (in a normal year).

Last year, we were forced to explore how delivering the right industry standards fast could accomplish change, and the answer seemed easy: “Let’s be innovative and agile!” But then we had to answer a major question.

Is it possible for industry standards development to be innovative and agile at the same time?

Before we get to the end of that story, let’s take a look at what the industry thinks about this question. We asked the 300+ attendees at the most recent Foundation Industry Stand-Up in March. In fact, 55% of respondents said yes, industry standard-setting can be innovative and agile. Meanwhile, 40% said they believe that industry standards can either be innovative or agile, but not both. 

Can industry standards be innovative AND agile? Poll results.

We're with the 55%—and here's our proof of how it works.

A huge problem we faced in 2020: Did you know that even in a typical year, about 8% of all transactions are changes? That adds up to about 350 million passengers, or 1 million changes per day. On top of all that, the pandemic led to more than one million canceled flights, resulting in travelers who either could not travel their planned flights or no longer wanted to because of health concerns.

The process of changing and refunding tickets on existing tickets was manual, time-consuming, and taxing on the customer support teams at both airlines and their channels.  

The solution: The Emergency Flexibility solution allowed airlines to give much-needed relief to their passengers. The solution provided an automated way for each airline to allow passengers to change or refund a non-changeable or non-refundable ticket, even if it wasn’t changeable when they originally purchased it.

To build this solution, many commercially competitive stakeholders came together for the benefit of passengers, and more than 40 airlines are still using the solution.

How we got there: ATPCO, major distribution systems, and airlines met every two weeks for 90 minutes to design and produce the fastest standard and data implementation ever—just over 10 weeks from inception to implementation by all major pricing systems.

After forming the Design Team for Changes and Refunds, ATPCO facilitated the discussion, produced drafts of data standards, and presented them every two weeks to the group of industry partners. The group shared feedback on each iteration after reviewing any documentation that was published for them on MyATPCO, the customer portal.  

"Let's be innovative and agile!"

There are countless other examples of innovative standards setting at an agile pace, but here’s the point: The formula is not rocket science. In fact, it’s quite simple. Consistent, organized communication, discussion, and agenda prep + quick feedback in qualitative and qualitative formats + ensuring industry voices are well represented at the table = a method for accomplishing change quickly.  

We are replicating this formula for Design Teams in the future, and if you’re interested in technical design, we want you to join us. 

This is a topic I’m passionate about. You’re welcome to reach out anytime to discuss standards setting, agility, and innovation in the industry, or if you have any questions about joining the standard-setting industry efforts.  

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By David Smith

David Smith, Head of Industry Standards, has 28 years of experience working in the airline industry in the travel distribution ecosystem. Within 10 years at a major European airline, and 18 years at ATPCO, he has experience in finance, business process re-engineering, program management, commercial negotiation, data distribution, and standards creation and management. He is also a board member of the US-based Society for Standards Professionals.