This case study breaks down how AIM’s Delivery Leadership capability supported a major airline’s merger with a competitor by integrating their PSS systems and transforming the organization from being waterfall-based to being agile/DevOps mature.
Business Challenge: Integrating Airlines’ Systems to Support
After a major U.S. airline merged with a regional competitor, it needed to integrate both airlines’ passenger service systems (PSS)—a series of critical and interconnected systems that manage customer check-ins, such as flight reservations and departure control.
The PSS integration project would require navigating significant differences between the two airlines’ operations.
While the parent airline operated a fleet of Boeing planes with a combination of in-house and third-party systems, the acquired airline operated Airbus planes with Sabre-based passenger service systems technology.
The parent airline wanted to transition to the same Sabre-based PSS system as the acquired company and feed the data into its operations control system—a user interface for managing Flight Operations—for a graphic display of flights, crew and aircraft status.
Additionally, once the PSS integration was complete, the system of record (SOR) would need to be consolidated and the data stream reversed for management and operational control of all Boeing and Airbus planes from the parent company.
Tight Deadline to Receive An FAA Certificate
Urgency was necessary as the project faced a strict deadline for the parent airline to receive a single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This involves having approved manuals documenting processes and passing an observation of the systems functioning as expected.
In order to ensure it would meet the deadline, the organization needed a project manager experienced with complex systems integrations. As part of its PMO as a Managed Service engagement, the airline relied on AIM Consulting’s Delivery Leadership practice to lead the integration.
One of AIM’s senior program managers worked with the client’s internal product owner and leadership to thoroughly assess the airline’s systems, technology environments, and business requirements for the integration, as well as resource needs.
Our expert was able to quickly assimilate the vast library of airline-specific terminology and assume responsibility for managing on-site, offshore and vendor project development teams.
The PSS integration involved multiple challenges, such as:
- Mapping the data connections for flight operations, fleet management, and operational control data between two vastly different technology bases and middleware connectors
- Building and consolidating the data into a single feed to support airline passenger check-ins in one Sabre PSS system
- Modernizing old systems without being able to completely upgrade the technology—for example, keeping old desktop apps built on old technologies like VB6 running to feed downstream systems
- Navigating dependencies on other systems that needed to either consume data from the PSS or distribute data to the PSS
- Managing a complex backlog of work with priorities that would constantly shift due to having to juggle around other groups’ integrations and timelines
In addition, this body of work had to be accomplished while adhering to strict FAA guidelines and regulations necessary to be awarded a single operating certificate.
The solution to meeting the challenges began with transforming the PSS operations division from a completely waterfall organization to an agile/DevOps organization.
The operations team wasn’t practiced at agile methodology and was unaccustomed to a process in which all the requirements aren’t fully defined in advance. But they had a deadline to meet, and one that didn’t leave any room to either drop scope or extend the timeline if they should get behind.
By applying agile principles and ceremonies, core functionality would be delivered first, with non-necessary items delivered later with an understanding of downstream impacts.
Leveraging Azure DevOps from Microsoft (formerly Visual Studio Team Services), the AIM senior consultant created a project schedule and prioritized the massive backlog with the product owner.
The AIM consultant introduced the operations team members to daily standups, biweekly grooming sessions, and other agile principles on the job. Under expert guidance from AIM, the operations team acclimated to agile methodology and matured toward a DevOps model over the course of the project.
With two-week sprints, the teams gradually solved the intense data-mapping puzzle, determining how to sync the PSS data between the two systems and to identify the data that did not need to be consumed in the parent system.
Some issues were addressed by converting older functionality to web services, a helpful step toward modernizing the PSS.
Throughout the project, the team regularly conveyed updates so leadership could correlate status with other ongoing integration projects.
Establishing a Consolidated System of Record (SOR)
The PSS integration project laid the groundwork to also establish the parent airline’s system of record (SOR) as the lone SOR for management and operational control of all Boeing and Airbus planes, which was transformational for the business.
A consolidated SOR would enable the retirement of several more of the acquired airline’s systems.
For the systems that remained live, including crew and flight planning systems, data had to be reversed from the parent airline’s SOR to the acquired airline’s SOR, ensuring the accuracy of both until the eventual decommission of the acquired airlines’ systems.
The transformation from a waterfall-based organization to a DevOps team utilizing modern agile practices resulted in the successful delivery of two massive data-intense projects on time and with zero high-severity issues.
By the end of the PSS integration project, data was syncing to the host system smoothly and the acquired airline’s PSS system was ready for decommissioning in time to meet the FAA deadline.
The SOR work was also a highly visible project that carried a lot of risk. For four days after release, a 24/7 live support line was enabled to communicate any severity 1 or 2 issues. However, the consolidation was so successful, the line was never used.
Following the highly successful change management engagement, the airline has retained AIM Consulting to support its next-generation project, modernizing the SOR and transforming it into a truly modern platform.