A (TPF/ALCS) Star is Born

Datalex is a leading supplier of IT based solutions to the travel and transport industry. Since its foundation in Ireland in 1985, Datalex has expanded and developed to meet the challenges posed by the ever-changing technology and the way it is deployed in the Travel and Transport business. In 1998, Datalex embarked on a strategy of expansion. This strategy first saw the purchase of NRG in July; a Dublin based IT Consulting Company that specialized in providing TPF/ALCS solutions to airlines and the travel industries. NRG had a proven record in assisting airlines to determine and implement their IT requirements and strategies.

The second purchase of the year occurred in November when successful discussions were held with Web Ventures, the Atlanta-based technology consulting and development company whose Internet products for airlines, and Computer Reservation Systems are distributed internationally. Hyperion was the third company acquired in six months. Hyperion is a TPF/ALCS consulting services and software development company working primarily in the airline and travel industry, based in Amsterdam. The latest phase saw Datalex open an office in Melbourne, Australia. Up until then, staff out of Dublin and Amsterdam in Europe and Atlanta in the US served Datalexís worldwide customers, consisting of airlines, GDSs and travel companies. The office in Melbourne will extend Datalexís capacity to meet the needs of their Asia-Pacific customers. Amdahlís Tom Flynn was approached and he agreed to be the General Manager of Datalex Australasia.

The acquisitions made last year will considerably enhance Datalexís position as a major player within the travel and transport industry. In one short year, Datalex has become a very significant force within the TPF/ALCS marketplace. Pat Noone heads up Datalexís worldwide Services Division, with Bruce Taylor, MD of Datalex Netherlands B.V. and Tom Flynn, General Manger of Datalex Australasia. I recently spoke with all three about Datalexís vision for the TPF/ALCS marketplace.

Alan: What is the Datalex attitude to TPF/ALCS? After all Datalex is a fast growing technology company, and some people would tell you that TPF and ALCS are both heading in the opposite direction.

Pat: First of all, I have a strong TPF/ALCS background. I worked with Aer lingus for almost thirty years and spent 15 years running their ACP Group. I have great respect for these products. For years, I have been hearing that they were obsolete and their demise was imminent. They are still around. And the reason is that they do their job well. My view is that TPF/ALCS systems will be important parts of the travel technology landscape for the next ten years. In order for Datalex to continue its rapid growth we must focus on the needs of our clients and these needs will certainly include TPF/ALCS.

Bruce: I support Patís view. So-called new technology gurus have been predicting the disappearance of TPF ever since the early 1980ís, but itís still alive and well. If anything, it is today an even more indispensable part of the business process and IBM has invested a lot of money in TPF development over the recent years; just look at everything thatís been done in TPF4.1! Also, these claims of a shrinking TPF/ALCS market are not really supported by the numbers. I have been keeping track of the systems in the world since the late 1970ís; their numbers peaked at around 87 installations in the early 80ís and currently we have 81. What is more telling, is that the average TPF/ALCS system today is processing at least 10 times as many transactions per second as it was a decade ago. My conviction is that 10 years from now there will still be 60-70 systems and that the transaction throughput will have increased by at least another order of magnitude.

Alan: Very refreshing! Itís nice to talk to realists. So what specific needs do you think your TPF/ALCS clients will have over the next few years?

Pat: Thatís a big subject. Bruce, Tom and I have various ideas on this. In some cases we even agree! Bruce, perhaps you could share your some of your views.

Bruce: Four areas immediately come to mind as hot spots in the TPF/ALCS marketplace: Remote development, Internet Enabling, Middleware, and Alliances. Fortunately Datalex has a strong track record in each area. In addition, all four areas promise to provide exciting work for the TPF/ALCS professional. I see little chance of the worldwide shortage in TPF/ALCS expertise being significantly reduced in the coming decade. In particular, it is the combination of the technical skills with the knowledge of the travel industry and the insight into the complexity of the whole process, which is most severely lacking.

Alan: I am a bit surprised about your inclusion of remote development. In the TPF/ALCS world many of the remote development projects appear to have met with little success.

Pat: I agree that not all of the remote development initiatives in the TPF/ALCS marketplace have been successful. However companies today are under enormous competitive pressures to keep a lid on their I.T budgets while delivering ever-increasing levels of automation. This has led inevitably to outsourcing, of which remote development is a subset. My view is that the primary business driver for such remote development in a specialized technology such as TPF/ALCS must be time to market rather than the promise of lower cost development. It is true that in some parts of the world, I.T. professionals are paid at much lower rates. However in general the TPF/ALCS experience level is commensurate with the rates. In other words you get what you pay for. In addition, a critical factor to the success of these developments is a strong project management methodology.

Datalex currently has a large team of experienced developers working in our remote development facility in Dublin. We have developed and refined the processes required to effectively manage this facility and we now offer very high quality application development services for both TPF and ALCS platforms. I believe that demand for this kind of service will grow over the next few years. Datalex will meet this requirement both by expanding the Dublin facility and also by establishing remote development facilities at other locations around the world, based on our clientsí needs.

Bruce: Our experience with remote development in Amsterdam has been patchy and we previously did not see it as mainline business. We would never sell remote development as a cheap alternative; in fact the opposite. What we can do is deliver something within a time frame, which the customer cannot achieve with his own resources. To the customer that is worth money and, as Pat says, you get what you pay for.

Alan: Sounds like some exciting opportunities for TPF/ALCS professionals!

Pat: Yes, work in these remote development facilities will provide great opportunities for professional growth. The chance to work with experienced professionals on a variety of projects for different customers will provide a rewarding work experience. As the network of development sites grows, there will also be the opportunity to work in various parts of the world.

Alan: I would have expected that Internet would be a focus, especially since you've hired Jim Peters, the guru of the Internet travel scene. What do you have cooking here?

Tom: While I was with Amdahl, Jim and I worked together to apply Internet technology to the TPF/ALCS marketplace. Both the Singapore Airlines and the Thai International sites were created and are still hosted by WebVentures. In addition Jim and his team developed the booking engine for Delta. So Jim has been a true pioneer in this field. Having tackled these projects as a series of one-offs he decided that an approach based on re-usable components would dramatically reduce the effort to make an enterpriseís applications and data Internet-capable. This concept has now been implemented in the form of the Travel Transaction Server which will allow all of an enterpriseís applications that have a browser-based user interface to access the enterpriseís data as a common set of travel objects which are instantiated from existing data sources.

Alan: Sounds like magic? But how does this help the TPF/ALCS professional?

Tom: No thereís no magic. The server will be shipped as a tool kit. Installing the kit and customizing it for a companyís requirements will require the services of capable technicians with a strong knowledge of TPF/ALCS. It just means more interesting work for the TPF/ALCS professional.

Alan: I keep seeing the term, Middleware. What do you mean by Middleware?

Tom: Middleware has a multitude of definitions and can perform many functions. However in simple terms it is software that connects one system to another. Even the most strident critics of TPF/ALCS will concede that these systems contain an enormous quantity of mission critical travel data. In the past it has been fairly difficult to get access to this data. Of course current versions of these products support relational databases and this problem may become more manageable. However most systems still have the overwhelming majority of their data managed in the old format. Datalex has developed various technologies to simplify access to this data. For example some middleware would allow data from TPF systems and non-TPF systems to be combined to provide a single response to an inquiry. It would also allow transactions designed for one system to be reformatted and presented to another system for processing.

Alan: Sounds like a useful tool for some of these alliances that are springing up. I know that there's work going on to move some of the functions of the KLM system into Worldspan. This sounds like an enormous undertaking. Do you see more of these projects coming down the pike?

Bruce: After a decade in which the GDSís were the trend-setters in the TPF world, I think we are moving to a new era where that role will be taken over by the airline alliances of Wings, STAR and Oneworld. Alliances promise seamless service to their passengers and bottom line profits to their members. These benefits can only realistically be achieved by integrating the IT systems, and TPF is at the core of these systems. Hence, the alliances are going to drive many of the major TPF projects for the foreseeable future.

Datalex is heavily involved in the KLM/Northwest project for the Wings alliance, but it is still in a commercially sensitive phase. My view is that with the trend to major alliances and the cost of keeping TPF/ALCS-based reservation systems up to date, there must be enormous pressure on smaller alliance partners to fold their systems into those of larger partners. Of course we TPF/ALCS professionals understand that merging reservation systems is a very difficult exercise. And while there will probably be further merging of systems, it is also likely that there will be virtual mergers of systems using various devices such as middleware to make multiple systems look to the end-user like a single system. Again Datalex is well positioned to help with these projects and there will certainly be lots of interesting work for the TPF/ALCS professional.

Alan: I've got to tell you, this is all interesting stuff. Maybe I should sharpen up my coding pencil.

Pat: I think itís a good time to have a strong TPF/ALCS background. However you need to be prepared to embrace the new technologies, especially the Internet technologies. We at Datalex believe that the development of Internet technology offers an opportunity for airline and travel companies to upgrade their Enterprise Information infrastructure to take advantage of the additional cost savings and business opportunities these new technologies have to offer.

Alan: With all of these exciting new technologies, does Datalex still have an interest in the TPF/ALCS contracting arena.

Pat: Of course. We are constantly on the lookout for talented contractors and with our global organisation we have the ability to place people at leading TPF/ALCS shops around the world. Itís a good business for us and we do it well. It also gives us the opportunity to get to know talented professionals and potentially offer them permanent positions within Datalex.

Alan: I feel as if we have just scratched the surface and I am convinced that Datalex will be a worthy and influential addition to the TPF/ALCS world. I would like to invite you back to share more of your vision for the future of TPF/ALCS systems.

Pat: Alan, thanks for giving us the opportunity and we would be glad to come back. Datalex wants to be the leading information technology solutions provider in the airline/travel marketplace by delivering solutions, which provide our clients with the highest levels of value and satisfaction. In order to deliver on this goal we need to work with the best TPF/ALCS talent in the business. ACP.TPF Today allows us to communicate with these talented professionals, and we would like that communication to be two-way. If anyone has any comments on our approach please drop me/us an email.




Note: remove the .NOSPAM part. m.v. 2007