Changing the posture of the CRS Industry

Worldspan is the first computer reservations system to operate autonomously of its owner airlines.

Imagine the opportunity to start up an information services company with a ready-made customer base of nearly 13,000 clients eager to be linked to your system. Then imagine you're asked to design and implement a new data processing system in a new leading technology facility. Finally, imagine that the owners of your new company already have years of experience in travel services, data processing, and the airline industry, and understand the need for skilled TPF professionals to ensure the success of their business.

Sound like a dream come true? Well, that's just the situation faced by employees of WORLDSPAN Travel Agency Information Services, a new Computer Reservations System (CRS) based in Atlanta. The CRS Industry Computer Reservations Systems were originally created by domestic airlines to serve their internal reservations sales departments. As automation expanded into the independent travel agent markets, the CRSs have adapted to meet the needs of these users as well. Travel agents are now the primary distribution channel for airline, as well as other travel services, and their automation needs are expanding in both corporate and leisure travel markets.

Today, the CRS industry is experiencing a shift towards a globalized market place, with international CRSs being formed with the aid of airline alliances, mergers, marketing agreements and software technology supplied by the U.S. systems. At the same time, the industry is shifting away from sole airline ownership to a "shared ownership" concept that implies a more neutral approach to the information available in the systems.

WORLDSPAN was formed early in 1990 when three major U.S. airlines decided to create an autonomously-operated CRS with which to approach a rapidly expanding global marketplace. WORLDSPAN is the result of combining the DATAS II system, owned by Delta Air Lines, with the PARS system, jointly owned by TWA and Northwest Airlines.

Recently an equity sharing agreement was reached with Abacus Distributions Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based CRS owned jointly by Cathay Pacific Airways, China Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines and Singapore Airlines. The combination of DATAS II and PARS represents a worldwide subscriber base of nearly 13,000 travel agency locations.

A New Era
"The establishment of WORLDSPAN marks a progressive era in our industry in that subscribing travel agencies will no longer share a reservations system that is also tailored for use by its airline owners," says Cal Rader, WORLDSPAN's Chief Executive Officer. "While airlines are responsible for the technological development and tremendous growth of the CRS business to date, the travel agency's role in distributing travel products throughout the world is growing more demanding everyday. We will focus exclusively on providing travel agencies with a truly dedicated system designed to meet their needs on a worldwide scale."

A Worldwide Organization
As CEO, Rader heads up WORLDSPAN's executive and administrative headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Marketing and Subscriber Support Services are located in Kansas City, Missouri, under the direction of Efrain Zabala, Chief Operating Officer. WORLDSPAN sales and support divisions are being established regionally throughout the United States and Europe. Data processing-based departments are located in both cities, using existing staff from both PARS and DATAS II to form the personnel core. The organizational structure has been designed to ensure sustained delivery of quality subscriber services, while minimizing departmental inter-dependence.

The data processing-based functions have been divided into ten functionally oriented groups:

Each group has a distinct mission and set of responsibilities, but all are directed towards WORLDSPAN's goal: to provide quality information processing on a global scale.

DPNC in a New Environment
WORLDSPAN will soon begin construction on a 100,000-plus square foot Data Center in Atlanta, which will house mainframe processors, networking systems, and DPNC personnel required to effect day-to-day operations. The heart of the system is a TPF loosely coupled CPU complex attached to a typical ALC (6-bit) and a new full function (6-bit) communications network. The base operating systems will be VM, MVS, and TPF (3.1). Initially the complex will be designed to handle some 1200 MPS (messages per second) using multiple IBM 3090 CPUs and cache 3990/3390 DASD subsytems.

"WORLDSPAN's operating philosophy will be to make maximum use of vendor supplied "off-the shelf" components and systems," said C.E. "Skip" Powell, WORLDSPAN's Director-Technical Services." When necessary, of course, locally developed or acquired solutions will be adapted." Powell said plans are to use development and testing systems commonly available within the TPF environment. Programming languages used will include Assembler (BAL), PLI (Sabretalk) and C. "Our programming staff and management will operate with PC-based workstations," Powell added, "linked to MVS, VM, and TPE We are preparing to deal with operating system and subscriber demands not only of the 1990s-but of the next century as well."

A Unique Development Challenge
WORLDSPAN's existing subscribers will reap the positive benefits of the new relationship, as the best features of PARS and DATAS II are combined into a single WORLDSPAN mainframe system. But the development necessary to reach this point presents some unique challenges as well. "We are implementing a three-pronged development approach, using expertise from both the PARS and DATAS II staffs," remarked Don Campbell, WORLDSPAN's Director - Applications Development.

WORLDSPAN will continue to provide the full range of support to its PARS subscribers who are using the PARS mainframe in Kansas City and to the DATAS II subscribers who are using the Delta Air Lines mainframe in Atlanta. While continuing to support these current subscribers, (and to enhance both systems) the company must also develop its own independent network and processing systems. One development arm is continuing to upgrade and enhance PARS for its subscribers. Another is doing the same for DATAS II users. The third part of the approach is to combine the best of both systems into the WORLDSPAN mainframe, scheduled to be online in 1993.

Due to the highly competitive nature of the CRS market, WORLDSPAN cannot afford to slow the rate of enhancements on either existing system. Says Campbell, "Developmentally speaking, we face a unique situation. But we have a unique opportunity, too. When we begin subscriber migration to the WORLDSPAN mainframe in 1993, the customers will have access to the world's only completely autonomous CRS, one that has been custom-tailored to their exact needs. By combining the best of both systems, we are going to give our customers the best possible automation services and solutions."

The resulting system will be unique: a "no-host" CRS. (All other domestic CRSs are "hosted" by an airline mainframe.) The traditional airline HA-GA verbs will need to accommodate "no-host CRS" within its applications and associated database structures.

Instrumental to success will be the need to maintain traditional TPF transaction response times even though increasing numbers of WORLDSPAN transactions will require processing within multiple remotely located TPF systems.

Fluid transaction processing, where parts of a single transaction will be processed in multiple Airline/CRS/Associate systems (yes, systems!) creates new demands for efficient processes. The management and maintenance of large flight schedules and pricing databases will be unique to the WORLDSPAN no-host CRS. Operational requirements will be stringent, as well, demanding 1.5 second average response time and perfect data manipulation. WORLDSPAN, ever-mindful of the importance of "keeping the customer satisfied" plans a seamless migration process as well.

The Human Element
Although a DPNC cadre staff is in place, WORLDSPAN anticipates staffing additions will be necessary through 1993 to effect systems planning, implementation, and operations. Says Powell, "For one TPF Systems shop to successfully process a single transaction through multiple TPF systems, we are going to need top-notch professional skill across the board. All areas -- applications, systems, communications-are vitally important to the success of this operation. I think our situation is perhaps the most challenging TPF scenario I've seen in 20 years. We are preparing to deal with operating system and subscriber demands not only of the 1990s--but of the next century as well."

Window of Opportunity
WORLDSPAN's business plan calls for the immediate implementation of two major plans of action: initiating a comprehensive, customer-oriented service and support program for end users, and the development work. Mike Lewis, Director - Communications, says, "We see a three-year window of opportunity available to prepare our system for ultimate subscriber use. In that time frame, we will have our network management system in place, and be able to handle user transactions smoothly on a worldwide basis. We face a big task, but when the PARS and DATAS II systems are migrated into a single, cohesive structure, we will have a product capable of handling the needs of the approaching global marketplace." Adds Skip Powell, "We see tremendous opportunities ahead, not only operationally, but from the standpoint of personal growth and experience. WORLDSPAN offers TPF experts an opportunity without equal to exercise their professional skills."