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Aeroplan gets extra mileage from Web services

Air Canada subsidiary Aeroplan succeeded in increasing the revenue its frequent-flyer program generated by deploying XML-based Web services.

SAN DIEGO -- The mandate from the CEO of Aeroplan was clear.

The wholly owned subsidiary of Air Canada, responsible for running the airline's frequent-flyer program, needed to increase the amount of revenue it generated through miles redemption.

Ultimately, the company succeeded by using XML and Web services to introduce Canada's first real-time, miles-based e-commerce program. But first there was a lot of work to get done on the company's IT infrastructure.

"We needed to increase the reward redemption opportunities that our members had," said Spyros Kattou, an e-business architect for Aeroplan, who presented his company's case study at the recent Burton

It was very important for us not to impact the existing systems in place.
Spyros Kattou, Aeroplan
e-business architect,
Group Catalyst Conference. "We cannot realize revenue unless our members redeem their miles."

After some deliberation, the company decided that e-commerce was the way to go. Aeroplan first needed to engage third-party companies that could offer non-flight rewards in exchange for frequent-flyer miles.

A new B2B channel needed

It then had to open up a business-to-business channel to those participating third-party companies that would allow miles to be deducted from members' accounts upon reward redemption.

"We needed to give our members opportunities to redeem miles from their account, but this had to happen in real time," Kattou explained. "Otherwise, we'd be opening ourselves to fraud."

Aeroplan had already established that service-oriented architecture (SOA) was the way to go in terms of its internal infrastructure. So, it seemed like a natural fit that XML-based Web services were the best method of opening up this new B2B channel.

The company already had a large set of XML services that they had been using internally for about two or three years. The challenge now was to expose these services to the third-party companies in a highly secure manner.

"We wanted to XML Web-enable our back-end mainframe-based systems," Kattou said. "It was very important for us not to impact the existing systems in place."

Security and operations provisioning required

The company

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established that the main technical requirements for this venture existed in the areas of provisioning security and operations.

In terms of provisioning, the company needed to expose Aeroplan XML services to partners as Web services, manage protocol conversions, bridge non-homogeneous systems and develop troubleshooting and collaboration plans with those partners.

When it came to security, the company wanted to keep security protocols separate from business logic, create a secure message exchange with partners and filter message content based on partner requirements.

Meanwhile, Aeroplan wanted to curb operations costs by minimizing development and implementation fees, as well as minimize the impact on enterprise systems.

Back-end modifications avoided

To get the job done, Aeroplan relied heavily on Belmont, Calif.-based software vendor Reactivity Inc. and its Secure Web Services deployment system, which Kattou said best fit the company's security, operations and provisioning concerns. Kattou also said that Reactivity proved to be the best fit with Aeroplan's existing technology, and no modifications to back-end systems were required.

Kattou said that company was able to meet all of its security, provisioning and operations goals.

The entire project took just 38 days from start to finish. The end result was that the addition of new business partners and a 500% increase in the rate of redemption for non-air rewards, Kattou said.

Following the presentation, one conference attendee, Brian Sawert, a Web team leader with Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., remarked that one of the biggest challenges to implementing these kinds of Web services is dealing with the cultural and political changes that take place internally.

"You have to get people working together who don't normally work together," Sawert said. "All the different little silos have to start talking to each other."

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