Founded in 1920, Qantas is Australia’s largest domestic and international airline. The Qantas Group includes Qantas Domestic, Qantas International, Jetstar and Qantas Loyalty, as well as a range of subsidiary companies and strategic investments. The Group employs more than 30,000 people and is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

The commercial aviation passenger market is characterized by high costs, fierce competition, and low margins. To gain an edge over their competitors, airlines such as Qantas have to deliver the best possible customer experience. Qantas aims to provide a consistent experience for customers from booking to arrival at their final destination that is personalized to each customers preferences. This experience must be of the highest standard and meet customer expectations.

The airline wanted to develop an in-flight application that would aggregate and present passenger information to cabin crew to improve customer recognition and improve customer intelligence captured on board the flight. For example, the application could alert crew members when a customer registered with Qantas’ loyalty program had their tier promoted on a previous flight. Armed with this information, the crew could prepare their greetings and service plans accordingly to recognize this event. Previously, this contextual and timely information was not available to the cabin crew without manual processes intervening.

To obtain approval to develop the application, the Qantas team had to be able to build a prototype quickly for a small trial. The application had to draw information from various systems and silos of data around Qantas, while complying with the airline’s strict data security requirements. The data platform had to be cost effective, scale to meet varying demand peaks and deliver data globally in milliseconds. Initially, the application would be available to about 1,000 cabin crew managers. Eventually, the airline wanted to extend it to other customer-facing employees such as airport lounge staff and check-in personnel.

To avoid a lengthy capital expenditure approval process for developing its proof of concept, Qantas opted for Amazon Web Services (AWS). “The capability and maturity of the AWS brand and its proven track record really stood out for us when evaluating service providers,” says Andrew Stevens, Technical Analyst, Customer Service and Cabin Crew, Qantas.

Qantas was also impressed by the ability of the AWS platform to scale up and scale down with the airline’s requirements, and the fact that Qantas did not have to lock in a specific level of resource consumption. In addition, the airline liked the fact that the AWS Management Console allowed it to see clearly how much capacity it was using and how much it was spending. Following extensive consultations with AWS, Qantas’ IT security specialists were satisfied that the airline’s requirements for security of data in the cloud environment were met on AWS.

Qantas uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to provide the resizable computing capacity it needs to support variations in demand. The airline engaged Full 360, an Advanced Consulting Partner with the AWS Partner Network (APN), to quickly iterate and test multiple big data technology solutions to best fit the business objectives.

The airline has also taken advantage of the redundancy of the AWS platform to ensure that any instance that experiences a problem fails over automatically to a working environment. Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) provides a fully redundant data storage service. The infrastructure supports Vertica Analytics Database for the Cloud database and Qantas uses Talend to automate the process of integrating its different systems and files into the database. Talend, which also runs on Amazon EC2 instances, delivers the application and uses web services to give the airline access to the data.

Qantas has achieved a range of benefits by using AWS to develop and deploy the application. According to Qantas, the project is a prime example of how AWS enables large enterprises to innovate in ways not previously possible. The airline started work on the application in June 2012, and was able to roll out the pilot program to 20 people within just 12 weeks. The application is used by nearly all 1,000 cabin crew supervisors – at least one on every domestic and international flight – and the carrier expects to extend this reach to another 500 crew.

“The crew uptake has been incredible, and from an engagement perspective from our staff, has been a huge success,” says Stevens. The application enables Qantas to capture incidents where a customer is not completely happy with the service they receive. The airline can then refer these situations to its customer care team to resolve proactively before the customer contacts them.

“We would not have got to this stage so quickly without support from AWS,” he continues. “The reliability and redundancy of our solution on AWS has ensured almost 100 percent availability.” The airline is considering making the application available through devices in galleys or breakout areas on aircraft, so cabin crew can easily access and update customer information throughout the journey. Qantas plans to take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness of the AWS Cloud to extend the application to other customer-facing workers without facing a massive cost increase.

Developing the in-flight application helped Qantas achieve a better understanding of what is possible with cloud computing. “We have learned a lot about the cloud through this process and it has all been very positive,” says Stevens. “The more we have used AWS, the more confident we have become in it carrying production workloads, that has been the biggest result for us.”

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