EasyJet sheds 'scrum' image with hybrid IT

EasyJet’s reservation system could not provision for allocated seating, so the airline added a feature on Azure

When easyJet’s reservation system did not have the ability to provision new services such as allocated seating, the low-cost airline simply added the new features in the cloud rather than ripping out its internal IT system and building a new one in the cloud.

The low-cost airline’s research on boarding process and customer satisfaction showed that its passengers preferred allocated seating.

“Our passengers used to refer to our boarding processes as the scrum. When people are using rugby terms to describe travel, you know you have a problem,” said Bert Craven, enterprise architecture manager at easyJet, in a video interview.

But its existing reservation system, which it had built over the years with huge capital investment, did not have the ability to provision this new feature. The airline would have to invest in additional datacentre facilities and tweak its infrastructure if it were to make its internal IT capable of handling allocated seating. “But the new datacentres would have been cost-prohibitive,” Craven said.

So the airline’s IT decided to segregate the seat allocation service from its central reservation system and host it on a scalable, resilient cloud service and then integrate it to deliver the project quickly and cheaply.

The IT team selected Microsoft’s Azure cloud service because it had worked with Azure in the past. EasyJet tried other public cloud platforms but, as it wanted a combination of on-premises and cloud solution, Microsoft offered higher integration features, Craven said.

EasyJet is one of Microsoft’s flagship references for its Azure cloud service. The airline has used the Azure cloud since 2011. It has used the cloud to build new services that communicate wirelessly at airports without having to incur major airport charges for new service desks. Azure provides the link from the internet into the easyJet datacentre.

Hybrid IT allows easyJet to gain more from internal IT

But easyJet did not adopt an all-IT-in-the-cloud strategy when its internal IT was incapable only in specific areas.

“We spent years building our reservation system. It doesn’t do something we wanted it to do, we add a new feature in the cloud and we get more value out of the investment we have already made,” said Craven.  

“The cloud investment is never a discussion around ‘we need to burn this down and build a new one in the cloud’.

“It is more about how are we going to extend this one and get more value out of the existing investment with a low-cost option.”

Instead of dumping on-premises IT whilst it still delivered value, easyJet’s IT ran the new features in the cloud and mashed it with its existing infrastructure.  

“This strategy of focusing cloud investments in areas that make a real difference to the bottom line is key to cloud’s success,” said Maurice Martin, ‎director of Microsoft’s cloud business at Microsoft.

Speaking at the Westminster eForum seminar on cloud computing, Martin said easyJet has revolutionised the airline sector and that it is able to offer aggressive pricing to customers because it keeps its operating expenses low.

“On average airlines spend 2% of their revenue on IT infrastructure. But easyJet spends only 0.5% of its revenue on IT,” said Martin.

Allocated seating service in the cloud

Today easyJet’s flight booking page is an integration of three different technologies, Martin explained.

“The first bit where customers feed in their desired dates and destinations for flight bookings is powered by easyJet’s web servers,” Martin said.

The second layer, where the website presents data on the timings and cheapest alternatives for users to choose from, is powered by its reservation systems sitting in a different datacentre. And the last application which is the aircraft diagram where users can select their seats is fully hosted on Microsoft Azure cloud service.

“But for the users, it is all a seamless experience,” Martin said.

EasyJet first trialed the allocated seating project on Azure cloud in early 2013.

Cloud enabled easyJet’s IT developers to write their own code, and spin infrastructure up and down as needed and test out the service. But most importantly, it was faster and cost-effective to deploy the new service on the public cloud than on its internal infrastructure.

Craven explained that when easyJet moved from its small in-house IT to datacentres, it took two years and millions of pounds of investment. But expanding infrastructure on to the Azure cloud just took hours.

“EasyJet’s IT knew the value of cloud services but they had also already spent millions on their own IT infrastructure,” Martin said. “So, instead of writing off the investment made on internal IT, they opted for a hybrid solution.”

The allocated seating project improved customer satisfaction by 5% and directly contributed 7% to easyJet’s revenue growth, its annual earnings for 2013 showed.  

But had the project failed, and had it not yielded the improvements in customer satisfaction the airline had hoped for, it would have been easy for the airline to turn off the cloud serving the reserve seating application.

“It is much easier to turn off a cloud solution that to have to tear out all the functionality from the reservation system,” Craven said.

Azure handles all the heavy lifting to handle the millions of requests coming in from people accessing the easyJet website or mobile site, to see a map of the aircraft and which seats are available. 

“EasyJet’s smart hybrid cloud strategy helped it to deliver real value to the business whilst still yielding benefits of its IT investment it made on its on-premises infrastructure,” Martin said.

But the success, cost savings and ease of implementation has made easyJet adopt a cloud-first strategy. “People from the business come to me and say, ‘We have this idea and we would really like to do it in the cloud because the last project we launched on the cloud was really quick and smooth. Can we do that’.

“Our boarding process is much more pleasant today and we are seeing a huge increase in customer satisfaction,” concluded Craven.

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