To speed the process of software implementations while maintaining the highest level of quality for its airline partners, Sabre created the Time 2 Value team. The team drives key efficiencies that help Sabre deliver better products to airlines faster, enabling airlines to expedite their return on investment and realize benefits quicker.
As an airline, you want to get passengers from A to B on-time, while providing a quality customer experience and operating efficiently. At Sabre, our goal is to help airlines do those things efficiently and optimally.
While some people might think this is where the similarities between a B2B IT company and a B2C service industry end, our corporate goals and business objectives are surprisingly similar to that of our airline customers. Airlines want to deliver consistency of experience through their core product of transporting passengers, while an IT partner wants to deliver consistency of experience through its technology.
Defining delivery as a measure of operational success
In an industry with high fixed costs, significant barriers to entry and variable costs primarily associated with fuel and labor, an airline’s profitability is largely defined by the ability to drive operational efficiency.
Where airlines strive to be as on-time as operationally possible, we continually assess our own on-time performance as a measure of operational success. This is defined by whether or not the technology solution was delivered on the date promised. While this point may be somewhat cliché, all public companies must push for operational efficiency to do more with less. And, as a result, be more profitable.
During the past several years, we have not only found a way to improve customer experience and deliver solutions on-time but also to substantially reduce the time it takes to implement solutions without increasing the resources required to do so.
For an airline, this would be equivalent to increasing cruise speeds (either via pilots pushing throttles full forward and/or new supersonic jets) without incurring additional costs from say, fuel or the purchase of new aircraft, while at the same time finding a way to improve the product and increase customer satisfaction.
Getting to a place of increasing operational excellence did not happen overnight, but rather is a reflection of a broader commitment and a culmination of several years of ongoing, coordinated continuous improvement efforts throughout the organization.
Creating a Program Lifecycle process
The foundational starting point began several years ago with the development and rollout of our Program Lifecycle, a standard methodology by which teams engage airlines from first contact all the way through back-end customer support, defined by several linear phases including:
- Customer proposal,
- Due diligence,
- Contractual agreement,
- Project initiation,
- Interactive pilot,
- Solution installation,
- Project transition,
- Customer care.
After defining this base methodology, the next phase is to make it a living, breathing thing through a series of exercises:
- Create and deploy playbooks for each solution and each phase. Actively managed and constantly updated templates guiding expectations, activities and success criteria required before moving to the next phase.
- Create methods and standards department. This group oversees the Program Lifecycle, documents supporting it, and facilitation of rollout and change management.
- Deploy industry-based governance. This group monitors execution and consistent adoption of changes.
- Use focused tools and processes. These help manage resource allocation and solution deployment.
As a result, Sabre is able to use a standard framework that ensures a quality, consistent approach across the solutions portfolio and hundreds of team members, across many regions and countries, with increased customer satisfaction being a key performance indicator of those efforts.
Shortening the Program Lifecycle through precision
Most recently, we set out to discover ways to shorten the time it takes to navigate the entire Program Lifecycle from beginning to end. The overarching goal was to protect improvements in quality while expediting airline customers through the phases — from customer proposal through customer care. — with consequential benefits including:
For airlines, the benefits of shortening the Program Lifecycle are reduced risk during transitions to new solutions, accelerated business transformation, reduced disruption and increased engagement through concentrating efforts over shorter periods.
For the IT partner, the benefits are faster revenue recognition, reduced costs, increased scalability, improved customer satisfaction and adding speed as a differentiator in the marketplace.
What emerged was a new organizational initiative called “Time 2 Value.”
Time 2 Value unifies teams around objectives and outcomes
In collaboration across functions, we formed a strategic direction and a holistic, unsiloed view. This perspective shortened various parts of the Program Lifecycle without compromising project quality while accelerating return on investment for our’s airline partners.
When mapped to the Program Lifecycle, the work streams cut across various roles but focused on a common theme of improvement. Areas of primary focus include:
- Signature-to-labor code cycle time. The time it takes from when an airline signs a contract to the labor code being available for delivery teams to begin work and implement the requested solution.
- Implementation cycle time. The total time it takes delivery teams to implement a solution from the first day of the project to solution adoption and transition to customer care.
- Severity resolution cycle time. Average time for customer care to resolve airline issues.
- Tools and automation. A holistic look across all of the aforementioned work streams and organizations to define a prioritized investment case for new tools to enhance both deployment and maintenance of solutions.
The outcomes have accelerated the pace of value creation
The results of this organization-wide process have been quite promising. As flattening hierarchies becomes part of the process, teams are able to realize a faster time-to-market and get our airline partners benefiting from our solutions much faster.
Many complex dependencies are managed during solution implementation. Sabre delivers more than 200 solutions to more than 140 different airlines and related companies per year. The Time 2 Value team set out to reduce times for specific solutions with the expectation that doing so would steadily boost efficiency portfolio-wide.
To date, results have been outstanding, yielded an average 27 percent decrease in implementation cycle time for several solutions last year and nearly 30 percent this year. A team of industrial engineers within Sabre who go from one solution team to another, making recommendations based on a Six Sigma methodology.
For less-complex, more-standardized airline projects, teams assessed some of Sabre’s more popular products and created “essential” versions; solutions with base capabilities, where airlines can add-on additional functionality post implementation. In doing so, the cycle time was reduced by up to 50 percent, while the airline could scale and flex its technology according to operational needs. For many airlines, this enables a guided first step onto an initial Sabre solution.
The signature-to-labor code cycle time team ended the year with a detailed list of recommendations and a plan to implement. To date, the implementations of the recommendations have resulted in a 50 percent decrease in cycle time.
The severity resolution cycle time team challenged itself to both prioritize critical issues while also ensuring swift resolution for non-critical issues. This led to incremental reductions in cycle time for all issues, dropping mean time to resolution by 9 percent.
To date, one of the largest wins from this work is the launch of an automated-data-collection tool earlier this year. Looking to improve the data collection and migration process, the tool simplifies the migration of multiple operations into one. It also simplifies data migration from a legacy product to the next-generation solution. This then increases the reliability of the data as it halts the possibility of errors caused by manual data transfers.
While the solution is in the infancy stages (with plans to significantly grow and expand capabilities going forward), early results are positive with an average cost savings of US$100,000 per implementation for airlines. In addition, the hours it took to complete the data-collection process have been reduced by more than 500 percent.
The end result is such that airlines have an expedited path to realizing tangible value from Sabre solutions and accelerated return on investment via partnerships with Sabre teams focused on quality engagement and driving solution adoption.
Sabre’s cross-functional collaborative efforts to drive multi-faceted improvements will go on indefinitely. Given a culture of continuous improvement, our teams continue to monitor and prioritize important areas of focus to further elevate the customer experience and differentiate the value airlines gain — quicker. And it’s not finished yet.
This article was adapted from Ascend magazine.