Based in Luton, England, easyJet is the largest airline in the United Kingdom and the fourth-largest carrier in Europe. It operates 685 routes and sells 61 million tickets annually. Building on its reputation for providing great service at low cost, the airline wanted to improve the customer experience without adding staff or IT infrastructure.
Offering new features, including the ability for customers to choose their own seats, was a top priority. However, easyJet faced several challenges in implementing a new solution. The airline outsourced its IT infrastructure, and operated with a lean team of IT professionals. It needed a delivery platform that would be affordable, easy to manage, and highly scalable.
“We’re really good at handling the kind of scale that involves huge sales and seasonal peaks,” says Bert Craven, Enterprise Architect Manager at easyJet. “But it’s more difficult to manage unpredictable factors like weather conditions and external industrial action. When those things occur, the parts of our infrastructure designed to give real-time information come under real pressure.”
Initially, the airline looked at deploying a seat allocation solution on the same on-premises platform that it used for its reservation system. However, it discarded the idea when it realized that building a new, high-availability infrastructure across two data centers would be too costly and time-consuming, with too many uncertainties about scalability and workload.
Not only that, but the CUTE infrastructure is very difficult to scale to the fluctuating needs of the travel industry. “We have to tell airports months in advance how many desks we need to handle passenger load,” Craven says. “It’s a real capacity-planning challenge.”
easyJet wanted to explore new, low-risk options for expanding online services. “It’s all about making travel easier and more affordable for our customers, while being able to deliver features quickly,” says Heath Roylance, Senior Project Manager at easyJet. “We need to be really agile and adaptable.”
The vision was to have easyJet agents roaming around check-in areas with mobile devices. While passengers could still drop bags at traditional fixed locations, they could also look for agents wearing bright orange easyJet shirts who would check them in if they hadn’t already checked in on the Internet, print their boarding passes, check and tag their bags, and move them right to security without having to wait in a single line. Agents could even book a rental car for passengers or provide other services from the handheld device.
In 2010, easyJet had used Windows Azure Service Bus to make its business applications accessible to mobile customer service agents. Inspired by the project’s success, the airline decided to use the Windows Azure platform and its platform-as-a-service offerings to enhance its reservation system. “We knew we could build an affordable solution quickly on Windows Azure,” says Craven. “If we developed a workable application, we realized we could have an enterprise-scale version running immediately with minimal investment.”
Using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development system, the company created and tested code that ran in simulated production environments on Windows Azure. easyJet launched its new cloud-based services in April 2012 on five routes and finished implementation eight months later. The solution includes the existing reservation system that runs on-premises and the seating allocation service that runs on Windows Azure.
Customers experience a seamless reservation process with the hybrid cloud booking solution, including finding flights, choosing seats, and purchasing tickets. The airline also offers a Windows 8 app for mobile devices. Hosted on Windows Azure, the FlightTracker app provides real-time flight information.
The airline plans to connect Windows Azure Active Directory with the airline’s on-premises Active Directory Domain Services. easyJet also manages its on-premises infrastructure with Microsoft System Center 2012 and anticipates extending the solution to Windows Azure as well.
With Windows Azure, easyJet has gained a more flexible hybrid cloud infrastructure that increases scalability, accelerates time-to-market, and cuts costs. Equally important, the airline is improving customer satisfaction with new services.
Gains More Flexible, Extensible Infrastructure
With a hybrid cloud solution from Microsoft, easyJet has gained the flexibility it needs to implement new capabilities while taking advantage of existing infrastructure. “The key benefit to Windows Azure is that you can get more value out of your on-premises investment,” explains Craven. “We’ve spent years building our reservation system, and we can extend it by adding new features in the cloud.”
In addition to becoming more flexible, the company can also handle fluctuating workloads more easily. “The Windows Azure platform provides you with scale,” says Craven. “It mitigates the unpredictability of launching a new app or feature that turns out to be what everyone was waiting for,” he says. “So if yesterday you had 10,000 devices connecting, tomorrow you can handle two million. “
The company has also sped time-to-market by developing new applications in the cloud. “Our developers were using the same Visual Studio tools in the cloud that they used in the on-premises environment,” says Craven. “It was actually faster deploying to Windows Azure than it was to our own internal test environment in some cases. We can try new things quickly, with very low risk and cost.”
Cuts Deployment Costs and Simplifies Management
Management is also easier. “When we moved from our offices to a hosted data center, it took two years and cost millions of pounds,” says Craven. “When we expanded from two data centers to four with Windows Azure, it took one afternoon and my credit card. We also look forward to using System Center 2012 to manage the cloud infrastructure in exactly the same way that we do our on-premises environment. It’s all on the same interface.”
Improves Customer Satisfaction
By delivering new services faster and more affordably, easyJet is making its customers happier. “The faster we can drive change and try new things by using Windows Azure, the quicker we can arrive at the right combination of services that make the travel experience the best it can be,” says Craven. “We’re already seeing an improvement in customer satisfaction by improving our boarding processes.”
The airline has always worked on enhancing its online services, and that hasn’t changed. But with Windows Azure, the company can now focus on overcoming business challenges instead of IT hurdles. “We can offer customers more across their entire journey through mobile services with Windows Azure,” says Roylance. “For example, it’s very easy for customers to use mobile devices to purchase a seat, a bag, or any other product wherever and whenever they like.”
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