Canada 3000 flies through new operations

The airline business is a strange one.

Because it is unlike any other, it involved a steep learning curve for Montage eIntegration when Canada 3000 Airlines Ltd. called on the company to streamline its ticket booking operations.

According to George Trussell, director of special projects in the sales division for Toronto-based Canada 3000, when Canadian Airlines was swallowed up by Air Canada, alternative airlines such as his experienced a surge in demand for seats.

“Due to our global expansion in overseas markets as well as the situation with Canadian Airlines here, we had two distribution paths that didn’t talk to one another,” he explained. “It was a labour-intensive situation, in that we needed to consolidate our inventory control, booking systems, passenger information all into one system and link it into our global network.”

The flood of new business may have caught the carrier off guard. The last 11 years saw Canada 3000 exist as a charter airline, with 80 per cent of its business deriving from tour operators mostly based in Canada. Growing sales numbers via travel agents in global distribution systems (comprising 20 per cent of the company’s business) were handled by the SITA (Societe Internationale de Transport Aeronautique)-hosted Gabriel System. The Air Canada/Canadian merger saw the majority of Canada 3000’s bookings done on a scheduled-flight basis, which in turn dumped significant strain on the company’s IT infrastructure. Offering more than 94 worldwide destinations, the airline carried an estimated 2.7 million passengers in 1999.

“SITA in Atlanta provided the airline applications while our existing distribution channel was connected to an IBM server host,” Trussell explained. “We wanted to combine these systems, and move our future bookings and so on into the SITA system. This will allow us to take advantage of certain changes in technology and give us more to offer to our client base.”

Overhauling an inventory system is no short order for any business. Which is where Montage came on board. Primarily an e-business solutions provider for the financial sector, the Toronto-based enterprise took charge and helped execute a system combining sales and inventory into one package. Montage’s Toronto branch manager and executive manager of the Canada 3000 project, Jody Stocks, described the work as a “fun and challenging project.

“If you look at Montage and what we do, our target focus in terms of industries, airlines are not a big focus. It was a refreshing process,” he said. “To be given the opportunity to learn a new industry and work with concepts that we haven’t had before…it was fun.”

Montage’s role in the project included designing the feed from SITA; the technical architecture and database; the developing feeds to corporate downstream systems; the reporting platform; implementing and testing the new system – which will be fully operational in late 2000; and project management for the data mart portion of the work.

“Once we got an understanding of the airline industry, we designed the data mart and the feeds to transform data from SITA,” Stocks said. “The idea behind the architecture was such that it still looked like their old system and did not put Canada 3000 in a situation to have to redevelop their revenue accounting information.”

The data mart also provided a marketing report interface with the new sales inventory system, allowing Canada 3000 to easily generate the kind of reports it wanted and in a fashion it desired. The end result is faster, more flexible reporting and query options to a larger user base.

Aside from the perceived benefits of increased flexibility and responsiveness, enhanced reporting capabilities and quicker visibility of operational information, Trussell added the consolidated system will afford his airline the opportunity to take advantage of cutting-edge technologies such as e-tickets applications in the near future.

“Montage came through for us,” Trussell said. “They’ve come a long way (in understanding the airline industry) and dug right in.”

IDC Canada analyst Kevin Restivo lauded Canada 3000’s decision to integrate its systems.

“The integration of the work force into the supply chain can potentially lead to benefits for customers and suppliers alike,” he said. “In this case, the streamlining of Canada 3000’s processes into one central system will be to the betterment of the company as it strives to meet its business goals.”

On Oct. 6, Montage’s CEO Grant Lakeman was named Entrepreneur of the Year for the Prairie Region in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. The firm was also ranked among the top 30 professional service firms in Canada in a recent Financial Post survey, one of the top 50 Web development firms in a recent National Post survey, and is currently among the top 100 employers in Canada as ranked by High Tech Careers and Richard Yerema (Media Corp.).