Since its release in 2000, Prism Group's SalesServer has
defined how airlines contract with corporations. After more than four years of
development and a handful of airline implementations, Prism is billing its
successor system as yet another "game changer," according to
president Michael Whitesage.
The company's automated contract management system, through
which corporate clients share agency booking data so airlines can assess
discount programs and monitor account performance, initially raised data
privacy concerns among some buyers. Even if those fears haven't completely
faded, Prism during the past decade has led an evolution of airline contract
management and helped standardize marketshare-based airline deal structures.
Its client base has grown to include 25 of the 30 largest global airlines,
among them American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and 10 airline
alliances or joint ventures. The technology also is baked into Avion, Prism's
10-year-old global travel management system licensed by corporations.
The company expects its newest contract management tool to
streamline contracting, provide greater visibility into account spending and
ultimately bring more airline sales under contract. It reflects a growing
airline effort to craft global deals, allows carriers to more clearly define
which sales personnel can access specific sets of data and provides a single
repository for an airline's corporate and agency agreements.
More than a half-dozen carriers already deployed Prism's
next-generation system. The remainder of the user base during the next 18
months will "chart their own course" in transitioning to the new
system, Whitesage said.
Core functionality from Prism's initial SalesServer tool is
used for the new Sales Information System, but the company shifted to a
browser-based environment from a server-based operating system. Among other
upgrades, the new system integrates with customer relationship management tools
and other ad hoc systems on which airlines rely.
Facilitating global sales, Prism's new system can toggle
between Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and
Spanish. The tool also can report data in local currencies and account for
other regional preferences, kilometers or miles, for example. Prism identified
Russia's Aeroflot and Japan Airlines as early adopters.
The transition to a browser-based system has made Prism "much
faster and much easier for the end user," said Japan Airlines vice
president of passenger sales for the Americas Steve Smith. "There are less
technical issues." The additional language and currency capabilities for
JAL's Japanese sales personnel are "huge," Smith added. "Those
kind of things are going to help them get educated on the usage of the system."
A New Lifecycle
To Whitesage, the old system was a bound volume of
Encyclopedia Britannica, and the new one is Wikipedia. "SalesServer was
state-of-the-art in 2000," he said. "Its functionality is still
robust and it still does its job, but that product is nearing the end of its
lifecycle. This is a new lifecycle. We believe this environment is going to
give us 20 years."
"We looked at creating an automated, centralized system
that can give secure access anytime, anywhere," said Prism director of
airline consulting Tim Haskin. By taking Prism to the cloud, users can access
account documents and information, including copies of contracts, contact
information and other client details.
Because critical client information is readily available to
authorized airline personnel, it does not have to be stored "on a local
computer or in a box under somebody's bed in the home office," Haskin
said. That already has sped the submission and approval process of contracts
among the first users, officials said, in some cases from weeks to days.
Contracted corporate rates already comprise between 12
percent and 15 percent of the average airline's sales. We believe that that's
only half of corporate business flying out there.
Carriers can map access to the system based on sales force
hierarchy, so "each individual seller has access to all the information
they need for their accounts," Haskin said. "The team leader has access
to any information his or her team is responsible for, and it rolls up
accordingly. The airline determines what that hierarchy will look like and who
gets to see what."
The new system could supplement or supplant various others
used by airlines. "Many airlines have CRMs like Salesforce.com, and what
they're doing is bouncing around from system to system," said Prism vice
president Les Baker. "One of the objectives of SIS is to integrate it
under one roof."
The system links with automated calendar and email systems,
spreadsheet applications and other tools commonly used by airline sales
personnel, making data easier to import and export. Prism also offers its own
CRM tool, which gained only selective usage by airlines in the server-based
The company claimed the system provides unprecedented
visibility into airline sales, often in real time. Airlines can schedule the
production and distribution of recurring reports or generate them on demand in
various formats, including graphical reports or spreadsheets. As in prior
systems, Prism promises "secure display of other airline data to meet
"I only half-jokingly say to airlines, 'If the phone
rings late on a Friday and it's your boss and she wants to know how many F-class
tickets we sold on Tuesdays through American Express in the month of May in
this market, eastbound, you can have that answer in about a minute,' "
said Haskin. "I encourage airline staff getting used to the system to
really think wacky: 'What's the wildest thing you wanted to know about what
your customer is doing, what your portfolio is doing?' The answer is there
because I have 100 percent of your ticketing. That's where it gets exciting,
because there's nothing that can't be known."
More Airline Sales
The new Sales Information System will house an agency
contract management tool Prism promised this summer. That tool relies on
origin-and-destination data from ARC, a transaction processing and settlement
firm, and allows airlines to manage agency agreements much like they manage
By managing corporate and agency agreements side by side,
Whitesage said carriers would uncover what he called "double incentives"—for
example, a ticket that received both a travel agency override and a corporate
How the airlines use that agency data is up to them. "The
airline may choose to pay a double incentive, or it could choose to pay one
incentive to a party that directed the sale," he said. "It will give
them transparency at that level. It will enable them to manage agency and
corporate contacts in one place, with a new level of transparency." While
there are no immediate plans to integrate bank settlement plans like ARC from
other countries, "it certainly begs for it," Whitesage added.
Prism also expects its new tools to help expand the number
of markets in which corporations and airlines negotiate discounts. Many
airlines and procurement professionals historically have focused deals on no
more than an organization's top 200 city pairs, but "companies have a lot
more markets than people think," said Baker. "A very, very large
company will have 20,000 different markets, and you can't really manage that by
a spreadsheet. Your top 200 might comprise 80 percent of your travel; it might
comprise 20 percent of your travel. It depends on the mix."
Added Haskin: "Gateway to gateway, hub to hub: That's
not where the big profits are occurring. It's in those markets from what I call
'nowhere to no place.' Elmira, N.Y. to Duluth, Minn., where a carrier is one of
several that may have connecting service, and the value of those tickets tends
to be much higher and less steeply contested in the marketplace. That's where
shifting just a few tickets can bring significant value to the carrier and create
new savings for the purchaser."
Japan Airlines' Smith similarly sees more contracting
opportunities. He tells clients that "there is a great opportunity for us
to look at all of your travel and capture city pairs that you're not even
Considering Prism's new agency contract management tools and
updated corporate contracting tool, Whitesage projected about half "of all
sales" by airlines eventually could include some sort of incentive not
reflected in the published rate.
"Contracted corporate rates already comprise between 12
and 15 percent of the average airline's sales," he noted. "We believe
that that's only half of corporate business flying out there." For
corporate travel buyers looking to level the playing field, he added that Prism
"next year will be releasing SIS for corporations."
The report originally
appeared in the November 2011 issue of Travel