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BACKGROUND

The Emirates Group - comprising Emirates Airline, dnata and subsidiary companies, is a major player in the global aviation, travel, tourism and leisure industries. With turnovers in excess of US$12 billion for the 2009-10 financial year and over 50,000 employees across all its 50 business units and associated firms - it is one of the biggest employers in the Middle East.

Emirates Group Information Technology (EG-IT), the IT division of the Group, was launched in 1985 to serve its business technology requirements. EG-IT is responsible for all facets of information technology and its role in supporting the Group’s daily global operations and long-term growth plans.

This includes the development and implementation of new technologies to expand corporate technological capabilities and to increase information accessibility and integrated systems management for the effective management of all businesses across the Group.

EG-IT develops the industry-leading solutions for financial management, cargo and logistics, passenger and airport solutions, process outsourcing and systems integration, made available to other carriers through its market-facing arm, Mercator.

Mercator is a provider of business technology solutions and services to the global airline industry. With offices in the Middle East and Thailand, Mercator provides the IT systems and services that support the world-wide operations of award-winning major carriers; and hybrid, low-cost and regional airlines in the Middle East & Africa, the Americas & Europe and the Asia Pacific region.

Mercator’s team of IT professionals work at the cutting-edge of technology to deliver their customers across the globe with the solutions to help grow their businesses.

Employing more than 2,000 staff in Dubai alone, with additional resources in India, Mercator helps reduce costs, improve processes and increase productivity of IT departments and their overall efficiency. Mercator is dedicated to providing quality products with the specialist value-added features demanded by today's airlines and backing them up with excellent customer service.

Mercator’s five business divisions have been designed to best serve its customers’ needs. They include: Passenger Services Solutions, Cargo & Logistics Solutions, Customer Relationship Management & Loyalty Solutions, Financial Management Solutions and Safety Solutions.

For more information, visit: www.mercator.com.

BUSINESS CHALLENGE

The project presented a number of business and technical challenges. This was the organization’s first big SOA based project, which meant convincing the business to change from their existing model, a traditional monolithic application, to an ESB based SOA solution.

The ability to provide performance, availability and other architectural qualities are standard questions posed by the business and IT when undertaking this type of project. Building a complete open source software stack, a new concept for the organization, was a challenge faced during the proposal and early implementation stage. The Group's major concern was that the “Open Travel Platform” was a critical project, which could afford no down time.

Integrating the components and tools together was the final major challenge the company faced. In isolation, the Group’s tools worked well and without fault, and during the initial integration procedures it soon became clear that their current applications were not going to integrate as smoothly as had been planned.

SOLUTION

Emirates Group Information Technology’s (EG-IT) aim was to have a complete “Open Travel Platform” (OTP) built entirely on open source technologies and components. The purpose of which was to support the growth plans of the Group by rationalizing, standardizing and reducing complexity across the business. This approach will enable the Group to rely on an enterprise-wide architecture as the backbone of its IT infrastructure.

When the Enterprise Architecture (EA) team looked at the portfolio of projects that were approved for the Emirates Group for 2010 and 2011, it revealed significant synergies across some of the major initiatives related to the travel sector.

The OTP program was conceived to align 16 projects, which were to result in a potential savings of millions to the Group. Apart from the direct savings, the OTP program also intended to reduce the complexity of their overall application portfolio by eliminating redundant components and interfaces. The OTP program cut across multiple lines of business including airport operations, passenger services and leisure.

OTP has been implemented as a Tier 1 service (6 sigma availability) that hosts flagship applications such as Emirates’ Internet Booking Engine (www.emirates.com), dnata's Front Office and dnata E-commerce applications. OTP, a complete SOA based next generation solution, has successfully introduced a number of innovative techniques into the daily global operations of the Group.

The vision of the project was to eliminate existing redundant legacy services and construct a common SOA based platform to support the needs of the business. The services in OTP were carefully designed with a long term perspective. They align to enterprise architecture principles to ensure all business applications in the project portfolio can leverage the platform's capabilities, thereby reducing complexity and improving agility.

The solution stack is completely driven by open source technologies. The JBoss Enterprise SOA Platform provides JBoss ESB, JBoss Business Rules Management, JBoss Messaging included within the application server infrastructure. JBoss Enterprise Business Rules Management represents state-of-the-art rules repository while allowing flexible authoring and change management for the business and the integration rules.

The company also utilized JBoss Operations Network for both SOA run time governance and core management and monitoring. The stack included Infinispan as data grid whilst other open source components like JiBX data binding and web services are also deployed on JBoss Enterprise Application Platform. The organization previously used proprietary tools and this is their first major leap towards an open source based application platform.

Red Hat has been involved from the inception phase of the project; this includes on-site support for tools evaluation, performance testing the solution, architecture review, production readiness, plus support and production infrastructure review support. It is also important to highlight the transfer of knowledge between Red Hat and EG-IT via Red Hat's Global Learning (GLS) and Global Professional Services (GPS). The availability of these Red Hat services ensured that EG-IT’s internal teams were confident in their knowledge of the Red Hat technologies implemented.

BENEFITS

Through the OTP program, The Emirates Group is now able to standardize and centralize all travel related services onto one platform. Emirates Group Information Technology (EG-IT), through this project, assisted the Group in achieving substantial costs savings. Since migrating IT from proprietary to open source, Emirates' total cost of ownership has been considerably reduced. The platform has enabled value added context specific business services, which are reusable across departments.

EG-IT worked closely with the Red Hat team to execute their vision and strategy resulting in project success. The Red Hat team provided subject matter experts and training services to support the project.

Together, Red Hat and EG-IT met the objectives of the project and requirements of the Group, achieving a substantially lower TCO over a five-year period. This was a key business driver for the project and demonstrates how IT can support the planned growth of the Group’s global business.