Bringing Humanity Back to Air Travels with the Help of Big Data

Ramki Ramaswamy, VP IT, Technology & Integrations, JetBlue Airways
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Ramki Ramaswamy, VP IT, Technology & Integrations, JetBlue Airways

Ramki Ramaswamy, VP IT, Technology & Integrations, JetBlue Airways

JetBlue was launched in 2000 with the mission to bring humanity back to air travel. Despite the countless challenges faced in the airline industry today—from weather events to aging airport infrastructure to needing to remain constantly vigilant about safety and security—we consistently aim to offer the best possible customer experience from keyboard to curb, throughout the travel ribbon. From the moment a customer books their ticket on our website to when they land at their final destination, our goal is to provide a seamless and enhanced experience. Our ability to deliver this experience for our customers rests, in large part, on the shoulders of our more than 22,000 crew members that require the right technology and data at the right time.

From a technology perspective, big data provides an extraordinary opportunity and acts as an enabler for our crewmembers and customers providing them the information they need to deliver the best possible customer experience. As we’ve implemented big data platforms and technologies at JetBlue, our core principles have remained simplicity, agility, sensibility, and speed enabled by a streamlined architecture. We have been able to drive insights by emphasizing real-world use cases that improve our operations and customer experience. Looking at our flight bookings, flight information, stations, and customers (before we even get to bag, maintenance, and social data), we’ve always been in the big data business. From a decision making perspective, data drives our flight schedules and route management, crew planning, pricing and countless operational decisions on the day of travel and helps us gain insights into customer and operational data trends.

As our airline continues to grow and technology continues to evolve, we are always looking to stay ahead of the curve. At JetBlue, we like to say that innovation is in our DNA. We not only look at what we’re delivering but also how we are delivering it. A critical operational driver for us is removing the constraints of decades-old relational database technologies, such schemas, table designs, indexes, compute, storage and high latency data. The natural choice for us is to leverage cloud data stores that are optimized for elasticity and eliminate the computational constraints of legacy data stores and brick and mortar data centers. We’re leveraging databases that allow simultaneous online transactions and analytical capabilities—thus, simplifying our architecture and environments and enabling big data capabilities with a quicker time to market. In the world of data, designing schemas are a significant component of the development process which adds a considerable amount of overhead potentially causing severe roadblocks. JetBlue’s approach is to adopt schema-less databases coupled with the proper data governance and management. The cloud also provides us with the tools and technologies to build quicker data pipelines, with more robust and flexible analytical environments and offers predictive capabilities.

  At JetBlue, we like to say that innovation is in our DNA. We not only look at what we’re delivering but also how we are delivering it 

Simplicity and nimbleness drive the implementation of our data platforms. One of the biggest tasks we encountered while designing our data platform was to incorporate modern and open source software, a thinner stack, PaaS solutions and a single source of truth for both transactional analytical databases. Our platform is flexible enough to handle both structured and unstructured data in the form of pilot logs, customer feedback, customer support notes, and others. Though a lot of the transactional systems do not need the data to be tightly interlinked, it is evident that the data together can yield significantly more benefits than just individually. Coupled with a stable disaster recovery setup, it reduces our costs and allows for a well monitored and highly available platform.

At JetBlue, we’re aiming to eliminate the traditional IT-centered “data control” approach that creates roadblocks to data access for our users and renders them dependent on IT. This new approach seeks to eliminate the “data pools” that previously existed throughout most enterprises. We achieve this by standing up a controlled self-service platform so that data science groups across the organization can directly access the data which is controlled by layers of access control and use the tool of their choice for advanced analytics.

To speed up delivery times, we’re also changing the way we work. Like all businesses, our rapidly changing world is challenging IT to deliver quicker while minimizing our costs. We’re using agile software development techniques, continuous integration, and continuous deployment to speed our data delivery processes. Fundamental to our success is the proper adoption of agile methods from the onset and involves creating epics and prioritizing based on business value. Adopting agile methodologies in the data space has allowed our teams to focus on delivering business value faster and output that drives a better crewmember and customer experience. It also helps us mitigate the risk of building too much complexity into our solutions. In addition, we validate our code releases frequently using soft release processes to gauge early user feedback.

We know that our future competitiveness and ability to stay current, relevant and innovative depends on technology and specifically big data. At JetBlue, we want to leverage the speed and agility which is enabled by big data platforms in the cloud. That’s how IT at JetBlue is doing its part in bringing humanity back to air travel.

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