At American, enhancing customer self-service options is forcing significant IT infrastructure investments and organizational changes. Until recently, Americans three major self-service channels, aa.com, kiosks and voice recognition, were managed by different groups and used different application logic. That meant not only high maintenance costs but also confusion among customers, who had to navigate different business processes on different American platforms. Ford set out to end the confusion, first by bringing management of all the customer channels under Vice President for Customer Technology John Samuel. To gain more control, Ford brought management of aa.com and a few other IT functions that had been outsourced back in-house. (American still outsources about 80 percent of its IT operations, mostly to Electronic Data Systems Corp. and IBM Global Services.)To further enhance customer service and cut costs, Fords team has been revamping legacy systems. In a project dubbed AACoRN (American Airlines Customer Relationship Network), for example, American has replaced the dumbfounding character-based screens used by reservation agents with a GUI. Americans IT organization has also spearheaded initiatives that could lower costs industrywide. Fords team, for example, has pressured and cajoled other carriers to support interairline e-ticketing, in some cases building interfaces between its own and other carriers reservation systems. American recently announced that all domestic carriers connecting to its network have fallen in line with the interairline e-ticketing initiative. Not all of Americans IT-driven initiatives have been focused on customer service. Fords team continues to enhance Jetnet, the major American employee portal rolled out 18 months ago. The portal attracts 40,000 log-ins per day by employees, who can do everything on the secure site from updating their benefits to booking free travel. Cartys decision to continue investing in such initiatives is paying off. American estimates Jetnet has saved it $8 million. The company saved $1.2 million on self-service benefits enrollment alone, said Andrew Watson, vice president for e-business, in Fort Worth, Texas. Meanwhile, the AACoRN project has cut reservation agent talk time by an average of 13 percent. But American has a long way to go. Although the company had managed to cut its per-seat-mile operating expenses by 5.3 percent between the fourth quarter of 2001 and the fourth quarter of last year, Americans costs are still about 30 percent above those of competitor Southwest Airlines Co. Still, said Watson, American is determinedwith the help of ITto continue to narrow the gap. Most Recent Stories by Jeff Moad:
American is also building a common set of customer self-service application logic that can be deployed behind each communication channel. Developed in Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition and deployed on application servers from Art Technology Group Inc., the logic has already been deployed at aa.com.