Network Overhaul During a recent trip to Bermuda, Nason watched as an airline employee retrieved e-mail with a 9.6-Kbps modem. That will soon change. By the end of this year, American plans to have an entirely new companywide data network in place. The $140 million all-IP network will be the most expensive piece of Americans technology overhaul.Nason said American decided to go with an IP network because it will give the carrier the greatest amount of flexibility. "We are going to an environment that is any data, anyplace, and IP is the best way to go for that," he said. The new network will also play an important role as American works to integrate various databases. The company plans to use Vitria software to unify a half dozen databases containing customer information. But if American is to make full use of the software, it will need a fast network that can exchange information among its databases quickly, so that customers arent kept waiting. The network will allow the carrier to distribute in-house video, as well as e-mail and data. But, according to Nason, "We are not doing it for e-mail or video. Those are side benefits." The main objective for the network, he explained, is to allow Americans reservation agents and other "customer-facing employees" to get fast access to Americans databases like frequent flyer membership, flight schedules, baggage handling and reservations. Getting that data to frontline employees is critically important, Nason said. It will allow airline employees to get "the full view of the customer. But getting that requires being able to transmit more data from all these sources."
The network will be a welcome replacement for the current system, which uses a mixture of protocols including X.25, a standard for packet-switched networking that dates back to 1976; Asynchronous Transfer Mode, which supports maximum data rates of 622 megabits per second; and Systems Network Architecture, a protocol originated by IBM for mainframe computers that has evolved over the years. Americans implementation and planning vendors on the project are Sabre (which recently sold its computer-services arm to EDS) and IBM. Cisco Systems will provide most of the hardware.