The Airline Guide to Selecting an NDC Version

April 6, 2021

NDC version selection is not straight forward and raises many questions whether you are an airline, seller or aggregator. Patchwork implementations and inconsistent adoptions of the standard can make the decision process even more difficult. While the travel industry as a whole is fully aligned with the ability of NDC to improve retailing, critical servicing needs and the overall travel experience, the industry is looking for completeness and consistency in NDC standards and roll out.

At Datalex we continually research and invest in the latest standards and will soon transition to 20.2 with further version support planned, which we explain in further detail below. In this blog post we share our insights into how best to approach the NDC Version selection process based on our industry experience and learnings.

1. It’s a business decision not a technical decision
First and foremost, it is important to view selecting an NDC schema version as business decision, not just a technical decision. Previously the NDC schema version was released twice a year, this year it will be released four times with the naming convention indicating the year. So in 2021 we have 21.1 in March and 21.3 in September, with two minor versions, 21.2 (June) and 21.4 (December) also coming for any required bug fixing but not containing new capability. Each NDC version defines a common language that airlines and sellers can use in their communications, so an airline can distribute its offers directly to travel agents, corporate agents, meta search engines and aggregators. Because this is defined in xml it has largely been considered a technical instrument. But for an airline wishing to take greater control of flight offer distribution, the question top of mind should be “which NDC version will get sellers connected faster, more efficiently and will drive additional revenues via NDC?” By approaching the selection with this mindset, airlines will ensure they get most value from the NDC version they select.

2. Not the latest, the most stable
When assessing the NDC versions available, it is important to look at the capabilities included in each and the version stability. It may seem that adopting the latest version makes most sense. However, this is not necessarily the case and instead analysing the stability of the NDC version, along with the capability it includes, and selecting on that basis is a better approach. Earlier versions tend to have greater maturity, because as more airlines and sellers adopt a single version, the capability and stability improves. For example, there was a convergence around the 17.2 version released in September 2017, which provided extensive shopping and order creation capabilities. Currently there are 129 airlines, sellers and aggregators which have been awarded certified status or capable status (IT providers) by IATA to use this version. While being one of the first to implement a version shows leadership, there is no value being a pioneer if there are no sellers ready to consume your NDC offers on the latest version.

At Datalex we continually research and invest in the latest standards and will soon transition to 20.2 this year, and we will also support 21.3 when it becomes available. We selected this version following extensive analysis with IATA and sellers and given the stability and support it brings for enhanced Order Servicing and Dynamic Offers. Our research included analysis of the stability of the API versions being released and understanding difficulties that aggregators may have integrating new versions. Our selection process ensures that our airline customers can extract most value from and differentiate with NDC, and we plan to continue investing in newer versions next year.

Recent news from IATA Shop Order Board indicates that the next ‘convergence version’ will be around the 21.3 version to be released in September 2021. This is good news as it incorporates all the order servicing improvements of the 2019 and 2020 releases, with the problems those releases had now ironed out. Importantly, backwards compatibility has been confirmed through the re-introduction of ‘CommonTypes’, which means the time it takes to upgrade should be shorter and less risky for both sellers and airlines.

3. Capabilities analysis – What are your priorities?
The next important question to ask is, what is your distribution strategy via the NDC distribution channel? The ability to control the offer and provide comprehensive order servicing capability will elevate your NDC implementation from a technical task to achieve certification to a complete distribution strategy that will be attractive to sellers and increase your revenue. If it is your airline’s first foray into NDC, getting basic shopping and order creation capability in place is key, will kick-start ROI from the NDC investment and will allow your airline to test internal processes with this new channel of distribution.

Improved and more complete order servicing via NDC is really important - this allows agents to not only shop and book but also comprehensively service these bookings for travellers, reducing the need for the agent to contact the airline call centre and thus reducing the cost to the airline. Order Servicing should support different types of order update requests, for example when travellers want to add bag and seat ancillaries to their booking, or for more disruptive cases when there is an IROP or schedule change that needs to be managed. Moreover, the pandemic has also demonstrated that in times of severe disruption, airlines and agencies need to deal with an extraordinarily high volume of transactions and a complex set of servicing requirements. Sophisticated and comprehensive Order Servicing via NDC to handle this type of peak efficiently is essential. Moreover, the ability to add new health and safety products across all channels enabled by NDC, takes on even greater importance.

4. Optimising sellers and scale
The next step is to review the sellers that your airline has agreements with already that may wish to move to the NDC channel, including large OTAs and Corporate Travel Agencies, so that you can further control and customise the offers that you give to them. Another important consideration here is how your airline plans to scale the NDC distribution channel. Through metasearch engines with high look to book ratios? Or smaller local agencies that would bring lots of traffic to your home market. Both?

Having a sleek onboarding process to enable secure authentication and authorisation for sellers will enable your ability to scale quickly. A Developer Portal showing sample shopping and booking workflows will help drive down seller integration time. Additionally, an Agent Portal to allow direct access to offers, order creation and order servicing will improve usability for smaller agencies with no previous access to unique NDC offers. All of these factors will significantly increase your rate of seller adoption.

5. Select the right Technology Partner!
It is very important that your airline works with a technology partner that can support multiple NDC versions and that can demonstrate an upgrade path for you and your sellers to newer NDC versions. For each version supported, there should be an associated Developer Portal with technical integration documentation for your airline and your sellers readily available. And importantly, working with a partner with a willingness to invest in NDC and support you on your NDC journey is key.

At Datalex, our NDC strategy puts a laser focus on airline controlled offers for enhanced retailing, removal of the fragmentation of the trip experience, more choice, consistency and personalisation of content, ease and speed of seller integration and transformation of how travel sellers interact with the end-traveller. Making NDC part of the industry’s path to recovery and capitalising on the opportunity to provide richer content with a higher conversion, that extracts more value from the market. Enabling our airline customers to edge closer towards a fully aligned Direct and Indirect channel strategy.

For more information on the Datalex NDC product, our Developer Portal and Agent Portal, and how we can support your airline’s NDC journey, visit www.datalex.com/datalex-ndc

 

Datalex NDC

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