Aeroplan trades miles for rewards in real time

Category: Middleware/Application Integration
Winner: Aeroplan

Aeroplan, a subsidiary of AirCanada, developed a real-time rewards-based e-commerce integration to securely link its existing internal systems with new partner systems and achieve real-time transactions. The organization was able to accomplish this while simultaneously protecting the personal information stored in its systems.

The Montreal-based rewards company, with more than 6 million members, sells miles to more than 100 companies such as AirCanada, hotels and car rental agencies. However, the company can only recognize the revenue from those sales when miles are redeemed for awards.

In an effort to broaden its reward offerings, Aeroplan set out to find a way to securely link its existing internal information systems with new rewards partners’ systems to achieve real-time results, thus achieving more realized revenue as well. The company’s existing partner transaction system was XML-based and hosted by IBM Global Services in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, using IBM MQSeries as the transport layer protocol. Aeroplan wanted a technology solution that would serve XML messages to its partners and provide them with secure access to only some of the Aeroplan system’s functions.

Five employees—two from Aeroplan, a team from the IBM Global Services Winnipeg data center and one professional from Reactivity—comprised the development team. Under the direction of Aeroplan e-business architect Spyros Kattou, they implemented the Reactivity Gateway network appliance, which receives and sends all XML Web services transactions, and the Reactivity Manager, which is designed to expedite the process of creating, provisioning and managing deployments of secure Web services. Aeroplan refers to the two technologies together as the Reactivity System.

“The Reactivity System enables our developers, security and operational professionals to leverage the system for their goals and ensure that we consistently enforce security, leverage existing infrastructure and accelerate the time to market for the applications in our SOA,” Kattou explains.

Using the Reactivity System, the Aeroplan system creates a bilateral SSL connection, authenticates the connection partner using Aeroplan’s existing LDAP, encrypts or decrypts the message as necessary and transforms the message from SOAP/HTTPS to XML over MQSeries. The Aeroplan mainframe then processes the requests and returns a response on XML over MQSeries to the Reactivity System. Subsequently, the Reactivity System encrypts appropriate fields in the message, inserts an Aeroplan identity token and transforms the XML over MQSeries into SOAP over HTTPS and transmits the response to the connection partner.

Aeroplan is now able to connect with business partners over the Internet and to exchange XML or SOAP/Web services messages securely. Prior to using the Reactivity System, Aeroplan had to purchase and provision leased lines with its customers.

Using the Reactivity System has also given Aeroplan more freedom to chose among standards, reduced the amount of time and difficulty involved in resolving problems, and resulted in an agreed-upon workflow. Users are allowed to configure their own policies, provide approvals and monitor compliance and traffic according to their role and function.

Aeroplan’s production environment uses two Reactivity Gateways in a cluster to ensure 24x7 operation with a dedicated Reactivity Manager. As capacity demands grow, Aeroplan will add more Reactivity Gateways. “One of the main reasons we chose the Reactivity solution is for linear scalability,” Kattou notes. “With increased volume, we simply add another appliance to the cluster, deploy the security policy and get an increase in capacity with very little effort and zero development.”

The most significant challenge the development team encountered was the extremely aggressive deployment schedule. Kattou collaborated with the team on a clearly detailed plan and managed to keep everyone on schedule and finish the project in 38 calendar days and 50 person days.

Another challenge arose in the data transfer between Aeroplan and one of its partners. When the partner requested information (mileage points) from Aeroplan, it received a lot of additional, unnecessary information as well, such as preferred seat assignment. The development team created new XSL transforms to account for the new business logic and overcame the problem.

The implementation of the Reactivity System has resulted in rapid growth of Aeroplan’s rewards redemption. The company is on pace for a 500 percent growth in rewards redemption by 2007, according to Kattou, and is now able to connect with partners in as little as two hours. “This constitutes IT being significantly faster than the business team can contract with partners,” Kattou adds.

Because of the project’s success, Aeroplan has accelerated its rollout of XML Web services and has already launched seven new services within the first 10 months of deploying the Reactivity System.

“We estimate the Reactivity Secure Deployment System saved Aeroplan hundreds of thousands of dollars in development costs alone by enabling us to utilize our existing systems with a single appliance that performs not only the necessary security functionality but also the protocol and format conversions,” Kattou sums.

Aeroplan, a subsidiary of AirCanada, has been awarded the Application Development Trends Innovator Award in the Middleware/Application Integration category. The award recognizes information technology organizations that have successfully completed and implemented innovative development projects. In addition to innovation, the winning criteria also includes the element of risk taken by the developers to build an application that brings significant business and financial benefit.

Aeroplan developed the real-time rewards based e-commerce integration to securely link Aeroplan’s existing internal systems with new rewards partner systems to achieve real-time mileage redemption transactions, while protecting the personal information in its systems.

Aeroplan’s innovation lies in its approach to reuse the current Web services used between and internal legacy systems, exposing them to the other business partners to offer non-air rewards that could be purchased using Aeroplan miles. This solution allows Aeroplan to connect with any business partner anywhere.

Aeroplan’s solution used Reactivity System as the XML Web services secure deployment infrastructure to transform SOAP messages to XML over MQSeries. The real-time integration architecture was designed for flexibility and scalability.

Finally, with this solution, Aeroplan was able to use the public Internet to exchange messages securely with the business partners instead of using leased lines. Their use of services-based architecture for exchanging information with any business partners is expected to grow rewards redemption by 500 percent by 2007.

Aeroplan, a subsidiary of AirCanada
Real-time rewards-based e-commerce integration
Project goal
To offer a broader variety of goods and services redeemable with Aeroplan Miles.
Project payoff
Accelerated pace to expand redemption rewards business; implemented seven additional real-time services in first six months following deployment; saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in development costs by using existing systems.
Tools used
Reactivity Gateway
Reactivity Manager
MQSeries XML
Project team
Remi Lafrance (Director, Architecture, Strategy and Operations)
Spyros Kattou (E-business Architect)
Hugo Giguere (Technical Analyst)

Photo: Hugo Giguere and Spyros Kattou

Back to feature: Innovator Awards 2005