Continental Airlines builds real-time data warehouse

A Continental Airlines business intelligence project brought together 15 data warehouse developers in a mission that seemed impossible, but resulted in more revenues, less waste and higher customer satisfaction.

When Alicia Acebo and 14 other data warehouse developers set out to upgrade and integrate more than 40 different operational systems used within Continental Airlines, it was a daunting task.

However, the mission was accomplished.

In the first year following the completion of the data warehouse project, more than $7 million in fraud was recognized and eliminated, and the airline witnessed a $41 million reduction in costs. Airline officials credit the centralization of their databases and improved business intelligence (BI) applications.

Three years later, the events of Sept. 11 tested the data warehouse team once again. Acebo and her colleagues sorted through 35 different data marts and loaded the airline's booking system into XML so senior airline officials and the FBI could monitor customers booking flights in real time.

The Continental Airlines case study was presented during a BI session at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) 2003 World Conference in Boston this week.

"We needed information that was consistent and easy to understand, and that's what we created," Acebo told conference attendees. "We also knew we needed to build intelligence systems behind the scenes to put together all the customer data we gathered."

The Continental Airlines data warehouse was built using hardware and software from NCR Corp.'s Teradata division. Nearly all of Continental's 1,300 employees have access to flight schedules, seat inventory, revenue and ticketing data and customer profiles.

The data warehouse is also used for revenue management, customer-relationship management, (CRM) fraud detection, and crew payroll-management applications, Acebo said.

Using BI, companies can manage data as a corporate asset, said Jill Dyche;, author, CRM expert and vice president of management consulting with Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Baseline Consulting.

"BI has matured from just making report summaries easier to actually controlling the data for our own business purposes," she said. "Many companies are realizing that we need to move forward and build out the BI portfolio."

In Continental's case, BI software pulls data from more than a dozen sources and can track and analyze a customer's profile and buying behaviors.

By 2006, analytical CRM will replace operational CRM in terms of value, Dyche said.

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