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A Success Story: Sybase and LSG Sky Chefs

Every step along the workflow process is carried out using one uniform platform

LSG Sky Chefs, a subsidiary of German national airline Lufthansa, is the world's leading provider of integrated in-flight services solutions from catering, provisioning, equipment, and retail to comprehensive in-flight management services. With 30,000 employees working at over 200 locations in 48 countries, LSG Sky Chefs serves more than 270 airlines.

The Challenge
The loading requirements differ for each individual flight and are sometimes subject to drastic changes until shortly before departure. The highest degree of flexibility is therefore of paramount importance. The company needed a new centralized software application to ultimately control the complete chain of catering processes, from preparing and arranging items at Customer Service Centers to in-flight passenger service.

The Solution
The application developed by LSG Sky Chefs is based on a centralized data repository and uses the Sybase PowerBuilder 4 GL tool. This precisely configures the loading arrangements for each flight. It uses comprehensive galley diagrams to enable ground operations to optimize their loading preparations.

The Results
LSG Sky Chefs now runs a centralized IT solution for all of its CSCs that meets the operational requirements for all the business functions. Data only has to be entered once, thereby reducing potential sources of errors. The solution also offers scope for numerous new business functions.

Airline passengers expect impeccable service. This not only involves drinks, meals, and newspapers, but every single item that could be needed on-board - from babies' nappies to headache tablets and even the right immigration form. On a long distance flight the number of articles to be assembled can exceed 60,000.

Assembling aircraft loadings at around 180 airports in 48 countries is LSG Sky Chefs' business and this represents a tremendous logistical challenge: the loading details change from flight to flight and everything can change right up to just before take-off.

Each individual aircraft type has its own seating arrangements and galley space, each airline has its own service concept, each destination has its own requirements, and these are just some of the factors that can change loading details. Increasingly there are special cases over and above the standard load specifications and airline customers making individual requests.

Passengers can book tickets right up to the closure of the flight, flight plans can be altered due to weather conditions, or a different aircraft type may be substituted. All this can mean that the galley space originally reserved for catering equipment is no longer large enough or that the service concept has to be adjusted. (see Image 1)

Changes affect the airline crew just as much as the teams on the ground. This is why it was necessary to implement a centralized IT solution for all the companies' Customer Service Centers that provided the right functions for each of the different operational areas. It was crucial that data was to be entered only once to minimize potential errors and, more important, that increased functionality was added when implementing the new application.

The IT development at LSG Sky Chefs Germany began in 2001 by bringing the existing decentralized system together into a central data pool and introducing the new functions. The "CBASE anywhere" application - as it is called - is gradually being introduced into German locations throughout this year. The central database server (running with Oracle) and the application server (running with Sybase EAServer) are hosted by Lufthansa Systems.

The centrally stored data includes information on the airlines and their concepts, aircraft types and their respective seating arrangements and galley configurations, requirements at each destination, flight plans, invoicing information, and much more. This information is transmitted electronically whenever possible.

On Board: Find Without Having to Search
Now with just one click of the mouse, the entire loading can be displayed by sorting this centrally stored data. The result is a tailor-made load plan for a given flight. Every single article that needs to be on board is listed in a number of detailed reports. The make-up of the loading not only varies from flight to flight, but must also reflect up-to-the minute events such as special menu requests. Even the ordering of newspapers and magazines represents a major logistical challenge since publication dates and bank holidays need to be catered for. CBASE is now used by the subcontract suppliers to handle the logistics for the entire loading.

At the core of the loading list is the galley documentation. This serves initially as a checklist and loading instruction sheet and finishes up as a guide for cabin crew.

CBASE provides complete galley diagrams showing the plane layout and galley space. Using the drag-and drop principle, the individual galley positions can be varied, predefined items such as trolleys, standard inserts, ovens, and much more can be selected and positioned. Any desired article can be found using a keyword search facility. (see Figure 1)

The application organizes the printing of labels, which are extremely important in the airline catering production process, as well as various other documents containing up-to-the-minute information, which the purser responsible for the cabin area can use to brief the cabin crew. Even special situations can be catered for with this process, for example, precautions to be taken in the event of an epidemic.

On the Ground: Optimize Layout and Production Processes
The same data pool and the same application provide the functions needed to drive and optimize ground preparations. Take, for example, Frankfurt airport: the total needs for all the flights on a given day, every customer, and every route can be calculated at the push of a button. Reports show how many individual detailed lists are available and which articles are needed. For example, on day X, 2,924,078 articles are needed including Y cans of cola, lemonade, and mineral water; menus A, B, and C; plates; cutlery; serviettes; etc. Using this report, managers can then plan what they need to buy and how many staff they need to have on hand.

Ease of use and transparency are also important. An instruction browser describes how to accomplish each and every task in words and in images, for example, how a drinks trolley should be set up. Entire cookbooks can also be stored here. (see Figure 2)

The critical factor is that there can be changes right up to just before take-off. Such ad hoc occurrences can be managed automatically by CBASE. For example, a plane is changed at short notice; the new aircraft type is keyed in and the system recalculates in a split second the loading and storage plan using centrally stored data. Each change is highlighted in color. All staff in the production process who are affected receive a message telling them what to do next - perhaps redo a menu because there has been a change in service concept. Every change must be confirmed and the time required must be logged. This part of the system is run from the production control room and is customized to suit user requirements, for instance, touch screens can be made available if needed.

IT Development: Design Based on Practical Usage
In developing the system it was essential to take into account the practical knowledge of staff members and build in their requirements wherever possible. This meant that many changes were necessary, even in the final stages of development. This was only possible by using the right IT tools.

In a previous project using Unix and programming with C, it was almost impossible to display certain functions such as loading charts. In this new project, PowerBuilder from Sybase was used, which made for a much more flexible approach. This tool combines the properties of a fourth generation language with object-based extensions. Its core element, the DataWindow, proved to be very compatible with LSG Sky Chefs' requirements because it allowed data to be called up from the data bank and incorporated into visual displays. In this way, for instance, the galley diagram was drawn up in a short space of time and required only the data type and display requirements to be keyed in. The necessary software adaptations were automatically effected in-house. Basically the system did not need to be programmed, as the in-house developers were able to "design" it. This meant that changes were possible even in the final development stages and the development team was able to model the application on what takes place in practice. (see Image 2)

Since February, "CBASE anywhere" has been gradually introduced into 18 LSG Sky Chefs locations in Germany and around a third of its total functions are already used routinely. The old, decentralized system is expected to be completely replaced by the end of the year. The application is available over the Internet via the EAServer at 120 other locations so that users can choose between full local installation or connection by "thin client."

Other LSG companies abroad have already begun enquiring about the system. The first customers are detailing their requirements from which LSG Sky Chefs staff can draw up the appropriate load plan. In this way, every step along the workflow process from customer through to service provider can be carried out using one uniform platform.

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This article is reprinted with permission from Sybase Incorporated.

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PBDJ News Desk monitors the world of PowerBuilder to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the PowerBuilder and i-technology space.

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