“Our providers say they’re meeting our contracted service level agreement (SLA), but our customers say the performance isn’t there. Something doesn’t add up.” With that comment, Mark Cheyney, IAG Loyalty’s IFEC Strategy, Performance and Operations Manager, touched off an interesting debate among service providers at the APEX EXPO 2022 in Long Beach, California. What are the SLAs measuring, and can they be used to hold suppliers accountable? Or should they be dispensed with completely?
We don’t want our customers to have a bad experience, and we know our providers don’t want that either. We have to do something.– Mark Cheyney, IAG Loyalty’s IFEC Strategy, Performance and Operations Manager
Perhaps most outspoken of the service providers on the panel was Starlink’s VP commercial Sales, Jonathan Hofeller. His company’s offering has previously been reported to shun SLAs, suggesting that disappointed airline customers could simply switch to an alternate provider. Which is not to say that Hofeller is completely opposed to the idea. But he sees the current SLA contract model as “insufficient.”
“There is nothing wrong with measuring the experience, Hofeller continued. “Where the problem comes from SLAs is that typically they don’t drive changes that improve the benefit.”
A small credit back to the airline does not solve the poor performance for the customer, just like refunding the paid fee doesn’t solve the problem. Getting to a scenario where problems do not occur is the true goal.
Cheyney agreed with this point, noting that the SLAs “only cover to a certain point… and are not reflective to what is happening.” At the same time, however, Cheyney noted that more airlines are installing inflight connectivity solutions, not just for passengers, but also for operational services. As a result they are “more reliant on those systems working, and working 100% of the time.”
Of course, ideas around how to identify, measure, and rectify the problem points varied among the participants. Hofeller suggests that “SLAs go away when you have an abundance of capacity.” Given the company’s current and announced capacity plans, this view certainly makes sense. As he explained, “We’re putting up an incredible amount of capacity. The legacy systems operate under a scarcity, while we envision a future with an abundance of capacity.”
Jeff Sare, Intelsat‘s President of Commercial Aviation, disagreed with this view. He notes that for his company – with a whole lot more planes actively in service than Starlink – “The issues typically are not because there is insufficient capacity. It is because of device OS or [access point] association or other issues.”
That broad claim does not apply to all reported cases at Intelsat. And the company can only report on the complaints it receives. But Sare is clear that capacity is not the only challenge, or even the key challenge he believes his airline customers face. Going back to Cheyney’s comment, however, if customers remain unsatisfied even when connected to the service is that not at least possibly a capacity issue?
Other performance options?
An alternative to raw capacity or similarly basic metrics could be something from the Seamless Air Alliance‘s Inflight Connectivity (IFC) Analysis Toolkit introduced over the summer. Rather than measuring ping times or theoretical burst speeds for any one user on the plane at a time, the framework allows discrete measurements in multiple areas, including:
- Capture portal and authentication
- Web browsing
- Streaming media
- Backhaul networks
- Onboard monitoring agents
Just having more things to define and measure does not guarantee that the correct ones will be tracked and reported.
More news from APEX EXPO 2022
- Panasonic Avionics, OneWeb team for inflight internet service
- Anuvu boosts Ka-band connectivity with dual panel antenna
- Virgin Australia picks 2Ku for Wi-Fi boost
- Panasonic Avionics highlights Stellar Blu antenna for OneWeb LEO service
- Dimmable windows coming to the A350 with Starlux
- A first look at Spirit’s new seats
- Bringing the moving map online: Panasonic’s Arc gets a data feed
- Pairing, casting and streaming: The next generation of inflight entertainment emerges
- Starlink/JSX STC slips
- SLAs suck: Seeking a service specification shift
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