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Brussels Airlines is transforming its business digitally through a strategy that links traditional IT with its customers through a digital skin.
The airline is looking to improving the customer experience and reduce costs through technologies such as mobile and analytics.
Simon Lamkin, CIO at the airline, is using his background in e-commerce as well as over a decade of experience of computer platforms at easyJet to take the 15-year-old business to the next digital level.
Brussels Airlines, part of the Lufthansa Group of airlines, was traditionally focused on the European and West African markets but today also operates in North America. It carried 7.5 million passengers on its 50 aircraft last year and expects to reach eight million this year.
Lamkin has experience in online and digital travel industry through a company he co-founded. It set him up for a move into the airline industry, which is increasingly focused on digital services to travellers. However, it was the next 12 years, which he spent working at easyJet on multiple platforms, which gave him the experience required to take on a CIO role, which he did at Brussels Airlines in April this year.
Spending on customer-facing IT in the airline industry, such as mobile apps for travelers and staff, is growing much faster than spending on traditional industry systems such as ticketing and baggage systems.
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All airlines are in the same position. “We have all got to digitally transform to provide the tools to our guests that can help them get through the whole air travel experience. We need to allow them to book online and do everything they need to do from their mobile devices,” Lamkin said.
To this end he said that the airline is also working with airports to find ways to improve the experience of passengers. “As passengers become more digitally aware, airports need to transform their processes.” He cited “old school” processes for printing out boarding passes even though passengers print their own now.
The airline has a number of projects ongoing. It has, for example, just completed the roll-out of a long programme to change its departure control systems, which it moved onto an Amadeus platform. “Now we are looking to use this to provide powerful tools for our guests. For example, if we have to rearrange flights we now have the capacity to re-accommodate all passengers without them having to do a great deal themselves.”
Lamkin said that despite the increased focus on customer-facing technology, an airline “can’t get away from some of the core processes of the operation from ticketing, to boarding passes, to tagging bags.
“But there is a lot of innovation now coming into the airline industry that is starting to transform the way those processes happen, such as mobile apps, which change how passengers are processed, such as checking in using a device and electronic bag tags.”
There is now a digital layer on top of the big systems of the operation. “It is on this layer where airlines are working very hard to remove some of the obstacles that airports and airlines put in the way.
“It doesn’t matter how a customer has booked – we must not lose sight of the customer journey.”
Beyond the customer journey Brussels Airlines is using tools such as analytics to cut costs. This includes bringing down the cost of fuel – the biggest overhead for any aitrline.
“We are introducing some new analysis tools to reveal which routes use the most fuel and which aircraft burn the most fuel. We can then optimise aircraft allocation and routes,” Lamkin explained.
For example, Brussels Airlines’ flight management system can select the best route on any particular day. The route changes depending on factors such as weather, navigation charges and how busy certain routes are. “This ensures we put on the most appropriate aircraft with the most efficient route in fuel terms.”
Devices for staff
Flight crews at the airline are also harnessing the latest IT. The company has just rolled out Windows Surface Pro tablets to all flight crew. “The pilots use these during the flight and they have access to all the route and fuel use analysis. In the cabin we have electronic point of sale devices and mobile devices to manage on-board sales and guest experiences.”
Lamkin said that the change in IT focus places more reliance on IT partners because internal skills sets are more traditional. “Working with the right partners is essential.”
He said the company has been working closely with Microsoft, which has been a driving force in its digital transformation. “We only have a relatively small IT team here with 60 people, so we depend on our partners to drive this and make it happen.”