British Airways Reduces Airport Hassles With Self Service Kiosks
Paul Coby, CIO, British Airways, discusses the rising significance of self-service kiosks and Web2.0 technologies in the airline industry.
What are some of the mission critical applications used by airlines?
IT is mission critical to everything we do in the airline industry. The process could be that of ticket booking or luggage check-in or the frequent flier programme related to the engineering system, IT is fundamental to everything we do. We are indeed IT dependent.
Can you briefly describe the role of IT at British Airways?
IT has played a fundamental role in changing our customer service approach. The first thing we did was to develop a convenient, one-stop, online website titled ‘ba.com’ to sell our products. We made it sure that it was easy to use and offered cheap fares. With time, we have started various facilities to better serve our customers. For example, they can not only manage their bookings online, but can also book special meal preferences or seats that suit their convenience. Two years ago, we started a new facility, which enables our customers to print their boarding passes and execute an online check-in using the same. This facility is also available in India. People really liked all these services as it made their airport experience hassle-free in many ways. After the 9/11 incident, we reduced the cost of running technology by almost 45 percent. This has contributed significantly to the airline’s growth.
What are the IT initiatives BA has planned to undertake in 2008-09?
We are going to continue our growth as a customer-driven airline through our website. We are soon planning to launch something called ‘Dynamic Packaging’ on the website. This concept uses technology to put together all the things a customer may want to buy with an air ticket i.e. a hotel stay, a car rental, an excursion etc. in a single package. There is smart IT at work beneath this design, which will enable our website to offer consumers more comprehensive services. We are involving suppliers and partners across the world to help us turn our endeavour of ‘Dynamic Packaging’ into a reality. However, the overall concept will be developed in-house.
Do you have any plans on the self-service kiosks front?
The Heathrow airport in London has been posing many hassles to fliers and it desperately needed a new investment. British Airways operates from terminal five of Heathrow; this terminal is dedicated to our airline. We handle up to thirty million passengers every year. All of this is going to be enabled by self-service. Our idea is that when a customer arrives at terminal five, he will be ready to fly, he will be able to print a boarding pass, book a special meal and avail of many other facilities. We expect that four out of every five passengers will either use online check-in or self-service kiosks, when they are flying from terminal five. So you will find nearly hundreds of service kiosks across the whole width of the terminal five building. The entire terminal five construction project was also driven by technology.
What has been your strategy for using IT at British Airlines?
We have been using IT at British Airways mainly to improve the experience we offer our customers, to make things simpler for them and to reduce the cost of running the airline. We led the e-ticket initiative in the industry and today British Airways runs 98 percent via e-tickets. Other airlines are also going the same way and the entire industry will soon be ticketless. Similarly, this industry is moving quickly towards implementing self-service kiosks.
What kind of challenges does a CIO in an airline face?
The biggest challenge in the airline industry is to make sure that technologies keep working. If the technology stops, the airline stops! If the check-in system gets stuck, the aircraft won’t fly; if the reservation system underneath the website stops functioning, the airline won’t make any money. So a CIO must remember that 24/7 global availability and reliability is absolutely fundamental to the working of an airline. Other areas where airline CIOS need to constantly deliver are innovation and improvements in systems and technologies. Businesses today demand things faster and cheaper, and that is really a challenge. You have to be more agile to deliver things faster. Finally, a CIO must combine technology with business solutions and changes. IT underlines everything that happens in an airline, so you are on everyone’s critical path of change.
What will be the next wave of IT adoption? Which applications according to you will become imperative for airlines?
Web2.0 is a catchy phrase that tends to encompass all sorts of things and it is also enabling interesting technical changes. Similarly, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), though being a simple concept, is gaining traction only now. It enables you to split up things you do into different services and combine them. It also enables the adoption of Web services from other providers. Two years ago we put together a promotion for BA holidays, which did mesh up with Google Map. Thus, if you were looking to stay in a hotel at some specific place, you could zoom in to Google Map to find the actual location. So these things provide a lot of new opportunities. Web2.0 is more about social interaction and we have tried to use it on various business fronts. For example, we have put up a site through which employees, including the cabin crew and pilots, can share their views and suggestions with other crew members. Many such implementations will change the face of airline operations in the days to come.
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