Why create a Chief Transformation Officer role?
The world is changing faster than ever. For long established companies, being agile enough to tackle rapidly evolving airline and IT market dynamics is a major challenge.
To address these dynamics, at KLM we decided to undertake a big transformation as a company, to create a more agile organization and work together better across different divisions.
Our transformation office is focused on breaking down barriers – to make sure we remove any silos in the organization. We are a light and tight team, as we want to avoid the risk of creating another silo.
Our goal is to look for ways to transform KLM internally, in areas where we believe it’s necessary to improve efficiencies and services to our customers. Of course, we take outside views on board too, to see what dynamics in the marketplace we should address in our organization.
Is this broader than your previous CIO role?
Yes. I’m fully focused on KLM’s transformation, and it’s much broader than IT. It’s about working together better as a company, de-layering the organization, making us highly responsive to customer requirements, and achieving operational excellence.
So is IT a critical part of the transformation?
I made a statement when I was KLM’s CIO that, next to people, IT is a crucial area where we can make a difference in terms of creating more efficiencies and proximity to the customer.
The dynamics around IT in the airline industry are huge, not just because of the speed of IT development, but also because technology is integral to our daily lives as customers and as people.
That determines how we interact with customers flying with KLM. It means we need to make a connection between people’s personal lives and expectations, and the services we offer to customers as an airline.
The people in the B2B parts of our business are increasingly influenced by technology as well. So, yes, IT is crucial to transformation and this is certainly the case at KLM, where it’s driven at Board level.
Integral to our daily lives
The dynamics around IT in the airline industry are huge,
Jappe Blaauw, Chief Transformation Officer, KLM
not just because of the speed of IT development, but also
because technology is integral to our daily lives as customers
and as people.
What are your priorities?
We’ve made a start on those major projects that will make a big difference at KLM, such as taking away hierarchical layers. We want a closer link between our front line staff (and the issues they deal with), and other parts of the company.
It involves creating a mind shift where it’s clearly understood that the more we empower front line staff, the better we can take care of our customers, and the more we will make a difference.
We’re very aware that some projects will take a year, others maybe three years, and that six months down the road we could be looking at the next wave of projects that will make a difference.
IT comes into the equation, with mobility high on the agenda because you have to provide the right tools and information for staff to take responsibility, make decisions and put actions into motion, even better than is the case today.
This ‘digitization’ is a big step and will extend across the company, so we can help our customers better whether we’re on board in the cockpit or cabin, or on the ground at the airport.
Look at our European network, KLM City Hopper. On board we’re completely digitized. Both cockpit and cabin are equipped with iPads, removing paper from the plane and giving staff access to the information they need to take action. This is fundamental to KLM’s transformation.
Our priorities include examining the value chain for customers and understanding how to best optimize processes there. Again, it means working across the organization. You need staff to be constantly in touch and informed, and you need the same information to flow through the whole value chain.
So that means better mobility, intelligence and analytics?
Absolutely, and not just for front line staff. If you think about our ground engineers, we want to empower them to be in the hangar taking care of our aircraft. We call that ‘keeping their hands on the metal’.
Mobility does that. We don’t want our engineers to have to go back and forth to an office PC to enter or find information. Intelligence and data analytics come into play because they allow you to understand what you might expect of your passengers, how they will travel, and how we can optimize passenger flow.
How are you encouraging collaboration and innovation?
First by investing more in collaborative tools within KLM, so that we capitalize on knowledge we already have. We need to make sure people don’t keep information in silos, because customers couldn’t care less about silos. They just want to fly and to be served well at the various touch points along the way.
So all of us must collaborate across divisions – whether we’re cabin crew, ground handlers or IT guys – to serve the same customer and have the same perspective on our customers through the whole process.
As for innovation, much of that will come from working together and optimizing processes. Added to that, we have a big history in IT of working collaboratively with external companies, giving us fresh insights and enabling us to ramp up teams quickly for new developments.
We’ve worked with several companies in the area of mobile for instance, because of its major importance. It would be impossible for a company like KLM to take on such momentous developments by itself.
We collaborate with other stakeholders too, such as airports and air traffic control. I see even more collaboration and innovation in the future.
What are the main lessons you’ve learned?
I’ve already learned that a company like KLM, which is 95 years old, can have a great history and a track record of innovation but there’s still the need for a transformation office as the pace of change picks up, both in the industry and in our modern lives.
We’ve been very innovative in areas such as check in, digitized aircraft, social media, transatlantic joint ventures and much more. But we’ve now entered a phase where we must work together more closely across teams for our company to better serve customers and reach good decisions more quickly.
We face a big challenge but we’ll get there, and I’m sure I will learn more as we progress.
Switching to your role on the SITA Council, what would you say is the Council’s main advantage?
The main advantage of the SITA Council is that you have customers at the executive level of SITA and they’re working with the company to help steer it strategically.
I think that’s of high value because Council Representatives act with the SITA Board and senior management to identify and address challenges that face the air transport community.
SITA is a growing company, delivering great products for different parties in the air transport community. It’s beneficial to have customers close by to help make sure that SITA is still delivering a good product for the community. That’s a real asset.
SITA’s community role is one reason we have the SITA Council. We represent the industry and we also look out for the best interests of SITA, knowing that if SITA is providing the right portfolio then we as a total industry will profit from that.
SITA’s community role is one reason we have the SITA Council.
Jappe Blaauw, President, SITA Council
We represent the industry and we also look out for the best
interests of SITA, knowing that if SITA is providing the right
portfolio then we as a total industry will profit from that.
What’s the main benefit of this role?
I think SITA’s community role allows it to stay in close and constant touch with the air transport community’s real requirements. If that were to change, we would lose an important asset, and SITA would be just another normal IT provider.
SITA’s governance structure enables this focus on the air transport community. The way that the Council, as a body representing the air transport community, works with the SITA Board and senior management is unique. It differentiates SITA.
What’s interesting is that in an industry where we see fierce competition, we also see cooperation through SITA for the greater good of the community. SITA Council Representatives, as airline or airport IT professionals, are often competitors with one another in their ‘daily lives’.
So to have a forum where fiercely competitive air transport industry players are all looking all in the same direction is inspiring. You don’t see anything like the SITA Council elsewhere in the industry.
SITA has ‘community value’ in its corporate objectives … what’s your opinion of that?
It’s very important. We know from experience that there are areas such as communications and infrastructure where making an investment is of no interest to an airline. But investment is very much needed for the industry to benefit and this is where SITA steps in and provides value.
SITA’s infrastructure is the community’s backbone and it goes to the end of airlines’ networks, which is extremely important.
This relates to SITA’s original community remit to share communications resources and investments, and to remain neutral, which are still of value today. As an industry we would miss those capabilities without SITA.
There are a lot of areas where standards are required, where there’s no need for competitive difference and where shared services and community approaches make sense.
SITA offers community value here as well – enabling airlines and airports to buy collectively. And often, by making some products almost the standard, SITA is contributing to the dynamics of the market.
If you talk with any SITA Council Representatives, they’ll say this is what people expect of SITA. We need to be sure investment continues.
Good examples of investing for the community are the major programs in customer service excellence through SITA Global Services; and the new agreement with Orange Business Services and regional providers to offer new levels of connectivity for airlines and their industry partners.
We have to continue with such programs because that really is SITA’s position in the market, where we can develop a healthy business and serve all customers across the community.
To be just another competitor alongside other providers is not SITA’s marketplace. At the same time, however, the commercial part of SITA must also continue to invest to make the difference for our customers. I think SITA is well positioned to do that, and it’s an interesting balance.
Given the emphasis on community value, what’s your view of the new SITA Air Transport Community Foundation?
I am proud of the proactive role the SITA Council has played in the development and creation of the Foundation.
It’s a great example of providing value because the Foundation will work with charities to deliver technology and educational programs to communities in need, with an initial focus in Africa.
I believe this is an important role and a great opportunity for SITA, and its 430 member organizations, to provide value to the community by sharing our resource and expertise.
What do you think the Council’s focus will be next year?
Well after the SITA Annual General Assembly in June, if the proposed refinements to SITA’s governance are voted for, we will see further enhancement to the Council’s ability to represent the air transport community.
The Council has played a key part in making recommendations for that to happen and our involvement underlines the importance and keenness of SITA members in steering the organization forwards. After June, we will then be focusing on the next steps for SITA in delivering value to the community.