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Intelligence in action at Saudia

by Muhammad Ali Albakri, CIO & CFO, Saudia Airlines

Driving attention back to customers

After a five-year overhaul of its core IT systems and infrastructure, and roll-out of an integrated business intelligence (BI) platform, Saudia, the flag carrier for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has enabled its teams to make sense of the vast amount of data to make immediate decisions. Driving its BI initiatives has been a desire to create a better experience for customers.

Bi power

“There have been tremendous benefits just about everywhere information is being used. The sales department can immediately evaluate special fares they design towards a specific group or market segment; see how those fares are affecting sales and tune accordingly.

“We used to run a batch-based, off-line revenue accounting system providing data on received revenue versus sales, so we did not have a clear picture of recognized revenue until three months later.

“There was a gap between the decisions of managers and the reality of the operation. Right now, as we close the door of the aircraft, we have actual financials, how much revenue we have made on that flight. This is the power that BI has brought to Saudia.”


“Customer satisfaction and improving the service was one of the major objectives behind this, because customers need to be serviced like their transactions on Amazon. This is how they expect the airline to react. If they buy a ticket and want a refund, they don't want to wait three months until they get their money back.

“Now they can do it online and we guarantee in 72 hours the money will be refunded into their bank account. It's one of the benefits of having all the information available.

“We are becoming more attentive, more customer-orientated with the way we manage the journey of the customer. When we combine right-now information available about the customer, loyalty membership, with their behavior from when they make a booking to making their flight, there's a tremendous amount of information available.

“We are looking at it and asking why are they booking and not ticketing? Why are they changing their mind? Why are they trying to purchase an upgrade at the airport? We can look at it in a multi-dimensional way and start doing analysis and tooling product to satisfy people in a different manner.

Efficient ecosystem

“The current phase is to integrate more operational data, flight operations, crew, maintenance & engineering, to help the operations people at the airline. We are trying to provide all the information to our operations control center, if they see we have a technical issue with an aircraft, what's the best approach?

“Should they combine two flights and use a larger aircraft? Should they accommodate passengers at a hotel? There are so many different ways they can recover a flight, but there is only one single cost-effective way to do it.

“The Civil Aviation Authority in the Kingdom is outsourcing airport operations. The challenge is how we work between all of us: airlines, regulators, airport operators, ground handlers, government agencies, and so on to create an efficient ecosystem where all agencies are working for the customer, rather than in disintegrated fashion.

“With huge new and expansion projects for the Kingdom airports, we have joint committees working with the airport authority, airport developers and the outside airport operators to achieve a model that's seamlessly integrated for the benefit of passengers.

Next generation

“I would like to see BI moving to the next generation. We can learn a trick or two from the manufacturing industries. I think the next generation of BI should change the nature of the system remit without intervention by human beings. In manufacturing, assembly-line sensors feed back into machines making goods to change the behavior of the machine.

“If we need to change a flight, open up a class, increase of reduce a fare, we could do that dynamically by feeding that information into the system. It will help reduce the pressure on people, so that rather than expanding the headcount we become much more efficient and people will be dealing with much more sophisticated issues, rather than reacting.”

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