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Making a difference with IT in air transport

Published on  03 June by Jim Peters , Chief Technology Officer, SITA
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In today's air transport industry, one does not have to look very far or hard to see the huge challenges the industry faces. IATA is diligent in publishing regular updates on the state of the industry, and these have come to be more doomsday reports, with losses of $9.4B in 2009 and estimated losses of $2.8B in 2010. 

The airlines are operating in an environment of uncontrollable geo-political and financial market conditions, including the Iceland volcano ash cloud, the European sovereign debt crisis, a global recession and financial market instability (including the recent so-called "Flash-Crash"), the high cost of jet fuel, labor unrest and strike actions, just to mention a few. These challenges are all layered on the perception by many air travelers that the overall experience of flying can often be less than enjoyable.

As the Chief Technology Officer of an organization at the heart of the ATI's Information and Communication ecosystem, I ask myself: How can IT make a real difference in this environment?

On the one side you have all these huge challenges, and on the technology side we have the continuous, self-feeding technology hype cycle that promenades "life changing" innovations from Social Media to Mobility to Cloud Computing as all "transformational" technologies that will alter the way we live, work, and interact with each other. I look at these technologies and ask "can Cloud Computing and Virtualization save the travel industry?" "Will a Smartphone make my next trip safer and more enjoyable?" "Can a Facebook presence make an airline profitable?" Clearly, the answer to these questions is generally, no, these technologies will not provide a short-term fix that solves the problems facing the industry.

Having said that, do these technologies represent opportunities to improve customer service, distribution, operations and drive down costs? Can they have a meaningful long term impact? I believe the answer is yes, they can, in much the same way as other key technology changes such as internet distribution and e-ticketing have changed the fabric of the industry. While there is no single technical "silver bullet" that will stop a volcano from spewing ash or help the Greeks pay their debts off, each of these technologies offer an incredible opportunity for innovation that can have a powerful, positive long-term impact on the industry.

In future blog posts, I will dive deeper into the potential IT holds to help the ATI face its many challenges. Last year, I published the "Top Ten Technologies and the ATI" whitepaper and look forward to using this blog to follow the developments of these key technologies, as well as new ones as they emerge, pointing to real world examples of the potential impact they can have on helping the ATI face its many challenges.

For those that are interested, here are some other travel technology blogs I follow:

Let me know with a comment below if you have blogs you can recommend.

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