Learning will fuel the next future of aviation | SITA

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Learning will fuel the next future of aviation

Published on  02 August by Rohit Talwar , CEO, Fast Future
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Reflections on SITA’s Customer Innovation Forum

Over a hundred of the aviation sector’s keenest and most enquiring minds from across the world gathered recently in La Hulpe, Belgium, at SITA’s Customer Innovation Forum, an invitation-only event. Attendees came together to explore the possibilities and challenges of leveraging cutting-edge technologies to drive the next wave of aviation sector innovation.

As a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and panel moderator I got a fascinating peek into where the industry stands in its pursuit of an enhanced passenger experience and increased efficiency. For me, the message is clear, learning is the most important enabler of progress in a faster, more digital environment.

Technological disruption is happening now

The message coming from the delegates across all of the workshops was that technological disruption is happening now. Some are embracing it, others are struggling to make sense of the scale and pace of change. Many are caught in a decision-making trap – worried about making investment choices today for fear of being overtaken tomorrow by the next wave of innovation.

There is need for support and guidance – particularly to help leaders and boards of airlines and airports to understand the potential of these technologies and to encourage fast track experiments to accelerate organizational learning about the benefits and challenges of deploying technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotics, blockchain, cloud computing, sensor devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), and a range of other exponentially advancing technologies.

The need for proofs-of-concept

There is a clear sense that those involved need to see proofs-of-concept of the possibilities from single token transport navigation through to AI-enabled prediction of flight delays. For example, stakeholders need to be walked through how a complex array of passenger and flight information and identifiers can be reduced down to a single inviolable source of truth using technologies such as AI and blockchain. In parallel, they need to be supported in thinking through the changes required in organizational behavior, communications, and processes to take full advantage of the efficiencies and seamless information flows afforded by these new technologies.

The central role of learning

Inevitably, at a forum centered on technology enabled innovation, the focus was around new systems and procedures. However, it was also abundantly clear that, when we strip back all of the fascinating content and conversation generated across the four workshop streams, the central role of learning becomes apparent:

  • For technology enabled collaboration management, the parties involved need to learn about the challenges caused when they withhold data from each other, the benefits that can be gained from sharing, and the enormous all round gains that come from having a “single source of truth” – be that a single unique passenger identifier or a “gold standard” reference on aircraft movements.
  • For a seamless passenger journey, the core learning for all players in the ecosystem has to be a deep and shared understanding of the passenger journey and experience. This has to be followed by a brutal and constant challenging of every step and interaction, and an understanding of how a single identifier token solution can meet the needs of all stakeholders.
  • For AI-enabled disruption management, it is clear that once the technology capabilities are understood, the range of potential applications is immense and the payback is significant. The challenge is to have decision makers spend time to learn that AI technology can already have a beneficial impact on airline and airport operations on a daily basis.
  • In the Technology Think Tank session, the core learning was that seemingly “far horizon” concepts such as autonomous airports are far closer than we think and need to be factored into strategies now, rather than in ten years’ time.

A conscious commitment from the top

There is overwhelming evidence from the last four decades of technology projects which tells us that people who take the time to understand the technology stand a far greater chance of realizing commercial benefits from its use. There are three factors at play here. Firstly, ensuring that executives and the decision makers in our organizations truly understand the capabilities of new and emerging technologies, the benefits they can enable, and the operational and mindset shifts required to take advantage of them.

Operationally, the challenge is to ensure managers and staff truly understand what each new system or application can do and are well trained to use the system to the full. Finally, the nature of these technologies, and the growing focus on rapid delivery, demand that we have IT staff who really are at the top of their game. All of these can be achieved given a conscious commitment to learning at the top of the organization, backed up by a willingness to make time and budget available for training.

Investing in digital literacy

The aviation sector simply cannot survive without technology, and we are only too well aware of the speed and scale with which issues can escalate when systems fail. Typically, their cause and solution are often seen to lie exclusively in the technologists’ domain. However, I’d say that the root of the issue is almost always generally one of a digital literacy gap somewhere in the value chain from top management through to IT developers. An investment in technology literacy is far more than an insurance policy on the organization’s digital transformation plan. It is a force multiplier that can help drive us to best in class performance.

The SITA Customer Innovation Forum provided countless powerful examples and proofs-of-concept of well-targeted technology solutions enabling smart people to deliver immense benefits across different parts of the operation. The key challenge for industry leaders is to acknowledge that we all have to become technology businesses, and that the investment is required in people that will unlock the spend on systems.

Perhaps a first step will be to demand that every technology business case include a proper analysis of both the mindset and procedural changes required to deliver on the opportunity and of the training investment needed to bring about these news ways of thinking and operating.

For more

See SITA's innovation programs

Interested in participating in next year’s Customer Innovation Forum? 

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