How should the global aviation industry address the opportunities and challenges of digital disruption? How can an industry that has historically struggled to be profitable harness the power of emerging technologies to move to a sustainable future?
These were the primary questions asked by the Financial Times at its inaugural Aviation and Aerospace summit held in London this week.
Debating those questions was an audience of 120 industry experts and insiders led in conversation by the FT’s Industry Editor Peggy Hollinger and Robert Wright, recent Transport Correspondent.
Setting the tone for what was to follow was keynote speaker and aviation futurist Rohit Talwar (@fastfuture) of Fast Future, who advised companies to consider three horizons in their strategic and tactical thinking.
The first of these is a 12 month span in which they should strive for operational excellence. This is followed by a 1 to 3 year period in which a search for growth should be prioritised alongside thinking about future planning and what a changing environment will look like.
Finally, there is a 4 to 10 year horizon in which the future inevitably becomes less knowable and secure. While thinking about this period, companies need to adapt a high level of flexibility in their thinking and their tools, giving them an opportunity to look for flexible solutions that will enable them to address a variety of potential outcomes.
Two other key messages from Talwar stood out. In the first, in a discussion about Artificial Intelligence, he recommended companies focus on ‘game changers’ rather than incremental improvements. Second, he discussed the need for leadership teams to embrace more feminine thinking in their innovation and operations, arguing that more empathetic and less process-oriented approaches could help companies better understand their customers’ needs.
During much of the discussion that followed Talwar focused on two important factors: Big Data and how the industry can use its information to deliver better outcomes for customers and other stakeholders; and secondly, how important it is to ensure that organisations maintain both the culture and skills within their workforce to deliver digital innovation.
Most speakers acknowledged that the industry was still in the relatively early stages of development of data solutions and strategies that could unlock value, but a number of real and impressive achievements in the area were highlighted by companies including Ryanair and Dublin Airport.
Both airlines and airports, as well as technology providers such as Amadeus, agreed that the industry would benefit from a more collaborative approach to information and data sharing while acknowledging that critical issues including data ownership, privacy and security continued to present challenges.
John Dabkowski, VP, Airlines at Amadeus, highlighted two of the key issues:
“So with data you ask the questions: who owns it? where has it come from? how can you get it in a way that is seamless? Once we have the data and more importantly, how can we communicate this in an understandable way? Because that’s not good in many areas at present.”
Dabkowski also keyed in on an area discussed by many speakers: people.
“Technology can solve a lot of problems, it can create a huge number of opportunities, but any system is only as good as the people who are using it, and we really need to make sure we bring them along and have them trained and able to make a difference for passengers and the industry.”