The Digital Road Map: How Airlines Can Prepare For The Future

Eva Roe

We have entered into an era where digital technology is disrupting nearly every aspect of our lives. This is true both in our personal lives and in how we conduct business. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, the industries that can expect to see the highest level of disruption over the next 12 months are media, telecom, and consumer financial services.

The travel industry is just one example of a sector that has been at the forefront of the digital revolution for many years. Airlines have been embracing digitization to increase productivity, cut costs, and offer a better experience for travelers for decades. But despite this, not everyone is necessarily on the same page. Many experts agree that this is not something airlines can afford to avoid any longer.

Companies in the airline business that have not yet embraced digitization will need to do so soon in order to remain competitive in the brave new world. Creating a road map to implement digital innovations should be the number-one priority of these organizations moving forward.

It begins with a platform

Think of a digital platform a bit like the foundation of a house. You could build what is objectively the best house in the world, but it ultimately won’t mean anything if you didn’t start with a solid foundation. For the travel industry, the right platform is that foundation.

A platform affects everything from remaining agile to creating a rich environment where innovation can thrive. It can act as a framework to desired business outcomes by making sure all areas of a business are connected, regardless of how far apart they may seem.

Armed with the right platform, airline businesses set the stage for a superior passenger travel experience across all channels. It becomes easier to achieve a better level of supplier collaboration, allowing maintenance, repair, services, and more to work together. It helps support core business processes like procurement and work management. This helps the decisions of today align with the desired outcomes of tomorrow.

The right platform also prepares airline businesses to use the Internet of Things, which enables them to unlock the real-time insight needed to drive innovation and to develop newer and better business models.

Reimagine, reimagine, reimagine

The biggest mistake that airline companies can make when digitizing their business is to try to use innovation to support “the way things are normally done.” It’s not about trying to maintain the status quo, but to shatter the status quo and use what’s left to build something bigger and better.

This road map to the digital airline will need to be significantly reimagined from many perspectives. Ground zero is a company’s existing business model.

Airlines must use technology to become a door-to-door service provider for customers. Technology makes it easier to offer personalized, relevant services to customers. Traveler loyalty management will become a cornerstone of this idea. A global network where data is shared in the area of predictive maintenance therefore becomes essential.

This leads directly to another step in the digital road map: traveler engagement. Businesses can use technology to pivot from being flight-centric companies to traveler-centric service providers. This requires not just a deeper level of engagement, but a more personal one than ever before. Again, implementing the right traveler loyalty management solution will help make this happen.

Traveler loyalty management is no longer only the concern of customer service representatives in a call center; every area of an airline must prioritize it. To do that, airline companies must embrace digitization so information can be shared easily and instantly.

Finally, businesses that wish to create a road map for digital innovation will need to reimagine their existing business processes. New airline-controlled distribution and merchandising is a great way to use actionable data to unlock new revenue streams. Core business processes like finance, procurement, the supply chain, and more no longer exist in a silo, and they must feed off one another. Data created in one area affects the decisions of another, which in turn affects the outcome of the business as a whole.

It’s also important to remember that the success of this digital road map requires design thinking at every stage. It isn’t just about using any technology. It’s about finding the right solutions that can be matched up with the right business needs. It’s about building a business strategy that can convert into traveler value and new market opportunities over the next several decades.

Digitizing an industry begins with a single step

Creating a road map to digital innovation is a two-part process, and both parts are equally important. The road map itself comprises many elements: Focusing on superior traveler experience for leisure passengers is one thing, for example, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of workforce engagement.

Developing a road map today lets all of the pillars of a digital strategy work together, often for the very first time. When these pillars are interconnected, the airline industry puts itself in the best possible position to achieve the business outcomes it needs.

For more insight on this digital age of airlines, see “Build a Better Customer Journey for the Digital Traveler.”


Eva Roe

About Eva Roe

Eva Roe is the Head of Airlines Solutions at SAP. She is responsible for developing a strategy for the industry working closely with customers and translating their requirements to marketable solutions. One focus area is defining how technology innovations become enablers for new business models and processes in the airline industry.