Airline revenues are falling. Air cargo throughput at Hong Kong airport has come down by 30 per cent since the financial crisis started. Despite pressure for cost-control measures, as I explained to the chairman the other day, it’s still important to invest in information technology as IT continues to march forward and you really can’t afford to stand still. Good companies are still selectively investing in their businesses today and we have to match what our competitors are doing in the marketplace.
Aviation is a very competitive industry. In this environment, customers are valuable and can expect a very good product for their money.
One of the good things that Cathay Pacific does well, for instance, is our recently enhanced online check-in system. We’re one of the leaders for this and it’s very popular with our customers.
Another area that airlines will be competing with IT for, I think, is to make the total product more reliable, so they’ll be focusing on operational excellence and getting the basics right.
As you know, the whole air travel experience is fraught with problems, from the weather, to airport congestion, to loss of luggage, to mis-connections, to air traffic delays.
And so using IT to make that whole process better is a major driver, and it will be a win if an airline can do that.
Five things are very important to all air travellers: arriving safely; on time; with your luggage; having a hassle-free experience; and being treated with dignity and respect. And I think many of these can be enhanced with IT. All customers look for this kind of reliability in airlines.
Aviation infrastructure is another problem area where IT can help: the number of runways, the space in the air, and the environmental effects of burning fuel wastefully. If we can improve the usage of this infrastructure, that’s a good thing to keep cost down and prevent air fares going up.
Customer relationship management—making the experience more personal—is another important area for aviation IT. In Hong Kong, the throughput of the airport is millions of passengers a year. How can we make you feel you’re an individual and that we really care about you, and that you’re not just a passenger to be processed? There’s a huge amount that IT can help in that, even really simple stuff such as personalising the messages to you: ‘Dear Mr Nicol …’ rather than just ‘Flight on time’.
Working as a CIO is very interesting. One of the unique things about being a CIO is, you know all about every bit of the company in great detail. As the IT team enables all the company’s processes, it really knows how the company operates.
Of course, there are other people in the company who see across all the different divisions of a company, but no one to the same depth of knowledge as the IT team. And this also gives the team a chance to add lots of value to the business.
Most IT people are very interesting,
I find. They’re all very bright, intellectually curious, hardworking and committed. It’s a nice group of people to work with.
I didn’t join Cathay Pacific to be the CIO. Over the past 30 years, I’ve headed different departments of Cathay—passenger sales, inflight services, and have run several Cathay subsidiary companies. For me, variety is the spice of life.
And I’ve really enjoyed the variety of experiences I’ve had. If somebody told me I had to be in IT forever, I wouldn’t be unhappy. It’s a very interesting area, but I do treasure the variety of the areas I’ve worked in.
Edward Nicol is director of information management and chief information officer of Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific.
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