30 May 2017

Should airlines be looking to the likes of Netflix for standards?

Discussion of technology standards often makes for a lot of hot air at airline industry events.

Who should set them, who will adopt them, will they be adopted by the book, who will pay and, so on…

A slightly more refreshing take was offered at the recent Air Transport IT Summit with Emirates Group chief digital and innovation officer Christoph Mueller telling the audience it was time to look at the consumer world.

“We can’t leave it to associations to set the standards. We have to be customer orientated.

“For the past 20 years all car manufacturers were competing for who had the best navigation system, they are all crap, once you have used Waze, they are all useless.

“The customer will set the standards, if you leave it to the associations, people thinking in the old standards of our added value chain we will go nowhere, we will cement us in the last century.”

He was responding to a remark from SITA’s chief executive Barbara Dalibard who says the industry won’t be able to create “the seamless experience the customer wants” without standards.

Mueller questions why the industry is trying to reinvent inflight entertainment for example, when Netflix has become the new standard.

“That’s where we have to break up the traditional borders.

“In the US, between 6pm and 9pm in the evening 39% of internet traffic is attributable to Netflix, that’s a customer vote.

“They don’t want a customer device with arrows and and go-back buttons and menus so, yes, at the end of the day, we need standards but we should not start with the standards we should start with the question what does the customer want.”

He claims the airline industry creates standards just for itself when it should first look outside and see what’s available and already “convenient” for the customer.

Mueller wasn’t the only one to be thinking of a different approach. JetBlue executive vice president of innovation and chief information officer Eash Sundaram says that if the airline were to follow standards it would be checking people in rather than enabling auto check-in.

“In most cases if you want to be a differentiator you don’t follow standards. When it’s a commodity, yes there are standards, but when it’s differentiation you have to break with tradition and start thinking outside the box.

“Consumer grade technologies are plenty today so take that and use it.

“Other spaces have embraced more advanced, consumer grade technologies, why am I sitting here reinventing NDC when XML has been there for years now.

“In the airline industry we think we’re unique, we’re not. We can be a differentiator by providing excellent service with consumer grade technologies and processes and best practices that are in other industries.”

Qantas chief information officer Susan Doniz adds that whatever happens, airlines need to change because today “the last experience of customers is their next expectation.”

She also says it’s not always about technology with simple solutions often the answer.

Doniz points to the idea of putting a mirror in an elevator when people are complaining about long waiting times or some of the solutions Disney has come up with for its queues.

Related reading:

How Amazon drives innovation (and should inspire the travel industry)

Technology could improve your brand reputation, but are you using it wrong?

NB: Reporter’s travel and acommodation to attend the SITA Summit was supported by SITA.

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