Opinion | Columnists

Social mobile technologies redefine relationships with travellers

With social interaction over mobile devices becoming the norm global airline industry needs to meet growing client expectations

  • By Paul Boyle, Special to gulf news
  • Published: 21:00 November 13, 2012
  • Gulf News

The march of mobility is relentless. It’s re-engineering the air transport industry on business, social and technical fronts.

The convergence of massive trends is bringing huge potential to re-engineer air transport businesses and create better ways of working. As mobile devices, smartphones and tablets combine with the Cloud, explosive app use and social media, they herald a new kind of relationship with customers.

Mobile apps will dominate passenger interaction by 2015. The latest Airline IT Trends Survey confirms that by then 70 per cent of sales, 91 per cent of customer services and 71 per cent of passenger processing will be handled through smartphones.

Traveller-mobility dominates the results of the latest SITA-ATW Passenger Self-Service Survey. Passengers want access to travel information on the move, and more flight-related applications. They also want to connect to free airport Wi-Fi. And 20 per cent are prepared to pay for real-time information relating to their journey.

The story is similar in the 2012 Airport IT Trends Survey. Investment in mobile device-based services continues to ride at the top of the list of airport innovations.
Mobile journey steps

The air transport business is about moving people and goods. Airline and airport staff are always on the move. Paper-based and desk-based processes act as a drag on efficient and effective movement. But it’s not just air transport. The world — both social and business — is on the move.

As a result of mobiles and mobility, passengers spend less and less time talking to the airline. Fewer passengers use check-in desks. They pass rapidly through to their gate.

Couple this trend with online booking and the main interface airlines have with their customers is increasingly just on-board with the cabin crew.

Chasing paper away

This means cabin crew are becoming more important in terms of customer focus and experience. The challenge is, crew still have to handle a phenomenal amount of paper work. One airline we’re working with manually processes 360,000 forms every year from its cabin crew. This is a massive area for re-engineering processes.

SITA is working closely with this airline and many others as they take steps along the mobile journey. They are addressing the challenge of mobility through apps hosted in SITA’s Air Transport Industry Cloud and distributed through iPads for use by cabin crew in-flight.

It’s now possible for crew to carry with them on each flight an up-to-date electronic passenger manifest. This offers crew details of passenger names and where they are seated, their previous travel preferences, frequent flyer status and so on.

Your work, your device

As individuals, we’re also increasingly running our lives around the assumption of mobility, of access anywhere, anyhow.

Recent research suggests that as many as 80 per cent of companies (as high as 90 per cent in some Asian countries) allow employees to use their own devices. Despite important issues to be resolved, a straw poll at the Air Transport IT Summit Insight Session suggested a similar level in the air transport community. It’s heralding some game-changing developments for the air transport community.

We’re going from a model in the past that was PC-based and very push orientated. IT departments pushed out updates, they controlled. But now we’re moving to a new world, where the user may own the device. Increasingly we rely on the user to pull down updates, and install applications themselves.

Most applications will be hosted in the Cloud. The two technologies are going to grow in parallel, so when you’re thinking about Cloud, think mobility as well. And accept that in two or three years’ time, you probably won’t own the devices your employees are using. That transition will have major implications right the way across the IT industry.

Paul Boyle is Portfolio Director Mobility at SITA, global specialist in air transport communications and IT solutions.

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