Friday, 30 October 2015

FORUM: SITA's Europe Aviation ICT Forum 2015

Leaving Athens
Following on from my last trip to the SITA Summit in 2014  this year's SITA Forum in Athens had similar themes, but with a more airport focused audience. I think my biggest take away is that self-service is important; not just as a method in cutting costs but also in improving the passenger experience (#PaxEx) via two main factors - control and information.


To pick out the two salient illustrations of this, for control I'll turn to Patrice About from AirFrance. He made the point that consumer bag tracking devices now available for about $50, and these aren't under airline control or put in baggage with their knowledge. So the industry faces a choice - either find a way to work with passengers bring their own device or bury head in sand and have pax that are better informed than airline agents when a bag has been put on the wrong aircraft. This trend is happening now, the good news for airlines is that bag tag devices are GPS/sim based and most bag losses happen in a hub's bag room ... Where cellular networks and GPS don't work ;) (note that it is in the hubs that bags are lost, not smaller outstations. So hub bag rooms need the bag tracking)

Later in the Q&A session Patrice also made the point that there no such thing as one option anymore, need to offer multiple channels for achieving solutions (e.g. home printing might not have colour needed for green strip). so there may still be a place in the future for home printing, kiosks and human agents. My personal spin is that I wonder how long people will have printers at home? Will the trend of tablets replacing printers mean we have less of them in future? I know that I haven't had a printer at home for a while and prefer Passbook boarding passes.


For information there are two main issues, giving the airlines, airports and government agencies the information they require - and minimising the stress of doing so on the passenger - and giving the passenger information during their journey.

Chris Annetts from Heathrow airport summed up the passenger requirements best with this slide

there was lots of discussion about how to deliver this and who is best placed to do so. There seemed to be a broad consensus that different stakeholders needed to collaborate more. For example some airport apps are great but people tend to use airline apps or if they do use the airport mobile
apps then the experience drops off as soon as they leave where the mobile apps covers.

There was a lot of talk around the "Passenger journey is an emotional one". Overall from a SITA survey they found an average 80% happiness across the journey. Making the booking, just before boarding and on plane are the happiest times. Queueing in security is unhappiest time (down to 64% positive) with the baggage claim step of journey also poor. 

People are moving beyond smartphones ..
Again there seemed to be a broad consensus among the speakers that there is a need to integrate multiple touch points, like kiosk check-in or agent check-in and BagDrop. The question was posed "Can collect biometric data (photo taken at check-in) then use to allow access to restricted zone using facial recognition?" - this simplifies a lot of the current process with security and boarding passes - and again at gate. 

There were some good points made by both Krum Garkov, when talking about the EU safe borders programme, and Todd Frew, when sharing his experience in the Australian Immigration department, that advanced passenger information schemes help push the border to the point of departure; which in turn allows more time for government agencies to process the people requiring entry. Todd also shared that since introducing the electronic visas in Australia the number of fines to airlines for transporting undocumented or "undesirable" passengers that were then refused entry had fallen dramatically, so a win-win for the government and the airline industry there.

What next?

I'll leave you with this final thought - the current process of getting travellers through to their destination is a lot of separate steps, using data with no real connection to previous step .... Could we collect this in one go? (so physical security checks, indentity checks, validity to travel etc.) Could our biometrics be our boarding pass? This could be win-win, less overhead on airports, fewer queues and a seamless journey means fewer anxious passengers.

I think that we can, a definte trend I've noticed in my work at 15below in the past few years is that good customer experience and operational efficiency can often go hand-in-hand.

Further reading

Sunday, 25 October 2015

On post-technical and beyond

Photo by Matt Cornock (flickr)
I have been messing around with computers and first started writing simple code about 30 years ago. Since then I have gained a degree that contained a large "technical" component analysing and solving problems with code. 

My professional code has been experienced by hundreds of millions of people from organising school transport for special needs children, overhauling part of the British rail infrastructure, supporting the programme management of a massive bank refurbishment in the UK to more recently supplying travellers around the word with tickets, information during disruption and the chance to feedback to their travel company. I have also written a content management system in one language that I didn't use professionally and some small open source utilities in another. 

I don't list out these achievements to convince you of my ability as a programmer, far from it, at my best I was merely average. My code was never truly idiomatic in whichever language I was writing and I'm sure my style was idiosyncratic. I have felt a bit of a fraud for a number of years being described as "technical" and this year heard a term I can identify with ... "post-technical". I can't remember where I first heard this term but it may have been from someone related to ThoughtWorks, where it is apparently a bit of a disparaging term.

The reason I like the term is that to me it signals "Yes, I used to code. I can speak your language (to a point). I can understand the trade offs that you are making (to a point). No, you won't have to explain that cutting testing is a bad idea or that unit tests will save time in the long run." 

Although it's not just a label of a state of being. For me it also describes a journey. When I first stopped writing code every day the rest of the team were still using the same tool chain and languages, so it was easy to get involved in pointless arguments essentially about personal preference. Next as the languages and tools changed, this moved to more abstract approaches but probably still framed in too a personal view of how I would have done it.

Given that I haven't written code for pleasure in about a decade, and professionally for around three to five years, I was surprised this month to have my interest piqued by Heroku and playing with Clojure, R or even Prolog! Perhaps I have just got happier with my expectations of the output of my efforts, maybe there is just some idea at the back my head that needs expressing via code. 

Perhaps I should step away from the code editor, embrace being non-technical and do something that I'll be more useful at instead! With the stories and tweets about how everyone should (be able to) code it is easy to be guilty about not coding. So I say if you are also going post-technical rejoice in transfering your skills in being able to analyse a problem or how to work with technology, structure data or optimise processes. 

I would love to hear from any fellow travellers from professional developers to the non-technical world ...

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