Singapore Airlines (SIA) started its digital transformation in 2016 and since then, hundreds of millions have been invested in IT capex with the vision of creating a 'future where SIA remains a prestigious proposition but becomes a smaller part of the whole entity, and the other seeds would have become saplings'.
Yeoh Siew Hoon finds out what’s been done the past three years, and what lies ahead.
Timeline: When it began and how
It was a journey that started in 2016 – the digital transformation of Singapore Airlines. On the surface, two words that roll off fairly easily off the tongue but in actual fact, carry an awful lot of weight.
The weight of responsibility – you’re dealing with a sacred cow, Singapore’s most prized national brand, an entity many stakeholders care about. The weight of execution – a legacy, traditional business that’s run successfully for all its life since 1972. The weight of results – will the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to invest in IT capex yield returns?
There wasn’t a choice though. SIA’s leadership, under CEO Goh Choon Phong, knew that “if we didn’t go digital in a big way, the future world would be very challenging”, recounted Campbell Wilson, senior vice president, sales and marketing, who returned to SIA from Scoot where he had been CEO for five years..
Choon Phong, a MIT graduate with degrees in artificial intelligence, launched SIA into a comprehensive, top-to-bottom transformation, a key pillar of which was digital. This supercharged existing initiatives, such as the devices used by cabin crew to better serve customers, tech crew in planning flights and finance in automating processes, but more importantly allowed dozens of new initiatives to flourish.
Ranging from e-commerce to distribution, customer insight to personalisation, sales to operations, HR to finance, there’s barely an area that has remained untouched by digital.
So what things have happened since then?
- Investment in people – it hired 200 inhouse developers.
- Investment in IT – it built a vertical stack which allowed it to chop and change by modules so that any upgrade could be done without major disruption. “This is not revolutionary for a digital business but is for a legacy airline, which is at core a mass-transportation industrial business historically built on very stable, relatively inflexible, technology.. This led to a sharp improvement in speed and allowed us to reiterate and innovate.
“It’s starting to show in the business results, we are outperforming in load factors and revenues. It’s starting to manifest in the customer experience. You will see it in the beta version of the app which will be launched soon.”
- Investment in an AI/machine learning stack that will support three functions:
- Kris NLP (Natural Language Processing) that will expedite the gathering of customer feedback and reviews and response
- Facial recognition – for access to its Service Centre and lounges, opt-in
- Recommendation engines – destination recommendations for promotions, ancillary products and services, KrisShop goodfs and Next-best actions by staff
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