CIO100 2017 #3: Avi Golan, Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand was one of the first New Zealand companies to recognise the importance of Digital by appointing one of the first Chief Digital Officers in New Zealand, and elevating this role to report directly to the CEO.

Avi Golan was vice president at Intuit Small Business Group based in San Francisco, when he was tapped to take on the inaugural role of Chief Digital Officer at Air New Zealand.

Golan has worked at Google, Intuit, Nook and Olive Software.

Since coming on board, Golan has worked alongside the digital management team to shape the airline’s new digital strategy. More than a year on, the airline has clearly implemented a raft of initiatives to support this Digital 20/20 vision.

Within Air New Zealand, the CDO spends time speaking to other business areas to help them understand how digital can transform the journey and there is now a real digital buzz throughout the organisation.

In order to truly transform and embrace digital right throughout the organisation, Air New Zealand have made significant changes to its IT structure.

“This ensures we have the right mix of positions and skills and a culture of learning and curiosity which puts the user experience front and centre of everything we do,” says Golan.

Moving from an IT platform model to a truly product-focused organisation involved developing learning pathways for the team in design-thinking, agility and designing for mobile and cloud.

“We have also built a community of change advocates, called Digital DNA champs, to co-create,” he says.

The success of our digital transformation has already resulted in improvements to business performance through our ability to respond and adapt to change, higher levels of experimentation and validation of ideas across the organisation and improved cross-functional collaboration, he says.

“Our digital vision is to reimagine travel through inspiring digital experiences, looking to technology to continuously enhance the experience we offer our (internal and external) customers.”

“We are continually experimenting with disruptive technologies and looking to match these with needs in the market e.g. using personalisation backed up with artificial intelligence,” he states.

Based on a customer-centred design approach, Air New Zealand is currently exploring chatbot functionality that is channel agnostic and recently made its first foray into the field of artificial intelligence with the unveiling of its new chatbot, Bravo Oscar Tango, Oscar for short.

Oscar can be found in the Help Contact section of the airline’s New Zealand website.

Customers are encouraged to put Oscar to the test by asking him questions. As with other AI technology, Oscar will learn based on the conversations people have with him, becoming more user friendly and more helpful the more he interacts.

Golan explains Oscar has been launched as a beta product allowing customers to play an active role in training him. “This is a new approach for us, getting Oscar out fast and in the early-development stages so that we can build and co-create with our customers.”

“The world’s best digital companies foster a culture of customer-led design and collaboration and for the airline to meet its big digital ambitions we must embed this culture of thinking, acting and doing as leading digital companies do.”

The airline has big plans for Oscar, including integrating it with the Air New Zealand Mobile app, via both voice and text, and with other chat platforms and in-home digital assistants.

The airline also deployed a raft of customer focused innovations. It now offers the world’s first truly automated bag drop which uses ground breaking biometric technology to match face, passport and bag information and automatically print a bag tag and accept the bag.

There is the Airband, a digital solution for children who are travelling unaccompanied. It is a wristband embedded with a Near Field Communication chip given to children travelling unaccompanied at check-in.

Air New Zealand staff scan the wristband at key stages of the journey triggering text notifications to the child’s nominated contacts.

It has recently been named innovation of the year at the CAPA Asia Pacific Aviation Awards which celebrate airlines that have provided industry leadership in adjusting to a new environment. As part of the airline’s product culture it is continually iterating, further improving and updating successful technologies such as the Airband.

The technology and digital teams have monthly Innovative Fridays where delivery teams can spend the day working on an innovation of their choice. As well, there are regular hackathons that serve as a feeder for innovative ideas into the product roadmap.

Golan says balancing spend on core operations and innovation will always be a challenge.

“But there is a strong commitment and support from our Board and Executive to become a leading digital company in Australasia and one of the best digital airlines globally.”

“The nature of our business makes it critical our systems are available 24x7 and therefore we must regularly assess systems and processes to ensure we are not exposed to unnecessary risk.

“We have invested heavily over several years in an ambitious and comprehensive security data privacy programme, improving our security maturity score and winning the iSANZ 2016 Award for ‘Best Security Project/Initiative’,” he says. “We have increased our focus on cyber security ensuring our staff are aware of potential threats and how to manage this risk.”

Automation is also helping us to create balance, he says. For example, we recently implemented ServiceNow which has automated manual processes and delivers a seamless user experience for staff. This was delivered in just six months and enables the team to now focus on more value-add work rather than manual processes.

“We believe that everyone is responsible for innovation – rather than having a separate innovation team, we encourage innovation to be part of the way everyone works, with initiatives like Innovative Fridays to help encourage our people to focus on experimenting.”

The airline is also looking to attract new tech talent recently completing its first ever summer digital internship programme aimed at kick-starting the careers of young, up-and-coming digital talent.

Divina Paredes

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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