easyJet profits from CIO major change route

Piloting the technology strategy of an organisation famed for continual change is a hard charter to follow, but one that Trevor Didcock has been doing for four years now at the UK’s largest airline (by passenger number) easyJet. The Luton, Bedfordshire headquartered airline turns 20 next year and has become part and parcel of UK and European culture, to the point that it recognises this and uses it in its “easyJet generation” advertisements. Over the last 20 years the organisation has grown at an astonishing rate and generally outperformed other airline businesses during the current global economic crisis. Growth though adds complexity, especially in the IT operations of an organisation.

“The big thing I am now leading is the IT Transformation Programme which includes a full review of the architecture for all commercial functions (reservations and channels) and operations functions (aeroplane and crew management), whilst rethinking our IT organisation, sourcing and operating model, “ Didcock told CIO earlier this year.

“The introduction of allocated seating (in late 2012) is the single biggest business change that we have been through”, Didcock told me at their headquarters. “We managed to maintain our on-time performance too.

“We are quite hard-nosed and we will shut the door and people respect that,” he says with a smile. Allocated seating, rapid adoption of internet, mobile and now a ground breaking arrangements whereby easyJet flights are available on the behemoth global distribution systems (GDS) so loved by corporate travel agencies and legacy airlines means Didcock needs the full architectural review of channels and functions to ensure the airline remains lean and efficient. And therefore true to its mission.

Didcock has always played a central role in the leadership of easyJet, initially leading the Turn Europe Orange transformation programme and recently has been instrumental in easyJet moving to a single terminal at Gatwick Airport, south of London.

“Gatwick has a great collaborative environment, so my team speaks regularly with them and we have weekly reviews of the development of the IT and processes at Gatwick,” Didcock says. The former number one in the CIO 100 has formed a strong relationship with Michael Ibbitson, CIO at Gatwick.

Business architecture

“The principle objective is to increase agility in bringing changes and new products and channels to market, but it will also professionalise the IT function further, improve customer experience and mitigate a number of key board level risks.

“We are managing a portfolio of change that is the biggest we have ever done. An increase in the number and scale of projects simultaneously,” he says.

“The first stage is complete the strategy for a Future Commercial Platform that will enable us to join up our website, mobile and CRM more effectively,” he says. EasyJet has its own bespoke reservations platform and want to “make the best use of that”. Thus a Service-oriented Architecture (SOA) will form the basis of Didcock’s architectural review.

“By making the most of SOA we can be more agile and we want an enterprise information platform so that we can get more re-use out of our components.”

Didcock wants the enterprise information platform to be the basis for improving the quantity and quality of information it provides to its customers and he cites a disruption at an airport, perhaps due to a baggage handlers strike or poor weather being where such a strategic tool will really deliver value to the customer.

“When there is a disruption is it tough to get real time data to all the parties that need it,” he says of the current position.

“We are now doing a blueprint and we have had a lot of complexity in the past as our growth was case by case,” he says of the way IT has had to grow at the velocity of take off opportunities at easyJet.

“You don’t throw away the rule book, but we had to get stuff built and out there, but it did add technology and business complexity,” he says with great honesty.

The interview with Didcock began on the subject of recruitment and retention of talent, an issue almost every CIO is struggling with. As Didcock ramps up the “number and scale or projects” he’s formed an alliance with EY.

“We will need to find overflow relationships with our suppliers. EY are giving is the Project Management Office (PMO), Business Analysts (BA) and Architecture to supplement our own teams and that is working really really well.

Didcock’s teamhave introduced Workday cloud based HR and is developing an intermediary system to create a simple payroll and HR architecture.

Low cost airlines such as easyJet took  off on a new route when they took to the skies in the late 1990s, avoiding the GDS technology route and instead charting their own course with their own reservation platforms, designed to offer dynamic pricing and support the boom in online booking. However, despite the disruption that online has brought to travel, many organisations rely on GDS based business travel booking agencies and for easyJet to compete for this trade it has had to develop a way of working with GDS suppliers.

“We have new deals to work closely with GDS partners and develop their systems in line with our vision, particularly Amadeus, Kana and Ciboodle for Contact Centre management.

“We are seeing an increase from the deals with the GDS suppliers and they have worked well with us. So now easyJet is a business-to-business-to-customer (B2B2C) operation.

“We do not file fares, we have managed to retain the dynamic pricing model though XML,” he says.

Didcockis a keen advocate of the CIO as a broker working across the organisation to enable parts of the business to deliver outcomes and innovations.

“I personally haven’t been involved in the GDS deployment, the commercial department have done all the negotiations, but we led with all the plumbing,” he says.

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