Technology innovation and efficiency is taking off at airlines

For the last 10 years, the airline industry seems to have been under constant and intense pressure. Terrorism, oil prices, recession, restrictive regulation and industrial relations have all taken their toll. In addition, traditional airlines have had to transform their businesses because of competition from low-cost carriers.

Information technology has multiple roles in helping airlines. IT is leading to greater operational efficiencies in, for example, the case of self-service check-in which effectively outsources this function to customers themselves thereby reducing staffing costs (check-in is seen by many to be a superfluous process which will disappear altogether shortly). Margins can be increased by more intelligent and responsive ways of pricing tickets to match market demand - so-called revenue management.

Perhaps most interestingly, IT is crucial to the carriers providing extra peripheral services targeted and personalised for the individual customer. More and more of these involve mobile technology with applications which go way beyond a customer being sent a text message when online check-in is open.

An interesting project I've recently been involved with is the launch of the airline industry's first real-time, location and interest-based social networking service. Launched by Lufthansa, MemberScout enables its users, who are members of Lufthansa's loyalty programme, to receive personalised information from the airline as well as to share and exchange information with other MemberScout users. The mobile application has been designed to support Lufthansa's customer relationship strategy, but as well as using it to better communicate with its customers, it has been designed as a ‘member-helps-member' service. The vision is to help frequent flyers connect with each other and benefit from peer-group advice. A few examples may help illustrate this. Let's say I'm in the airport longue waiting for a delayed flight. I can use MemberScout to identify other people in the same location who share some of my interests - perhaps they also work in the software industry or share an interest in sailing. After I land I may be want to see if there's anyone travelling to approximately the same destination as me and is currently standing in the taxi queue, so we can share. Perhaps I lost track of the time and am at risk of not catching my flight - the airline can send me a message warning me or, alternatively, use my location to send someone to find me. This not only benefits the passenger but operationally can help avoid delays by preventing the removal of the passenger's bags from the aircraft. The possibilities are many. The application, available for iPhones and Blackberry mobile devices, was developed by a partner organisation, match2blue.

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