Digital leads Air New Zealand’s planned revival

The digital-first approach being undertaken by chief digital officer Jennifer Sepull will see increased personalisation and a revamp of its core systems to make them simpler.

jennifer sepull air new zealand
Air New Zealand

Three simple words sum up Air New Zealand’s strategy: survive, revive, and thrive. As the national airline for a country whose borders are slammed shut due to COVID-19, you might expect everyone in the company to be firmly in the first phase. Not so, says the company’s first chief digital officer, Jennifer Sepull. Her team has moved into the revive phase, busy transforming the company into a digital-first airline.

The digital team quickly passed through the survive phase, when it was involved in the difficult task of slashing the company’s operations which saw 4,000 people leave the company in 2020. While some parts of the airline are not at capacity—a reality given that international travel is severely restricted—Sepull’s digital team of about 500 is moving ahead, exploring new technology such as blockchain and robotics and dealing with legacy systems.

The team is one year into a five-year strategy that began when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic struck at the same time as Air New Zealand’s new CEO Greg Foran reported for duty. While Sepull acknowledges five years is a long time in technology, she says it’s about “putting that line in the sand and saying we have a North Star of where we want to be. … We know things might change along the way, but fundamentally some of the things we are doing—for example, our core systems—we know need to change.” She adds, “What we have all committed to is that if there is some kind of new technology, if there is a new direction, then we will pivot together as a team and we will change our roadmap along the way.”

What a digital-first airline looks like

Sepull says the customer is central to becoming a digital-first airline, and the focus is therefore on increasing personalisation.

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