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Air France-KLM’s CIO on the impact of the airline’s digital transformation

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In his role as CIO at Air France-KLM, Jean-Christophe Lalanne has been at the forefront of his company’s transformation to a digital organization.

In his role as CIO at Air France-KLM, Jean-Christophe Lalanne has been at the forefront of the airline’s transformation to a digital organization. The core aim is to place high-quality customer experiences at the front and center of business operations.

Lalanne says a truly digital organization has connectivity and collaboration at its heart, where IT supports attempts to innovate quickly and bring new products to market swiftly. He refers to key concepts in an effective change programme, such as disruption, data, devices, storage, and multimedia.

“This is the world we see coming into focus more every day,” says Lalanne. “We’ve put the focus on personalization and door-to-door relationship management, both to promote our products and to serve our customers.”

Here, he shares his thoughts on how to approach the challenges associated with digital transformation, the strategies that can help support change and the future trends that are likely to characterize business change moving forwards.

Embracing digital technology

Lalanne, who assumed the CIO role at Air France-KLM in 2012, says there are a few key components behind his firm’s transformation initiative. He lists these as: an operational customer platform, a series of applications programming interfaces that hook into this platform and tools that support interactions with clients, including social networks, call centre systems, mobile applications, and email messaging.

“Every time there’s a channel we can use to promote customer intimacy, we use it,” he says. “The priority is to keep and develop customer relationships and the quality of personalization. We also need to face our competition and become more innovative, so that we can create co-operation through our digital channels.”

Lalanne says his business needs to make its employees aware of the power of digital technologies. That collaboration process extends beyond the enterprise firewall, too. Lalanne says CIOs must be humble and recognize that a failure to appreciate digital disruption represents a risk for all organizations, regardless of sector.

“We could be disrupted tomorrow by other platforms,” he says. “We must think very carefully about what elements have contributed to the success of disruptive start-ups, like Airbnb and Uber. Success comes from collaboration and exchange.”

Lalanne says businesses must be prepared to take a risk and place a certain amount of data on an open data platform. He points to the example of self-hubbing in the air industry, where customers use data on the cloud to create their own connections between flights.

“You must listen to the market, understand what’s happening and be open,” he says. “Never think you’re isolated and that disruption is not going to happen in your business. We know we can be disrupted and we see some very aggressive competitors that are creating value-based propositions.”

Supporting digital transformation

Lalanne says his organization must be ready for new threats. This awareness means understanding the mechanisms used by other operators and it requires making the most of the firm’s strengths, including through technology partners. “We need to see where we can act together to mobilize our internal resources to make a difference,” he says.

The good news is Lalanne and his IT team are not working alone. Digitization receives the highest possible priority from the executive board at Air France-KLM. The organization reviews, plans and progresses its digital agenda on a regular basis. Crucially, the strategy is backed by significant funding.

“We’re spending about €400 million on digitization during the next three years,” he says. “We see more strategic business innovation relying on digital transformation, so it’s affecting the way we work. For this reason, the board has to be involved.”

Lalanne says a range of infrastructural elements is crucial to the ongoing change programme. Air France-KLM historically runs its own data centers. Lalanne is keen to explore software-defined storage and use a hybrid approach to connect and share data. Big data has also been a priority during 2017.

“We’ve completely developed our platforms and data lakes, in particular around providing a 360-degree view of our customers,” he says. “It’s giving us the possibility to create predictive analyses and to create customizations, so we can manage the customer journey from door to door.”

Lalanne says the firm has also adopted agile working methods. This approach has been key to ensuring global consistency across global platforms. Air France-KLM supports more than 200 product teams that draw on a broad range of business skills. An agile technology department helps enable this creative process.

“The aim is to develop a minimal viable product to serve a business case,” he says. “The role of IT is to maximise platform sharing, data sharing, APIs and the web services that allow consistency across different products and which are absolutely critical to the success of digital transformation.”

Driving change going forwards

Lalanne says the firm continues to explore advanced technologies. The company is investigating how it can use IoT and virtual reality across engineering and maintenance. Information security has also been a big priority recently. Looking forwards, Lalanne expects further developments in artificial intelligence.

“We’re testing chatbots in call centers and browsing, and we’ll be making more announcements in coming months,” he says. “So, we have a range of diverse initiatives, where we’re running pilots and proof of concepts.”

Lalanne says the success of his transformation strategy can be measured directly through the revenue the firm generates across its digital channels. He also looks to key performance indicators in terms of both the quality of services that Air France-KLM is delivering and the interactivity of workers.

“The success of our transformation is indicated by the satisfaction of employees and their willingness to use digital devices and applications. The level of demand is so high and our employees still want us to do more,” says Lalanne, who tells other CIOs to focus on cross-business communication as they develop their own change programmes.

“Create a sense of urgency, but positively – don’t create the kind of burning platform where people can become afraid quickly. Give them an appetite for transformation and a sense of excitement about the potential for change.”