Skift Take

Through cloud modernization, airlines can usher in a new era of efficiency, create dynamic customer experiences, and access valuable and actionable data insights.

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Throughout the summer, we saw scenes depicting long delays, cancellations, and frustrated passengers unfold at airports across the globe. Staffing challenges, Covid-related issues, and extremely high consumer demand all played a role in the chaos. The fact that many airlines run on outdated technology systems that are siloed across operations and lack powerful analytics tools only makes matters more challenging.

“Some of the technology, software, and systems used today are aged 30-plus years,” said Catalin Sava, IBM’s chief technology officer for travel and transportation.

Even before the pandemic, there was an urgent need for airlines to modernize their technology systems and usher in a new era of efficiency, customer-centric operations, and digital insights. However, industry shifts brought on by the pandemic have demonstrated that doing so is now critical. Airlines are in need of cloud transformation, which can improve everything from daily operations and maintenance challenges to long-term goals like carbon footprint reduction.

React to Market Changes as They Happen

Legacy systems lock airline operations into a near-static profile of capability and scalability — but this pattern is not fit for today’s business environment. As with all digital business, airlines need to have the ability to react to market dynamics in real-time, allowing them to tune their operations to fit demand. With the adoption of cloud native solutions, deployment of new services goes from years to weeks, producing massive development savings and embracing a software development culture built on relevance and customer centricity.

Cloud native solutions enable the shift from capital expenditures to operational expenditures for IT operations and add the ability to dynamically scale, both horizontally and vertically, a company’s IT footprint. This is one of the game changing aspects of cloud native solutions: An organization can use and pay for as much as it needs when it needs it and have full visibility of the costs.

Break Down Silos to Create Better Customer and Partner Outcomes

Individual business units across the airline industry have traditionally relied on decades-old software and systems that may not allow these units to reach their full potential. And even if the individual system succeeds at doing its job, companies often fail to realize the full potential of their operations when pillars across the business can’t communicate with each other.

Airlines must combine and modernize disparate technology platforms to streamline operations and better serve passengers. “A siloed data center — even one that enjoys the benefits of the most modern management and analytics tools — can only deliver operational improvements within the narrow scope of the silo it serves,” said Sava. “Increasingly, individual airlines, as well as the broader industry ecosystem, understand that the improvements that matter most are those found between operational silos,” he continued.

Traffic management solutions offer a salient example. Airline gate operations and departure control systems have an extremely complex job, as they seek to optimize to hit static timetables and take-off targets amid ever-shifting circumstances, all while factoring in the upstream and downstream impacts of their decisions. The underlying system, then, must be built for agility. The more real-world complexity it can account for, the more likely it is to produce optimal outcomes for airline partners, employees, and customers.

Access and Implement New Data Insights

By migrating systems into the cloud and modernizing them through cloud solutions, airlines can also benefit from deeper data insights and analytics that stretch across their entire organization.

For example, take airline maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) — the repair, service, or inspection of an aircraft. Like other large and complex areas of airline operations, airline MRO has traditionally assembled their own data-driven views of the organization. While this information may be rich in detail and highly customized to the needs of the maintenance staff, it rarely — if ever — exists in perfect harmony with the similarly detailed views of other business units, such as reservations or airport operations. Here, cloud solutions offer the solution, connecting each pillar of the organization to a shared base of operational data.

Sharing an operational view reverberates through the organization, empowers employees, and promotes consistency. “Most often, the applications used by front-line staff become far more useful and impactful when they are fed by and interact with the most current and accurate data in the airline. This is why connecting these solutions to the cloud creates profound improvement opportunities to engage employees, as we have seen with Finnair,” said Cormac Walsh, aviation industry head at Nordcloud, an IBM company.

Empowering Digital Transformation the World Over

With cloud solutions, airlines can leverage advanced technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning to vastly improve operations, tackle previously confounding maintenance challenges, and create experiences that earn customers’ business for life. They can also work toward a better tomorrow, keying on long-term goals like carbon footprint reduction by focusing on developing creative, data-based solutions that strike the right notes for customers and shareholders alike.

First, they’ll need to make the most important decision in their enterprise transformation journey: choosing a cloud migration partner. This single choice will have an outsized impact on the cost and timeline of their cloud transformation, the details of which can only become clear once the airline engages a partner.

“Each transformation journey is unique,” said Walsh. “The complexity associated with the volume of applications in scope, the number of associated financial and operating systems included in the transformation, and the degree to which applications moving over to the cloud will be modernized will each factor in. Timelines and investment estimates that don’t include these key inputs are not only useless, but dangerous,” he continued.

Cloud migration and modernization are both a journey and a destination — but getting it right can build a foundation to support the digital transformation that will take airlines into a new era.

For more information about IBM’s solutions for the travel and transportation industry, visit

This content was created collaboratively by IBM and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

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Tags: airline technology, airlines, cloud, cloud technology, tech, technology, travel technology

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