Skift Take

Airlines are leveraging technology that empowers employees to provide better customer experiences, which in turn drives profitability. But they shouldn’t be content only to solve today’s problems ​​— an integrated digital strategy is key to building the foundation for unique opportunities in the not-so-distant future.

This sponsored content was created in collaboration with a Skift partner.

Airlines that understand the intrinsic link between the customer and employee experiences are in a prime position to drive higher revenue growth. To improve efficiency in air travel — which is crucial, as passengers have seen in recent months — airlines must rethink how they use technology to innovate the customer and employee experience not only during this recovery period but also into the future. However, not all airlines have grasped, or at least haven’t executed, this central concept.

SkiftX recently spoke with Dee Waddell, global managing director for travel and transportation at IBM, about how technology can empower airline employees and customers, how an integrated data strategy can drive future profitability, and what role artificial intelligence (AI) will play now and in the not-so-distant future.

SkiftX: What are some pain points airlines are currently experiencing, and how can technology help address them?

Dee Waddell: There is a significant legacy that is hampering the industry. An airline may have 25 or more different customer profile records, whether from its loyalty program, website, or call center. A lot of work needs to be done to ensure all of this data is operationally ready and able to be leveraged by artificial intelligence. Making sure this data is seamlessly integrated throughout the entire enterprise is a massive undertaking.

Irregular operations are a major concern right now in the airline industry as it relates to passenger experience and optimization. Airline business leaders and employees are being asked to do more with less. Airlines are trying to use data to drive decisions and optimize resources and achieve on-time performance, completion rates, and turnaround time, but the data is often unusable or unsearchable.

Much of this is also due to current challenges around hiring talent. We’ve helped airlines outsource their hiring and human resources operations and use technology to train workers, whether they’re in-station, onboard, under the wing, or in corporate headquarters. Airlines need to make sure the right number of employees are in place so they can complete all of their flights and ensure a good customer experience.

Finally, airlines need to consider how they can integrate their loyalty offerings with their omnichannel and platform approach to provide better personalization, flexibility, and intuitive design in a cloud-based, mobile-first environment with ecosystem partners to enhance customer experience. We helped Air Canada do just that when we recently worked with their digital team to rethink and rebuild their web and mobile interface, allowing the airline’s Aeroplan loyalty program to be fully integrated into their digital experience.

SkiftX: How are the customer and employee experiences linked, and what is IBM doing in this space?

Waddell: Employee experience improves the customer experience — and airlines that understand this concept are driving higher revenue growth. This goes way beyond expanding existing software tools to employees. Instead, airlines need to think about how they can use technology to invest in and empower their employees and truly put the work in to understand their key issues and concerns when it comes to elevating their effectiveness and productivity around the customer experience.

We have a unique partnership with Apple that has allowed us to provide human-centric solutions on iOS. We have about 15 different iOS ready-made applications that airlines can adopt and customize to their individual needs for their employees — whether they’re pilots, flight attendants, ramp, or maintenance workers — that allow them to communicate with and access the same data. For example, if something is not functioning correctly, it’ll be communicated onboard to both the pilot and the onboard staff so they can let passengers know.

In the case of one installation for Lufthansa, we worked with ground ops staff to create an iOS app that empowered them with real-time information, stitching together a variety of back-end systems into a single easy-to-use interface. It helped improve flight operations efficiency, speed up passenger boarding, and cut costs by avoiding delays, allowing passengers to enjoy a smoother experience.

SkiftX: When it comes to artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, what solutions do you see being realistically adopted in the near term? What’s in development or on the horizon for more of a five or 10-year timeline?

Waddell: Having a seamless, consistent, and mature data asset ecosystem — which includes a data strategy and architecture and an integrated data operating model optimized for real-time use — is absolutely critical when it comes to decision-making around workflow, coding empowerment, and customer journeys. I don’t think airlines prioritize this as much as they should since they won’t be able to take advantage of the opportunities that artificial intelligence and other new technologies will bring down the line without improving their data maturity.

Another solution that I see a bit further out on the horizon is leveraging quantum technology, which has some interesting use cases within the travel and transportation space, particularly in solving complex problems around irregular operations, network planning, or demand forecasting.

SkiftX: How is technology supporting sustainability goals in the travel and transportation sectors?

Waddell: Moving from data centers to the cloud, taking advantage of green data centers, working with cloud providers that prioritize sustainability, and optimizing next-generation technologies like the hybrid cloud are all ways technology is helping push sustainability forward. Another big one is providing travelers with information about the environmental impact of the products and services they choose. We have a portfolio which can enable environmental scoring and measurements, optimize asset and resource consumption, and ultimately drive decarbonization and operationalization of their journey to the sustainable business model.

SkiftX: How do you see technology solutions driving profitability in the travel and transportation sectors for both immediate recovery and longer-term investments?

Waddell: I see a lot of promise in the platform model, which is based on companies expanding beyond their own business to offer additional products and services offered by ecosystem partners. For example, a traveler could make a restaurant reservation or purchase a golf outing when booking their ticket through an airline’s app and pay for it via their airline loyalty points, which are stored in their Apple Wallet.

We could see more of this in the metaverse down the line — which travel companies should consider as Generation Z becomes a more dominant travel audience and concerns around sustainability grow. I see a lot of potential here, and I’m hoping we have a broader discussion around what’s possible in the next generation and how we move towards that pragmatically.

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.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: airline innovation, airline technology, airlines, ibm, SkiftX Showcase: Technology, technology, travel tech, travel technology

Up Next

Loading next stories