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Interview with Rob Broere, IATA’s StB Co-Chairman: ‘The mobile explosion is surely the way forward’

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Rob Broere is co-chair of the IATA StB Steering Group and Think Tank, which is looking at the future of the passenger processes from shop to travel. He has been in the business of core airline IT PSS systems all of his career and has been running the PSS systems for Emirates as Vice President IT Pax experience. We caught up with him, ahead of his appearance at the Aviation IT show, to find out about what he thinks is shaping the future of air travel.

How can the aviation industry push forward customer experience to meet the needs of the modern passenger?

Fundamentally we need to move from transaction to relationship with our customers. Passengers now like to take control of their travel plans. As airlines, we should look closely at our relationship with our customers and understand how we can serve them better. This way, we are able to price or package our products according to what they are looking for. Whether they are going on a business or a leisure trip, each customer will have different requirements, and an individual approach to meet these would be important.

What do you see as the main challenges in modernising the current systems?

Too many people talk about the ‘legacy” systems being the limitation. I think that view is way too narrow. The systems serve a business model and the business model itself was invented in the 1970’s and 1980’s and has hardly changed, but the world has changed drastically, especially since the advent of the Internet. As airlines, we invented E-commerce in the 1970’s or even earlier, but we are now stuck with archaic processes.  Before we even talk about systems the entire Airline Business model should be carefully looked at for a large overhaul. Only after that study has been done on how you eliminate the huge number of constraints we have right now, can we begin to design the systems to deal with the new world.  All systems in use today are “legacy’ and not geared to handle that.

What technology do you see making a big impact on the passenger experience in the next 5-10 years?

I would say two things: Mobility and Social Media. The mobile explosion is surely the way forward. Customers want to interact with their travel suppliers at any place, on the ground and on-board, and at any time. Their social network of friends and the sources they trust will have much more impact on their decision-making process and on choosing who they do business with and how. As airlines we have to be in that space.  Moving forward, we need to think, breathe and act mobile and social.

Can legacy airlines compete with new carriers considering the massive overheads/legacy systems they have in place?

Unless we change the business model on how we as airlines operate it will become difficult to stay competitive. The current systems, which are designed to support the current business model, will need to change as well. Each function within the airline should be looked at if a system still fits. If it does not, then it needs to be radically changed, simplified or even eliminated. In many cases the systems will probably have to be changed entirely. A new system in place will provide great opportunities to do things differently. This requires out of the box thinking to be able to move forward. Otherwise, new carriers, especially the LCCs that do not have the same burdens will overtake and make it difficult for the legacy airlines to compete.

You are currently co-chairman for the IATA StB Steering Group and Think Tank, and many of the innovations which are looking to be bought in involve new forms of technology. Is there a fear within the world of aviation that this new technology could take over airport staff?

Customer facing roles, like airport ground staff, are potentially a bit more diverse. While some of the fundamentals of check-in will drastically change, and as customers’ mobility will increase significantly 3-10 years from now, each carrier needs to make up their mind on how they want to service their customers. Some might go down to the bare bones in driving cost down, others will use this as an opportunity to increase customer service and enhance the quality of their offering by adding value.

Where does IATA StB Think Tank obtain the research for its solutions from? And which ones have been put into practise?

There is a misunderstanding that as IATA StB Think Tank we look at solutions, it is actually far from it. IATA StB focuses on facilitating new standards that enable airlines and other stakeholders like airports, travel agents and government agencies to introduce new business processes and improve customer service, while keeping cost under control. Market forces will drive the developments of such products but these standards will allow all parties to work together. As IATA StB Think Tank, we also engage a number of technology providers and consultants to give inputs and provide direction where needed, but the focus is all about standards.

Lastly, you joined Emirates in 1995, what has had the biggest impact within the world of aviation since that time?

I would say the sad events of September 11, 2001. This unfortunately has meant a significant amount of processes, had to be introduced to avoid a re-occurrence. These processes have added significant burdens on the airlines and the travelling public, and have seriously impacted customer convenience. The world will never be the same again after this tragedy, but it has pushed all stakeholders to look at improvements on how to work together that ultimately will improve security, while at the same time, simplify the process. That is what we need to focus on – collaboration between stakeholders to improve the customer experience.

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