July 19, 2012 1:19 am

British Airways applies IT to lost luggage

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As frequent fliers know all too well, luggage sometimes gets delayed or goes astray.

When that happens, one of the most frustrating things is waiting at the carousel for luggage that never arrives and then queueing up at customer service or lost luggage and being asked to fill in a form with details that the airline should already know.

A new system implemented at British Airways uses the airline’s upgraded IT systems to make the ‘lost luggage’ experience a little less painful.

Instead of leaving travellers fuming at the luggage carousel, the new system automatically sends the luggage on the next flight, alerts the passenger with a mobile phone text message and automatically fills out a lost bag report.

Glen Morgan, head of service transformation at British Airways – the group abolished the CIO title some years ago – says the new messaging service is a good example of the advantages the company is reaping from its move to a Software Orientated Architecture (SOA) model that enables business units to build specific applications on top of a common set of IT services.

While Mr Morgan emphasises that British Airways has one of the best records for ‘short shipping’ – airline jargon for reuniting luggage with its owner – he says it sometimes still happens if, for example, the bag has gone into a security X-ray, and has missed its connection.

“The old process would have been that the passenger would have got off the aircraft, they would have waited at a carousel, probably for 40 or 45 minutes, then they would have gone, ‘Oh, my baggage hasn’t showed up, oh no, I’m not happy with British Airways,’ and gone to a customer services desk.

“Instead of being reactive, we are proactive and this is really delighting customers,” says Mr Morgan. “A lot of people talk about services oriented architecture as something that is quite an easy thing to do, but actually to tick the boxes and do it correctly represents quite a significant change in terms of how you organise your IT and how you organise your business.”

“Effectively we went from the days of what I would call the ‘build days’ in the 80s, where we built platforms and applications; to the ‘buy days’ where we bought off the shelf, and where we’re moving towards now is what I would call the ‘compose days’ where we actually let our business compose applications from the services that we expose through the services platform.”

The advantage, Mr Morgan says, is that British Airways’ business units can now build and launch new application much more quickly. “This is a true three layer model and it gives us much more agility in the front end of the applications,” he says. As a result he says British Airways has been able to roll out new mobile applications faster than some of its competitors.

Roughly 5 per cent of British Airways passengers now use boarding passes on their mobile phones.

More fundamentally, Mr Morgan says he believes corporate IT is at an inflection point. “There’s an equation happening in our marketplace at the moment,” he says.” Every 20 or 30 years, we go through inflection points within our business, and that is what we are looking at the moment. I call it ‘E = MC squared’ – the next version of the enterprise equals mobility, cloud and consumerisation.”

As an example he cites the decision to provide 2,300 personal iPads to cabin service directors. Not only do the cabin service directors use the devices for work, they can also use them to store and access their personal data. “That is a big shift,” explains Mr Morgan. “If cabin services directors have their photos and music on it, they’re going to take a little bit more care of it.”

But mainly British Airways has cabin staff with iPads to help them deliver a more personalised service to customers.“We have a lot of information about individual customers on a flight,” explains Mr Morgan. “So before they fly, cabin service directors download the customer list.

“In the old days, they would have had that list, but it was a toilet roll of paper, it was a very, very long toilet roll, they called it the ‘PIL’, or the passenger information list. We have moved that on to the iPad, but we’ve done some really, really clever things on top of that.”

For example cabin service directors can now see the last three flights that a customer took with British Airways and whether there were any problems with those flights as well as any flights they have booked for the future.

If it is the first time that a passenger has flown in club class on British Airways, the cabin service director will get an iPad message so they can specially welcome the passenger. “The delight on the customers’ faces is amazing,” Mr Morgan says. Similarly, if a passenger has experienced a delay or other problem, the cabin service director can be prompted to offer additional airline miles, a glass of champagne or even a seat upgrade.

Next up, British Airways is investigating replacing the sheaves of paperwork that pilots have to work through with an iPad app.

He says initiatives like these have helped transform how IT is viewed within British Airways.

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