Barbara Dalibard, CEO
The aviation technology company is nearly 70 years old and, amongst other things, works with airports and airlines on their passenger service systems and communications.
Almost 18 months in the job, the ex-SNCF and France Telecom senior executive has seen the rapid rise of digital across a number of industries, giving her a unique perspective on how such services will overhaul travel.
It seems as if airports and airlines have finally woken up to the opportunities that the type of technology you provide can give them. Would you agree?
Airlines and airports, and other stakeholders in the air transport industry have been users of technology for decades so there is no awakening.
SITA was created by airlines nearly 70 years ago to provide a telecommunications network forsharing data which was quite visionary at that time. For decades the industry has used and shared technology adopting new technologies as they emerged.
The challenge more recently has been that the technologies that are embedded in the air transport industry, which have been proven robust and reliable, have been overtaken by new consumer-led technologies. Both the volume and the pace of change has been dramatic.
The B2B environment has been transformed as the cost of new technology has dropped and it has become increasingly available. At the same time, the rate of innovation and availability of smart technology for consumers has surged.
Remember, it was only ten years ago that the smartphone appeared on the scene, today nearly every passenger has one – and they expect to use it on their journey.
The industry did not have the luxury of wiping the slate clean and immediately moving to the newer technology solutions SITA had available.
But new technologies are being adopted by airlines and airports across the world – from mobile passenger services and biometrics to cloud and artificial intelligence – to drive operations.Increasingly driven by the new needs and expectations of passengers.
We have, for example, Smart Path, a solution to provide a biometrically secure journey for passengers through airports. We designed this so that it would work on existing common-use infrastructure and can be connected to government border management solutions, which we supply worldwide.
The successful adoption requires a commitment from multiple stakeholders – airlines, airports, security agencies and passengers! – which adds complexity but SITA has the experience of working with all of them and we foster collaboration for smooth implementation.
But if, as some argue, the aviation sector evolves in waves with regard to its ability to push new technology to passengers, where are we currently sitting in that cycle?
Passenger self-service is embedded in the industry now. We know that passenger satisfaction is higher during the journey when self-service technologies are used, particularly at bag tag and collection, and passport checkpoints.
And there is room for expansion as passenger satisfaction is boosted even further when technologies such as mobile services and biometrics are used.
Biometrics will be the next wave as there is clear passenger acceptance of biometrics to deliver a secure, seamless journey - 57% of passengers said they would use biometrics for their next trip and this is expected to rise as people become more comfortable using biometrics in their everyday life, whether they use their face to activate their iPhone X or provide a biometric to their bank to enable a secure transaction.
What excites you about the development curve ahead with what SITA can deliver and what the sector wants?
The potential to use data more effectively across the industry is huge. SITA has a key role to play here. It is in our DNA – SITA was created to provide the first network for the airlines to share data.
Today we handle around 60% of the industry’s data exchange between various stakeholders and so we are in a unique position to drive more value from that.
We are looking at different areas where we can help the industry be more efficient and have a number of air transport community innovation programs to explore new solutions to some of the industry’s most pressing challenges.
For example, one of these programs is exploring the provision of information and updates through a global disruption warning system accessible to SITA members.
Disruptions cost airlines around US$ 25 billion in 2016 so we are pioneering disruption management capabilities and emerging technologies to help tackle this waste. The data is there we just have to unlock the value we can get from it.
What would you say is likely to be the most game-changing piece of technology over, say, the next five years?
In my opinion, it will be the combination of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. There have been significant developments in the area of machine learning – take for example the progress DeepMind, the Google-owned AI company has made this year with their research.
Collaboration is the only way forward …We have a unique neutral role to investigate how data can be shared securely.
AI and machine learning need good data, so, as everything becomes more connected with IoT the data will feed AI systems and together they will bring major change.
And, with that, is the aviation sector truly ready for it... and if not, why not?
There are a few things to consider when looking at the adoption of technology like AI in our sector. Firstly, in this industry more than ever, safety and security are the priority.
We must be sure that every change is safe before implementing it. Another thing to consider are the ethics of use, just because we have the technology to do something does not necessarily make it the right thing to do.
For example, all stakeholders need to consider the ethics of data usage. GDPR will serve as a guide from a European perspective and may drive standards globally.
Finally, new companies will find it easier to embrace new technologies from scratch while more established businesses in the sector will face the challenge of investments made in legacy systems. All these considerations will influence the speed and rate of adoption.
Are there any strategies or processes in other parts of the wider travel industry that airports and airlines could learn from?
The travel industry has used technology well, it is hard to imagine travel today without online booking for flights and hotels or the various mobile updates received throughout a journey.
But despite early adoption in some areas of travel, other industries have leapfrogged our industry in the way they use technology. Retail and health are good examples, both of these industries use data more effectively than airlines and airports.
The opportunity to use data with advanced analytics and predictive analysis for efficient operations and personalized customer service has not yet been fully realized in our industry.
A key lesson is to remember disruption can come from anywhere – think outside the industry – look at what could affect your business. Consider how Airbnb and Uber,through the use of technology, disrupted the accommodation and transportation sectors.
Airports and airlines should be paying attention to the wider area of “mobility” – how people get around – this includes the development of electric cars, autonomous vehicles, Hyperloop, etc.
Take for example, autonomous vehicles while there are opportunities for using them at the airport taking a wider view of the industry it is possible to see how they could change the face of travel by eliminating the need for short land trips by air and/or eliminating the need for, and income from, airport car parks.As an industry we must have an open and broad view of the changes technology can bring.
A common discussion when you get a bunch of airports and airlines together is around sharing of data, whether it's for marketing or to improve the customer experience. Is it foolish to suggest that collaboration is the only way forward in that regard?
Collaboration is the only way forward because no one entity has all the useful data available to them. SITA is working on this with the community of airlines, airports and other stakeholders.
We have a unique neutral role to investigate how data can be shared securely, respecting legal restrictions and customer information while releasing the value to all. For example, we have worked with IAG and Heathrow to investigate the use of blockchain technology to securely share data.
Technologies that are embedded in the air transport industry, which have been proven robust and reliable, have been overtaken by new consumer-led technologies.
In the project, we used flight information – a less sensitive area to start with – to see how we could provide a "single source of truth" to all parties, enabling more efficient operations and accurate information to share with passengers and all other stakeholders.
The technology is available to collaborate, and share data to the benefit of all, while maintaining control and ownership over sensitive market or customer data.
And what about you, as the leader of a global travel tech company - who do you most admire in the industry?
I would have to say it is Elon Musk. He is imagining a different future and is investing in areas to make that happen from Space X, to Tesla, Hyperloop and battery technology.
If he manages to achieve his vision, it could drive a sustainable future for us all.
Can you identify something you like and dislike about your role?
What I love about working at SITA is how we are enabling change with technology. Innovations can really change people’s lives. SITA is a global company, our people and our customers are from every country across the globe and I enjoy working with all the different cultures every day.
It is hard to find something I dislike but I guess it is that while we can see the opportunity for change, transforming companies – our own or our customers – does not always happen as quickly as we want.
This is part of the fabric of our global reach and extensive footprint where change can be more gradual than we would like.
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And how do you motivate your direct reports and the wider company?
If you want to motivate and bring out the best in people and teams, you can appeal to their appetite to do something that will change peoples' lives for the better.
Everybody wants to have a positive impact on their fellow citizen. It is important to share a vision that is well understood, at SITA that means that everyone who works here has a clear understanding of the benefits we provide to the air transport industry across the world and how we make travel easy every step of the way.
We build on the strength of our company - we have a great team at SITA, which includes the world’s experts in technology and communications for airlines and airports.
I want to be sure that they have pride in what they do and that we work collaboratively to achieve our goals.
In my role, I encourage a positive environment where trust, respect and teamwork are promoted.
I encourage an open culture throughout the organization and value the input that our people bring to the table. We are stronger when everyone works together – we must never underestimate the power of the team.
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