Big data and its use – Insights from SimpliFlying Lab 2016

On the 7th of September 2016, SimpliFlying held its annual Airline Marketing Innovation Lab and Awards at the Business Design Centre in London. The SimpliFlying Lab is designed to enable airline professionals to share the challenges they face with fellow practitioners, and with the help of subject matter experts, find solutions to those challenges. This year top airline marketers from around the world attended the Lab to discuss four key topics — Crisis Management, Customer Service, Connectivity and Big Data.

In my capacity as the Lead for Research and Analytics at SimpliFlying, I moderated the roundtable on big data and our lab partners at Certus+ joined us as the subject matter experts. During the course of four roundtables with 26 participants, we identified three key insights and three key takeaways for airlines.

Three Key Challenges Concerning Airline Big Data

  1. Airlines executives are struggling to link their CRM to the data they collect on social media. This is primarily because much of airlines’ legacy systems generate structured data whereas new age tools such as social media generate unstructured data and pairing the two is becoming increasingly difficult.
  2.  Airlines want to deliver a personalised flying experience to passengers by using data better and making it available to managers and ground staff in real time. However, they are currently finding it hard to implement short-term projects that showcase the potential of big data, before going for the long term ones.
  3. Each airline generates a substantial amount of social and customer interaction data from their online assets. Most airlines also reported confusion about what data to store and how to store it so as to enable ease of usage in the future. Many airlines admitted to not storing social data at all.

How to Address These Challenges

Despite the enormity of challenges, the discussion between airlines, and the inputs from our partners at Certus+ we were able to come up with a few solutions and a plan of action for airlines. We detail them here:

  1. Integrating structured and unstructured data is indeed a big challenge. Airlines can start overcoming this problem by starting with a small-scale implementation of CRM – social media integration — for example, social media login for loyalty programs. This will help airline executives to explore the possibilities of generating and delivering personalised insights and make a case for a bigger or a full-scale integration.
  2. Airlines need to have a technology and social media vision laid out for the next couple of years. A clear plan of action will help them determine what conversations and social data they need to store and maintain. For example, if the airlines’ vision is to have a social customer service bot capable of handling complex tasks in the future, then it will be useful for them to have a repository of the past conversations with clients on different social media platforms. Airlines’ future ambitions must dictate how they handle their current social media data.
  3. Airlines must explore free open-source data solutions to power their initial proof of concept. It will help airlines explore the possibilities of using data for the future without a substantial investment.

The way forward

The future will be about delivering a unique personalised experience to each passenger. Social media and behavioural data today makes that an economically viable and scalable proposition. Airlines, therefore, need to store, manage and use their data as a valuable asset that can be a significant competitive advantage in the future.

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