Author Archives: Prasanna Subramaniam

Prasanna Subramaniam
Chennai-lad with vast experience working with customers in Japan. Prasanna is our AVP - Strategic Accounts Management for Japan and Middle East geographies and in his previous avatar played many roles at Tata Consultancy Services. He has worked as Domain Consultant, leading Presales and Solutions and as a Portfolio Manager leading large scale Digital Transformations in Japan.
Airline Digital Transformation

New Age Flyers Want a Seamless Airport Experience

An airport is no longer just a temporary home for passengers in transit or those making their way to scheduled flights. Airport users can spend their waiting time between flights at any of the retail outlets, food courts, gaming arena or lounge areas for infotainment/recreational experiences.

However, as more airports get privatized, they’re under pressure to show profitability by increasing their overall revenue with an emphasis on generating more revenue per customer. Considering the change in the nature of the airport experience, airport operators have the opportunity to transform the airport from a point of transit to a destination in itself. As a result, they can grow revenues by enhancing the emotional connection with customers and enabling a superior experience they would want to repeat – by crafting relevant digital solutions.

The Airports Council International shared an interesting overview of the airport economy:

Passenger satisfaction can be achieved in two ways at the airport – by ensuring seamless transit or by keeping them engaged during their time at the airport. In recent years, technology has proved to be the differentiator between a nightmarish or boring experience, and a memorable experience they would eagerly repeat. As illustrated below, there are infinite touchpoints at the airport where technology can help airport management design a welcoming and intuitive experience for passengers.

Passenger touchpoints at the airport

The need for a unified and seamless experience for airport users

Many airports offer a fragmented customer experience as they force passengers to crisscross different touch-points from the point of entry through to parking, check-in, baggage, navigation, food and recreation, boarding, immigration, and so on. Often, they lack a single source of information and don’t have digital means to pre-book or check availability of certain services such as lounge area etc. In specific cases of first-time travelers or elderly flyers, navigating through busy, large airports can be overwhelming and disorienting.

Current airport structure

However, through technology interventions, airports can go a long way to provide a more unified and harmonious experience for airport users. For example, they could develop a mobile-based app or website that integrates the passenger’s journey at various touch points and enables a single point of information for all their needs from the time they arrive, transit, and depart from the airport.

Here, we illustrate the different possible ways in which technology can intervene to enable a unified and seamless airport experience.

Technology enabling a unified and seamless airport experience

Many airports, including the best, busiest, largest, and popular ones, are implementing some of these digital solutions. Here, we present some of the innovative use cases that are emerging as a result.

Simplifying the passenger experience through technology

Airports of the scale of Changi or Heathrow are among the busiest in the world and navigating through these crowded spaces can be a stressful, even tedious experience for passengers. Listed below are some of the passenger-centric digital paths that are redefining and simplifying the airport experience across different touch points.

#1 Smart parking – Airports can integrate a parking solution on their app/website that allows passengers, especially those who are hard-pressed for time, to reserve spots in advance. They can use their allocated QR codes to pay for this service and enjoy the benefits of knowing exactly where to park and plan their travel/commute accordingly. This can address the stress points and improve efficiencies for airport authorities and passengers as well.

#2 Easy navigation enabled by Augmented Reality (AR) – Passengers can use AR guided navigation on their phones to find their way through vast airport spaces, avoid crowded spaces, find the least congested lounge areas or restrooms, and get to their destination gates faster, especially when they are running late. The UK’s Gatwick airport has invested in beacon technology in the form of 2,000 battery-powered Bluetooth Low Energy beacons for this purpose. Also using beacon technology at United Airlines’ Newark airport hub, its app users can pin their location inside the airport and be guided to their boarding gate, ATM, restroom, dining area, waiting areas and more. This is drastically reducing travel day friction for the airline and its passengers at the airport. Other approaches being developed in this area include built-in mobile sensors and cloud-based AR that superimposes user-centric digital content over physical objects.

#3 Information and navigation with robots as guides can provide flight-based information to help passengers navigate through the airport unhampered. British Airways has invested in autonomous robots who interact with passengers at Terminal 5 in multiple languages and keep them informed with real-time updates. Also at Heathrow’s busiest terminal, self-driving luggage vehicles are being used to trim down lengthy waiting lines. The future for robots at airports looks promising with other airports including Seoul, Munich, and New York’s LaGuardia also trying out autonomous machines on their premises. Robots will take over check-in processes by the end of the decade predicts a 2020 report by Vero Solutions.

#4 Wheelchair assistance using AI & ML – Clever implementation of AI and ML can help those with mobility challenges or sensory impairments who need to be assisted through airport procedures including check-in, security, baggage claim etc. An innovative example of this is being implemented at India’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in their AI-based surveillance desk that will serve senior citizens, infants and other passengers seeking timely wheelchair assistance in case of an emergency.

Enhancing leisure and entertainment at airports

The convenience industry is growing significantly as people expect everything to be delivered wherever they are. Digitalization is enabling this along with time saving, cost-saving benefits for the airport authorities who need to deploy fewer staff for various processes. For passengers, the biggest advantage is less time spent at the airport as they don’t have to come hours in advance to the airport to complete checking in before boarding their flights. But there are times when passengers are forced to have long layovers especially, in international travel. Here, the airport management knows that real value comes from offering premium services in ways that make users feel the premium-ness of the experience.

Airports are using several technology deployments to create a premium leisure experience and increase their non-aeronautical revenue.

#5 One-stop-shop for all travel-related info, especially when traveling in countries where passengers don’t understand the local language, having a single app can smoothen their transit with timely notifications to move from point A to B and so on seamlessly. If their layover is lengthy, they could also benefit from local travel suggestions, and personalized offers and recommendations for leisure, entertainment, food as well.

#6 Gamification opportunities at the airport – Authorities at Cochin’s International Airport introduced interactive video games to inform passengers of first-aid principles for heart disease. Gamification will allow new-age travelers who have long layovers to entertain or distract themselves. There could be a competitive element introduced by offering players discounts or airport-specific reward points that can be redeemed at retail or duty-free outlets. Airport authorities can also draw more attention to certain portions of the premises such as lounges and direct people towards these in order to decongest other parts of the airport.

#7 Using geofencing/ beacon technology and location, airport apps may be able to push targeted offers and messages to people at the airport. For example, the Miami International Airport app sends offers and recommendations to travelers prompting them to patronize food and retail outlets.

The age of the digital airport is here

Technologies like AI/ML, AR/VR are holding sway in the market as they continue to disrupt, enable, and engage passengers with the power of digital experiences at airports. These digital solutions offer benefits to the airports, airlines, and travelers alike and the opportunities that they open up, are truly infinite.

Using these solutions innovatively, airports certainly have significant potential to grow non-aeronautical revenues while strengthening ecosystem relationships and addressing some of the inherent complexities and pain points in the industry. These possibilities are captured in the visual below.

Nevertheless, the new-age traveler still expects the human touch to an extent. Therefore, airport authorities must refrain from blindly investing in technologies, which can be costly and ineffective. Instead, they need to take an iterative approach to digitalization and create a clear blueprint of the right technologies and tools that retain enough of the physical aspects to make the digital airport experience real and memorable.

Read More
Digital Transformation

Building Blocks for Successful Digital Transformation Programs: my experiences from Japan

Digital transformation or DX can be defined as bringing cultural, organizational, and operational changes in the organization, and across entire ecosystem through digital technologies, processes, and competencies across all function levels.

Over the past few years, Japanese companies have been focusing on digital transformation and modernizing their businesses to accelerate their growth. Pandemic gave an opportunity to further accelerate the transformation for the organizations.

Current scenario: Digital Transformation is serious business

Not just businesses, but even the Government of Japan is showing a keen interest in digital transformation and sees that as an opportunity to drive up productivity and build a stronger nation. They have set up an ambitious plan called Society 5.0 which is defined as ‘a human-cantered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space’. In order to meet this objective they aim to integrate cyberspace & physical space, use technologies such as AI, IoT and Robotics.

However, certain structural challenges such as the ageing population and increasing skills gaps have hindered their digital transformation efforts. According to IMD’s Digital Competitiveness metric 2021, digital talent in Japan is just 1% of its entire workforce and the country ranks 28 in digital and global competitiveness. Further delays in digital transformation could jeopardize their position as the third-largest economy.

Japan Digital Score Card

Japan Digital Score Card, Source: Deloitte

Improvement in workforce productivity especially in the areas of digital experiences has been a challenge for several years. Japan has a digital workforce productivity of 7.6 as compared to US which is at 13.3.

I have lived and worked in Japan for almost a decade and my areas of expertise span across IT Consulting, large-scale Digital Transformations, bootstrapping IT setup and scaling it across organizations to drive business growth. Based on my interactions with business and technology stakeholders across leading organizations in Japan, I would like to explain how this problem can be tackled efficiently.

Challenge #1: Understanding the “WHY” part of transformation

McKinsey’s recent report on Transformation Change says that only 16% of digital transformations are successful. Lack of clear strategy could be one of the reasons for such a low rate. The ideal approach would be to start with a clear strategy. Start with knowing the ‘why’. For example, ask yourself why is digital transformation necessary? Will it increase the revenue or decrease the overall OPEX? Knowing the answer to the ‘why’ will give you a head start to a smooth and successful implementation. It is important to involve the Business & IT Strategy teams. The business strategy is the outcome that the company plans to achieve through transformation. The IT strategy involves the technologies that will be used to make the transformation successful.

Actionable tips

  • Build business-IT alignment and consensus. Research shows that better IT and business team alignment can improve operational efficiency by 58% and customer experience by 54%.
  • While both Business & IT teams find ways to build the consensus, IT teams can take the lead in explaining the values it can generate for the business. Visualization, road shows can help to solve this problem. They should be able to explain how the changes can help the business unit improve its productivity or enhance performance.
  • Seek help from a technology partner company to help you sharpen your technology strategy. This could be the best chance to overhaul your complete enterprise architecture as well.

Challenge #2: Resistance to change

Willingness to change is an important factor contributing to the success of Digital Transformation. Change in the mindset is very much required to improve the adoption of Digital Principles in running the IT of organizations.

According to McKinsey’s research, two out of three Japanese managers feel they are not fully prepared to undertake digital transformation projects. There’s also the fear of failure, as only 16% of projects in Japan have been successful. Getting executive and stakeholder buy-in is vital to greenlight the project with adequate budget and resource allocation.

DT readiness globally

Actionable tips

  • Stakeholder buy-in and continuous engagement is of paramount importance.
  • Organizational Change Management practices must be followed and a Change Manager must be appointed.
  • Take help from technology partner companies to develop a proof of concept (POC) or proof of technology (POT)
  • Robosoft, for instance, does lighthouse projects to build POCs and POTs. We pick up small-scope projects that can be completed within weeks and collaborate closely with the customer teams. We demonstrate the outcome, show that as quick wins, conduct demos and help to win the confidence of stake holders. We observed this helps the customers to overcome the fear of failure, encourage them to adopt technologies and set their foot in right direction.

Challenge #3: Increasing skills gap

Call it a symptom of ageing demography or the dynamic nature of technologies that change quickly, Japan has a shortage of skilled resources. 68% of Japanese companies cited human resources shortage as a challenge. The reports showed that the country has a massive shortage of artificial intelligence and data analytics specialists and a major factor for this problem is the lack of funding and support on new investments in digital areas. Cloud Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Analytics is expected to grow to 15.6 million and it is high time for the Japanese Organizations to catch up with this speed.

ICT investments in Japan

Actionable tips

  • Ongoing wave of digital disruptions requires multitude of roles within the organizations. They must re-organize their IT teams and fill key roles such as Product Managers, Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Change Managers, Enterprise Architect, Data Analysts etc. Companies must understand the typical roles they would need to keep it in house and start hiring for the same
  • Organizations traditional thought process to outsourcing – While the organization is building its own team, it is also equally important to start identifying outsourcing partner with whom the internal teams can work and gain exposure.
  • Do not ignore your internal team of experts. The external partner brings global and technical expertise and experience. But the internal teams know the business processes and systems of the company well. They represent the company and know what they want. They act as a support function and subject matter expert to the external technology partner. Always take a hybrid approach wherever possible.

Challenge #4: Lack of meaningful relationships with external technology partners

Traditionally, Japanese companies rely heavily on external partner companies for system integration and other tasks that are ideally done by the in-house teams. However, most of these external partner companies have a tough time understanding the business needs and have limited ability to perform a full-scale digital transformation. It is important to evaluate the technical partner on multiple fronts before you select the right partner.

Actionable tips

What the CXOs expect in their partner companies before choosing one and why Robosoft can be the preferred choice.

  • Global expertise is a must have for partner companies. Working with multiple global organizations ensures understanding of a wider spectrum of business and solutions.
  • Working with larger organizations helps to clearly demonstrate best practices, do’s and don’ts of DX and get unbiased advice.
  • Time to market is always a critical factor. Technology Partner to have readily available and skilled talent pool.
  • Quality always matters. The availability of Subject Matter Experts in the domain and a strong Technical Team is imperative.
  • Ability to work as a trusted partner understanding the larger picture of business and to provide proactive solutions.

Challenge #5: Choice overload

There are hundreds of service vendors each in SaaS, PaaS, XaaS, pure play services IT play. Do you know that there are over 360 vendors for PaaS offerings alone? Companies are spoiled for choices. They can choose from an array of technology options and service providers. While this is good, so many choices can overwhelm you. CXOs often get caught up in the decision-making process.

Actionable tips

  • Find a partner who can work at all 3 levels of an organization: Executive, Business and Project”. At Robosoft we aim to build deep relationships at level to align ourselves with the vision & mission, business goals of the organizations. Further, we help to narrow down the choices so you can make the right decision. Here’s how we do it for our clients.

Robosoft's engagement model

Enterprises want to make impactful strides in terms of scalable digital transformation and the Government of Japan is also pushing them to make efforts to deliver results. Despite the challenges organizations are well poised to take the next big leap. The right technology partner can accelerate your digital transformation project and help you realize its full potential.

Read More