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BW Businessworld

BYOD In The Air

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The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend is breaking through the last barrier to onboard connectivity.

Passengers accessing in-flight entertainment from their own devices are already invading the aircraft as airlines are also beginning to look at crew accessing enterprise applications from their personal tablets.
 
Cabin Crew
Enterprises everywhere are evaluating at how tablet applications can improve their staff productivity. The air transport industry is no different. Airline cabin crews, in particular, face many inefficiencies in their day-to-day operations:
  • High volumes of time-consuming paperwork.
  • Manual onboard sales and inventory management, leading to revenue loss.
  • Limited passenger information on paper lists.
  • Double data entry, data errors and delayed information.
  • Heavy reliance on reference paperwork that is unwieldy.
  • Replacing manual, paper-based processes with digital, mobile ones can alleviate operational inefficiencies, while improving customer service and satisfaction.
 
'An Explosion Of Tablet Use'
"That's why we're hearing weekly of yet another airline rolling out tablets to their crews," says Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer at SITA. "Airline crews are using them for everything from electronic flight bags to customer service in the cabin." (See 'Empower your crew: the rise of tablets' in the last issue of Air Transport IT Review.)
 
I think we've seen an explosion of tablet use across the air transport industry over the last year. Many paper-based processes are being replaced by tablets in the cabin and the cockpit and at the airport. Right now the majority of airlines are issuing company-owned devices but we've seen some initial discussions around BYOD for specific applications.
 
Not surprisingly, cabin crew is one of the key areas of adoption.
 
"By using digital passenger lists airlines are getting critical information into the hands of the crew who need it in order to meet their passengers' needs," Boyle says. "Not only is this improving crew productivity and efficiency, it's also improving the passenger experience, increasing customer satisfaction, driving repeat business and ultimately growing profits."
 
Such benefits are impossible to ignore. "Even for airlines that decide not to invest in supplying devices for their crew," Peters says, "there will be support for BYOD, where employees use their own devices to access enterprise applications."
 
Dual Functions
The BYOD phenomenon will likely be supported by virtualisation technologies that enable dual functions on the same device: one for 'work', one for 'play'.
 
The dual function allows security, data, usage policies, device management and so on, to be split between the enterprise and the end-user. Access to enterprise VPNs, for instance, would be allowed only in the 'work' mode, ensuring security for apps and assets.
 
SITA is looking at how different tiers of devices - enterprise-owned devices through to subsidised devices to personal BYOD - impact app development for air transport.
 
"While I see initial app development focusing on a dedicated enterprise device," says Peters, "I see it evolving where the same app can support different devices and modes, and optimize the user experience accordingly.
 
"For example, a customer relationship management (CRM) app for cabin crew that lets the crew preview loyalty members on their next flight could run in different modes depending on the kind of device and whether it's enterprise-supplied or BYOD."
 
Operational Challenges
Operationally, no matter who owns the device, the challenge is getting the data from it to the back-end systems. "It seems a little pointless," Peters says, "to move from a paper form to mobile applications only to print out the data so it can be pushed through the same old paper-based business processes."
 
What would be optimal is to re-engineer those processes to integrate the data-flow from the tablets or smartphones into the relevant back-end systems.
 
Flexibility Needed
"IT departments need to understand how to support employees using their own devices to access work functions," says Boyle.
 
"It's critical that airlines have BYOD policies in place, and that the policies are aligned with their overall mobility and cloud strategies. This will allow airlines to capitalize on this change in the industry."
 
Three Is
Whether devices are company supplied or employee-owned BYOD, any successful mobile application development strategy needs to focus on three areas:

Interface - a better interface means less training means faster adoption means a better business case.

Iterate - agile methodologies that continuously evolve the platform allow for quick integration of new requests and features.

Integrate - back-end integration coupled with end-to-end device management and connectivity.
 
In his role as VP of Aircraft Services for SITA, Philip Clinch sees the Three I's as critical: "In-flight use of tablet computers will enable cabin crew to offer a more personalised service. But the device will need to automatically provide crew with the information they need, or its use could become an extra load, stopping crew from carrying out all their normal tasks."
 
He adds: "The tablet interface should be something like airport arrival kiosks, with a bar code reader to read passengers' boarding passes and automatically bring up the reservations offering new connections, in case of delay allowing acceptance with one click on a virtual screen button. Crew will not like typing passenger names and e-ticket numbers or looking up the next flights in a schedule list."
 
Passengers
Just as with cabin crews, providing onboard connectivity to passengers is no longer a luxury - it's quickly becoming a necessity.
 
According to the 2012 Passenger Self-Service Survey, 70 per cent of passengers are traveling with a smartphone. That's up from 54 per cent in 2011 and 28 per cent in 2010. The trend is clear. And that doesn't take into account tablets.
 
"Passenger BYOD in-flight services overcome the barriers faced by all the past false dawns with IFEC (In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity)," says Clinch. "Passenger use of in-seat phones never took off because passengers couldn't access their contacts list. Who remembers anybody's number any more?
 
"Some airlines implemented IFE-based e-mail/texting services but passengers couldn't use their own e-mail account. BYOD brings the passenger's own communications, social media and e-commerce experience on board. The just leaves the challenge of providing an acceptable response time somebody is willing to pay for."
 
The Time Is Now
How long do you suppose passengers will tolerate not having Internet access in-flight?
 
"If you look at a big aircraft," says OnAir Chief Executive Officer Ian Dawkins, "statistically on an A380, over 400 people onboard will have a mobile phone.
 
"For them, being connected in-flight will be just as essential as it is on the ground. It's normal to be online, so why wouldn't you be when you're on an aircraft?" (See 'The new inflight 'must have'' in the last issue of Air Transport IT Review.)
 
Dawkins predicts: "In the next five years, we'll see nearly every single long-range aircraft coming off the production line with onboard connectivity as standard. And, in the coming years, most existing long-range aircraft with a reasonable lifespan remaining will be converted to onboard connectivity."
 
The author is Paul Boyle, Portfolio Director Mobility, SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques)


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