Piloting the technology strategy of an organisation famed for continual change is a hard charter to follow, but one that Trevor Didcock has been doing for four years now at the UK’s largest airline (by passenger number) easyJet. The Luton, Bedfordshire headquartered airline turns 20 next year and has become part and parcel of UK and European culture, to the point that it recognises this and uses it in its “easyJet generation” advertisements. Over the last 20 years the organisation has grown at an astonishing rate and generally outperformed other airline businesses during the current global economic crisis. Growth though adds complexity, especially in the IT operations of an organisation.
“The big thing I am now leading is the IT Transformation Programme which includes a full review of the architecture for all commercial functions (reservations and channels) and operations functions (aeroplane and crew management), whilst rethinking our IT organisation, sourcing and operating model, “ Didcock told CIO earlier this year.
“The introduction of allocated seating (in late 2012) is the single biggest business change that we have been through”, Didcock told me at their headquarters. “We managed to maintain our on-time performance too.
“We are quite hard-nosed and we will shut the door and people respect that,” he says with a smile. Allocated seating, rapid adoption of internet, mobile and now a ground breaking arrangements whereby easyJet flights are available on the behemoth global distribution systems (GDS) so loved by corporate travel agencies and legacy airlines means Didcock needs the full architectural review of channels and functions to ensure the airline remains lean and efficient. And therefore true to its mission.
Didcock has always played a central role in the leadership of easyJet, initially leading the Turn Europe Orange transformation programme and recently has been instrumental in easyJet moving to a single terminal at Gatwick Airport, south of London.
“Gatwick has a great collaborative environment, so my team speaks regularly with them and we have weekly reviews of the development of the IT and processes at Gatwick,” Didcock says. The former number one in the CIO 100 has formed a strong relationship with Michael Ibbitson, CIO at Gatwick.
“The principle objective is to increase agility in bringing changes and new products and channels to market, but it will also professionalise the IT function further, improve customer experience and mitigate a number of key board level risks.
“We are managing a portfolio of change that is the biggest we have ever done. An increase in the number and scale of projects simultaneously,” he says.
“The first stage is complete the strategy for a Future Commercial Platform that will enable us to join up our website, mobile and CRM more effectively,” he says. EasyJet has its own bespoke reservations platform and want to “make the best use of that”. Thus a Service-oriented Architecture (SOA) will form the basis of Didcock’s architectural review.
“By making the most of SOA we can be more agile and we want an enterprise information platform so that we can get more re-use out of our components.”
Didcock wants the enterprise information platform to be the basis for improving the quantity and quality of information it provides to its customers and he cites a disruption at an airport, perhaps due to a baggage handlers strike or poor weather being where such a strategic tool will really deliver value to the customer.
“When there is a disruption is it tough to get real time data to all the parties that need it,” he says of the current position.
“We are now doing a blueprint and we have had a lot of complexity in the past as our growth was case by case,” he says of the way IT has had to grow at the velocity of take off opportunities at easyJet.
“You don’t throw away the rule book, but we had to get stuff built and out there, but it did add technology and business complexity,” he says with great honesty.
The interview with Didcock began on the subject of recruitment and retention of talent, an issue almost every CIO is struggling with. As Didcock ramps up the “number and scale or projects” he’s formed an alliance with EY.
“We will need to find overflow relationships with our suppliers. EY are giving is the Project Management Office (PMO), Business Analysts (BA) and Architecture to supplement our own teams and that is working really really well.
Didcock’s team have introduced Workday cloud based HR and is developing an intermediary system to create a simple payroll and HR architecture.
Low cost airlines such as easyJet took off on a new route when they took to the skies in the late 1990s, avoiding the GDS technology route and instead charting their own course with their own reservation platforms, designed to offer dynamic pricing and support the boom in online booking. However, despite the disruption that online has brought to travel, many organisations rely on GDS based business travel booking agencies and for easyJet to compete for this trade it has had to develop a way of working with GDS suppliers.
“We have new deals to work closely with GDS partners and develop their systems in line with our vision, particularly Amadeus, Kana and Ciboodle for Contact Centre management.
“We are seeing an increase from the deals with the GDS suppliers and they have worked well with us. So now easyJet is a business-to-business-to-customer (B2B2C) operation.
“We do not file fares, we have managed to retain the dynamic pricing model though XML,” he says.
Didcock is a keen advocate of the CIO as a broker working across the organisation to enable parts of the business to deliver outcomes and innovations.
“I personally haven’t been involved in the GDS deployment, the commercial department have done all the negotiations, but we led with all the plumbing,” he says.
Didcock has also been pushing the mobile agenda at the airline. There are now two major Apps, one for travellers and one for investors and the Inspire Me App is an example of how to rethink presentation and commerce for tablet devices. A design agency created the design and customer journey, but the airline plans to bring more of these skills in-house.
“The digital relationship is being redefined all the time. Our head of digital sites in marketing, when it comes to digital innovations, in practice we do it all together as an IT and digital team. Monitoring of social media is managed by an agency, but Didcock’s service desk has a Tweetdeck with threshold alerts to enable his team to respond to issues with the online services. Whilst Yammer was installed across the organisation for internal social collaboration.
“We don’t intervene there, you can let it ride as the peer pressure is positive, so in the main it self manages,” he says.
Mobile has also been having an impact on back office of easyJet, pilots now use Toughbooks in the flight deck, which the CIO says has helped automate a lot of processes.
“I am working on the same principals for the flight crew now. We are doing a lot of development on Apps platforms including a mobile flight tracker.
“We have found we need to create an Apps model and structure.”
Project Halo, which used Microsoft Azure to deploy mobile devices in airports and remove the need for easyJet to use airport owned check-in desks is in six airports “where we can achieve a cost advantage,” Didcock says.
“Ideally you have one person at the gate, but it is still at the pilot stage.”
“Our employee brand lags our consumer brand and yet we are a fantastic place to work,” Didcock says of the growing problem of securing and retaining IT talent in the UK. Didcock says he and his leadership team are working on making the employment market aware of what easyJet does in IT. The CIO says he’s considered an operation at Silicon Roundabout in London, but believes it is more beneficial if the organisation remains together.
“You have the whole of easyJet here and there is a buzz with a great environment where you work with the engineers and the operations staff. “
Didcock and his team have streamlined the recruitment process with interview to offer being made within a week, including doing interviews over Skype.
“It’s a two way process too so this way we are giving you a chance to see what it is like,” he says. Unlike other market sectors, Didcock believes easyJet should appeal to IT talent as its culture is closer to that of an IT start up, ties are practically banned, its casual clothing and there are a lot of stand up meeting areas.
“We are also doing a lot of work to structure people’s careers so that we can give people more of a career,” this includes investing in training both in business skills and technology certification from the likes of Microsoft.
“We are trying to make sure we give people the opportunity to train and we are moving a lot of legacy skills into our supplier base so that we can keep our people up to date.”
Didcock once described himself to this title as a “change junkie” and as he pilots a total architectural review to enable greater agility and takes his team with him, the description remains apt.