A dust-coated customer journey map, a broken relationship between IT and other departments within the organisation, and a business with its entire fleet grounded by the bombing at Brussels Airport greeted Simon Lamkin’s arrival at Brussels Airlines last year. He created the temporary structures and systems that allowed the planes to shuttle customers backwards and forwards again. He blew the cobwebs from the map and applied it to the whole organisation. And he didn’t just bring the IT function to the table again, he has made it the standard-bearer of a digital campaign that has inspired the whole senior management team.

Job title

Company name
Brussels Airlines

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
When I joined Brussels Airlines, I started asking questions about the customer experience and whether we had mapped this out. I found out to my delight that a customer journey map had indeed been developed. However, it was in a drawer, on a file server – an artefact that was never referred to. I looked through the map and asked it to be printed out so that I could refer to it – we produced a 10ft by 4ft print that was stuck to my office wall!

I then went about it with a pack of Post-It notes and Sharpie pens to make some changes, be more inclusive and make sure we had really thought things through from a true customer perspective. I ran this through with the head of customer experience, and we ran a workshop at our leadership team offsite to delve into what really happened with our product.

Customer Journey 2.0 was created. I had it printed out (slightly smaller – 6ft by 3ft) and produced one for every VP and management board member in the organisation. I wanted people to live and breathe this journey. This is now very visible in our head office. I have, however, started work on a new pack of Post-It notes…

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Well, it started unlike any job induction you will ever have come across. I arrived in Brussels on 1 April, just a week after the Brussels Airport bombings on 22 March. Despite working for an airline that flies from Heathrow to Brussels, I had to head into London and go to work by Eurostar on my first day. Brussels Airlines run a hub operation out of Brussels Airport, but with the airport closed for business, its entire fleet of 50 aircraft was grounded.

Desired business outcome no. 1 was to help the airline to start flying again! Over the coming days and weeks, we managed to start operations in Liege and Antwerp, airports we had never flown from or to before. We then extended the breadth of the service to operate out of Frankfurt and Zurich, with the support of our partners within the Lufthansa group.

We also learned social media in those first few weeks. A social media team was created by the afternoon of 22 March and over the last six months we have made our social media hub the heart of our office. Going into 2017, we plan to create a showcase social media centre in the entrance lobby of our head office to demonstrate that customers are at the heart of what we do in going the extra smile.

As alternative entry positions were made for Brussels airport, we had to create temporary structures/systems – we set up a ‘ticket office’ inside the back of a glass-sided lorry, with some power lines from the airport and a quickly developed sales desk connected by a 4G dongle to our reservation system. That stayed in place for well over two months.

At the time of the bombing, we were in the process of planning the roll-out of a new departure control system (DCS) across all 90 airports we operate from globally. We developed the plan and focused on the smaller airports, working our way up to the bigger stations, where we knew we would have a bigger challenge.

In June we made the big and brave (or stupid) decision to roll out the DCS to Brussels Airport. Parts of the terminal had reopened and many of the staff had been trained to use the system in February and March, so we decided to proceed with the plan. It was hard work, and we pulled in a lot of support from other airlines in the early weeks, but we got through and now have a fully operational DCS that is performing very well. A major success, and a major achievement to come in under budget on a significant multimillion-euro programme of change.

Finally, I have been able to get our mobile app live. This has been on ongoing saga for two years and is a case study in why IT departments do indeed cost money – but also add value, focus and the ability to make stuff happen.

I sat with the app delivery team, which was based in our commercial department, and asked some basic questions about plans, service contracts, consistent customer journey to website, information security, etc. I didn’t like the answers I received and gave them a week to fix it. Then I gave them another week. Then I went to the chief commercial officer and told him that IT was taking full control of the app from that day forward. I installed a project manager, introduced structured testing, started talking to suppliers about service contracts, and ran a penetration test on the platform.

Four months later we have iOS and Android apps live. Neither will win any app of the year awards, but we are up and running. I know how fundamental a mobile app is to an airline, and we now have the foundation product and a partner with ambition to drive this forward going into 2017. It has been a great lesson in the simple discipline of project management.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
This year’s focus has been on getting IT into the right place and cementing ourselves as a credible, trustworthy delivery organisation. Having said that, innovation is in my blood, so I have used our suppliers to help us drive the innovation agenda.

We organised a two-day off-site at a supplier’s innovation centre in Geneva for a selection of individuals I invited from across the organisation – product managers, training managers, country managers (Gambia), young potentials – about 12 Brussels Airlines staff in total. It was a really productive day, and I was encouraged to try and stimulate debate, and get the team thinking about doing things in ways other than ‘the way we have always done things’.

Off the back of this meeting we arranged a meeting with a supplier to start talking about operational data and how we needed to create a data lake that could be used by both our airport ops teams and our customers. We have since rapidly developed the first iteration of the data lake, and are now working on integrating it into our DCS product in the airports, into our ops control centre and into our app. It has been a fantastic model of working together as a unit, with great support from a supplier that really wants to make this work.

I have also been able to help the teams reflect on the direct distribution model. I have been able to assist the teams in adding allocated seating to the product offer for short and long-haul flights. This small change to the process has had a significant impact on revenue growth through direct channels.

 I also encouraged them to go one step further and make this available to all customers so that business travellers (booked by traditional business travel agents) would be offered the same services as our web/mobile customers. This has been a real key in thinking about the value proposition of the customer journey – the map that was created for every customer, not just those we had booked through digital channels.

With regards to technical innovation, we have led the way on two significant changes that in Europe or the US would seem irrelevant, but in our African stations have been revolutionary. I have had to come to terms with airports on the African continent working with daily power outages and mind-numbingly slow broadband (narrowband is more appropriate – 256k) lines to run an operation. Using the findings/thinking of the temporary airport ‘ticket office’, we created two game-changers:

  1. An airport in a box: We put together a laptop, printers, scanners and some power, built a large mobile (ie a large box on wheels) packing crate and shipped it to a station to try out
  2. Telco on a prepaid SIM: We then sourced a local 4G SIM card where we prepaid a huge number of gigabytes in data volume, created a mobile firewall router and produced a local African network peaking at 1-2Mb at a quarter of the monthly cost of the 256k line from our global telco provider!

I’ve learned in my time in Brussels that we all too often think about the problems in the nearby vicinity. Telling someone in the UK that we can offer them a mobile solution with a connection speed of 2Mb would get you a punch in the face. Thinking about a problem with a local perspective for Africa – this is ground-breaking innovation.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
This was my no. 1 priority. From reading the job description from the recruiter, I knew that the relationship between IT and other departments within the organisation was broken.

The first thing was to bring IT to the table again. The team was demotivated because of a large two-year programme of work to change our core reservation system and airport departure control system. The team were excited about the programme and what it was doing, but not about the way in which it was being done. IT had imposed a ‘leave ban’ for the duration of the project. Never before had I heard of anything quite so preposterous – 18 months in and people had built up 60+ days’ leave owing to them! I changed this straight away. I’m now just about getting to know the team again as some of the key members of IT took six weeks off to tour Africa – something that I fully encouraged and supported.

The IT department were very much ‘order takers’. When a requesting department did not like the answer it was given, it would go off and find a solution and then hand it over to IT. I came across multimillion-pound programmes running where suppliers were being managed and directed by non-IT teams.

I went around every department telling them that the rules of the game had changed and that I was here to help and pick up projects, and put a professional structure in place where teams would have an IT business partner who would support them, help them develop a game plan’ for the coming year and provide a conduit into a professional delivery team.

The development team has taken on code developed by colleagues in other departments. We have introduced correct working methods, source code control, continuous delivery techniques and started the process of true partnership across all departments.

We have picked up appropriate control of our suppliers, installed some basic SRM principles and have agreed a way of working where requests can come into the system managers, be assessed, considered how they affect the customer journey, be reviewed against the architectural needs, and put in the appropriate queue for development. We are far from perfect now, but we have a process and willingness to work on improving throughout 2017.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
I have created two critical organisational teams since I joined, both of which are now part of the management board team structure and form part of our ongoing governance model of running the organisation, with the CEO sitting on both teams:

  1. Information security steering group: I set this up in the first three months of joining after reviewing where we were on the infosec roadmap. The steering group is 80% of the management board of Brussels Airlines and is a mandatory monthly meeting. It has opened eyes to the current level of maturity in information security and is now the group that is authorising spend and priority on the three-year programme that is now in place;
  2. Digital innovation board: This team has been set up in recent months to address the need to raise awareness of the digital agenda within the airline and highlight that digital does not just mean the website. We have regular meetings mapped out in the diary throughout 2017, with guest speakers and technology demos to highlight the art of the possible. Strands of the IT strategy are being played out through this critical board.

We now have a much greater awareness of digital across all elements of the management board.

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
I make no bones about this: I have utilised some core suppliers I have worked with for many years. This has helped get new suppliers into Brussels Airlines, and I have been able to influence them to provide some low-cost or free proof-of-concept solutions to help us build a business case for change. The data lake innovation was funded by a supplier I had worked extensively with for six years prior to joining Brussels. This has been a massive success as the proof of concept was presented to our management board and is now a strategic project for the airline.

We have also worked on the network of peers within the aviation industry to look at new opportunities together to achieve common goals. It’s very difficult when you compete within the same market, but very easy when a European carrier sits down and works with a US carrier. We have also created an innovation fund with a common software supplier for both airlines to hook into startups in Silicon Valley.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
At this stage, we have not started recruiting, and we find ourselves in the traditional IT mould, where only 8.5% of the team are female. I’m looking to bring new energy and corporate/industry diversity into the IT organisation, as we also have a significant proportion of the team from the Sabena days – so there’s a high number of staff in a small team with over 15 years of service.

I met some amazing students from Delft University in April 2016 that blew me away. I certainly want to tap into the mindset of energetic students of aviation design to join the team. The course has a much higher spread of females than the technology degrees within the same university, but the aviation design students understand the concepts of customers and the need to innovate in and around the airport space.

The critical part of building a team is finding people who want to work in a culture, people who understand why passengers will book with Brussels Airlines as opposed to the standard technicians out there today who are perfect at delivering the how of booking.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Following on from the work on developing the customer Journey map, I have reinforced this with the organisational design we have put in place. I have always had head of commercial and operations roles as part of an IT structure, and nine times out of 10 they fail to communicate and work together to create a solid foundation with end-to-end thinking. That is why I have created a head of customer experience – a role that mirrors the customer journey – with teams below that partner each of the key parts of our organisation.

We have also changed the way we manage service. The old desk was there to pass on calls to second and third-line support – they were not the face of IT support. We have introduced a new service desk tool that enables the user community to raise calls and track progress through a web portal. We are now expanding the shape/scope of the team so they start getting up from the service desk and visiting the user community within head office to address local issues with hardware and connection problems.

Finally, I’m encouraging all service staff to make sure they make regular trips to Brussels Airport to keep on top of what happens in our key customer-facing environment, and to make sure they have trips to our African stations planned so they do not lose touch with a very different way of working for many of our colleagues.

The overall model of our IT structure is a small team with roles for vital IT functions that add value to the organisation. We need people who are proud to have the Brussels Airlines badge around their neck, who understand the business and IT strategies alike, and who understand the importance of customers.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
There have been no major technology deals made in the last year, as the focus has been on implementing the major deal that was struck two years ago, with Amadeus for the implementation of the new reservation and departure control platform.

We have extended our services with Microsoft and will continue to move services into Azure as we drive on the cloud-first strategy and move out of our traditional datacentres. 2017 will set the blueprint for the hosting model to be adopted, and we are recruiting to assist in that plan throughout January.

Our core strategy is to integrate best-of-breed systems; in aviation, there are a small number of niche players that create specialist systems to tackle aviation issues, such as crew rostering, aircraft engineering and maintenance, safety systems, to name but a few. We will continue to bring these systems together using the core glue of a Biztalk enterprise service bus.

I have cemented the relationship with Datalex, the provider of our internet booking engine, which again has passed control back to the remit of IT. We have been able to change the working model to agile, and start leveraging more control in the deployment of new functionality on our website, which has really driven increases in revenue.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
The aim for 2017 is to have a step-change in the Brussels Airlines web and mobile channels in terms of functionality offered and reach to our customer base. 2016 proved that the opportunity is there; 2017 is about delivering on that ambition.

Technology strategy is critical for this year, as major hosting contracts end in 2018 and we need to create the blueprint for a cloud-based solution that will move us away from the old-school datacentre thinking and into the realms of hyperconvergence.

We will also be working on the analysis phase of integrating fully into the Lufthansa group. In December 2016 Lufthansa acquired the remaining 55% of Brussels Airlines, so 2017 will be very much focused on shaping the next iteration of this airline.

Enterprise mobility is also a key innovation area this year. There is a rich opportunity to transform the airport experience and try to kill off some of the monstrous legacy within aviation – collectively, the industry must possess the world’s last dot-matrix printers and VHF radios. Surely 2017 will enable us to start introducing smartphones that can sync with tablets that are 200 metres away!

Finally, I want to kickstart our recruitment campaign and build a robust diverse team of tech-savvy individuals who want to do all that they can to drive the very best customer experience into all our sales channels.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Simple. We are letting Brexit happen and benefiting from the issues that are being forced onto our competitors based in the UK. Having said that, I may well need to consider my role if I have to join the non-EU queue at immigration every week commuting to and from Brussels!


When did you start your current role?
1 April 2016

What is your reporting line?

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
We have a VP digital role reporting to the CCO. This is a new role and is critical to the process we have put in place to manage the priority and commercial roadmap for web and mobile, allowing IT to concentrate on creating a leading delivery organisation that has been designed correctly.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
We meet weekly – every week as part of the management board and every fortnight face to face.

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
3,500 staff across Europe, Africa and North America (and India from March 2017).


What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Annual IT opex budget is €34m.

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
97% is keeping the lights on, and 3% is innovation.


Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. Analyst houses
  2. CIO peers
  3. Consultants
  4. Industry bodies
  5. Media


Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Yes we have a CISO and he reports to me as CIO.


Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?

How many employees are there in your IT team?

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?


Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • ERP
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • wearables
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Artificial intelligence and cognitive computing are really high up the agenda, and I truly believe they will become mainstream in aviation during 2017. I can see massive improvements in customer service and cost reduction through the introduction of these technologies.


Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?