Every day we read about how innovative technologies are changing the world, whether it’s AI, the Internet of Things or data analytics. But while these tools undoubtedly hold enormous potential for almost every area of life and work, implementing them in a business context and getting widespread adoption isn’t as easy as buying a piece of software, or a new widget to tag onto existing systems. For these technologies to make a real impact, you need the data to feed them. And that means digitising your entire day-to-day operations.

The drive for digitisation is by no means unique to air transport; plenty of other industries are grappling with the same issues. But it’s hard to think of any other sector that faces quite as many obstacles, due to complexity and unique ways of working. So, where other organisations can invest in generic business tools, such as Slack, Facebook Pro or Salesforce, air transport demands a more tailored approach, with tools built around it’s specific characteristics and needs.

Here are just a few of the biggest challenges air transport faces on the road to digitisation:

  • Long value chain and complex, fragmented ecosystem: With up to 15 stakeholders involved in serving passengers and processing flights, change needs to happen at an ecosystem level, with all stakeholders aligned and synchronised on a unique tool. For this to happen, the industry needs a solution that meets the specific needs of each party, and is intuitive to use.

  • Short-term contracts between partners and suppliers: Contracts between airlines and ground handlers can be as short as a couple of years, reducing the appetite to invest in digital transformation and alignment between partners. Ground handlers will only feel confident making this investment, if they know the tools they implement will continue to be useful in the long-term, while simultaneously increasing the value they can offer - and the profits they can earn.

  • Data silos: Air transport’s long and fragmented value chain means that data is spread among multiple organisations in a whole variety of formats. Collating this data into a single location is almost impossible, not to mention managing access confidentiality, privacy and GDPR compliance. The ecosystem can only overcome this issue by changing the way it collects and shares data at the source.

  • Making data actionable: Airlines, airports and ground handlers generate mountains of passenger and flight data every day. Collecting the data is one issue, but doing so in a way that makes it actionable for each level of the business requires sector-specific insight and filters. Data must be adapted to the specific format of each IT system, as well as being delivered at the right time and sorted in the right way to be useful.

  • Diverse business rules: Air transport also has a whole set of unique business rules, which must be incorporated into digital systems and processes. Establishing and maintaining these business rules requires both a perfect knowledge of detailed operations, as well as the capability to design the IT to reflect these.

  • The ecosystem is constantly evolving: Contracts come and go in air transport, with new stakeholders, IT systems and processes coming into play all the time.Maintaining data consistency, while factoring in business rules at such a large scale, is an ongoing battle.

  • Getting the UX right: With such a wide range of users, building a UX that enables everyone to interact with and handle the data isn’t easy. If your system is complex to use, requires lengthy and detailed training and brings poor value to the user, adoption will be low and the system useless.

Digital platforms such as Slack, Facebook Pro, Salesforces or Atlassian have amazing capabilities and are already in use at scale in many business areas. I don’t know any developers or any independent contractors who still use mail to work in teams, due to the speed and collaboration capabilities these platforms offer. But they are not made to handle such a complex network of stakeholders, nor the volume and variety of data that exists in air transport. A Slack thread centralising flight data would likely run about 2km long!

You could argue that another possible solution would be an integration platform, such as mindtree, informatica or Tibco, however these platforms are limited in handling industry-specific business models, particularly as the air transport ecosystem evolves over time.

The only effective solution is to turn to an industry specialist, with technology designed for the specific needs of the air transport sector. Deolan’s Logbook has been built for exactly this purpose, designed with input from ground handlers, airlines and airports to perfectly suit their needs.

On the one hand, Logbook provides a central location for communication and collaboration between partners and colleagues, and on the other, it collects, stores and organises this information, establishing a data hub for the entire ecosystem.

And with the data you need at your fingertips, you have the foundation for any number of innovations, to drive efficiency, customer experience and growth, right across the air transport ecosystem.