This was a pretty good week for Air Canada. At its annual meeting this week it announced record profits, and its share price soared as a result. It said it would offer additional cross-border flights in response to U.S. carriers trimming back due to fuel costs. A surprise baby was born on board one of its planes. This may all sound a lot more exciting than the technology investments Lise Fournel has been making, but what she’s doing should be of interest to IT leaders across the country.
Fournel, Air Canada’s senior vice-president and CIO, was recently featured as a guest author in a Microsoft blog post discussing how her firm has been using Office 365 and related products such as Yammer. Although the post is obviously a sort of public relations exercise and may have been ghost-written, it goes a bit beyond the traditional case study or customer testimonial to offer a few clues about Air Canada’s corporate direction and the role IT plays in contributing value to the organization. Consider the following:
Employee expectations are cleared for takeoff: If you work for a law firm or a bank and people are chomping at the bit for new ways of working, you’re not alone. “Many of our employees, including pilots, flight attendants and ground crew, don’t sit at desks in front of PCs but work throughout the world on a 24/7 basis, so we needed non-traditional ways to deliver IT services,” Fournel writes, adding that demographic influences create a pressure all their own. “The Millennial Generation coming into our workforce is fluent in social and mobile communications tools. They use them in their personal lives, and they expect them at work.” If non-traditional workplaces like Air Canada are accommodating these kinds of demands, CIOs in other firms may need to follow suit.
Fasten your seat belts — even employee information should be personalized: Although creating more one-to-one digital relationships is the Holy Grail of many firms I encounter, IT leaders may also need to spend more time ensuring they don’t’ take a one-size-fits-all approach to the way they communicate with various staff. Fournel’s post offers details about ACaeronet, which sounds like an intranet but is more function-specific. “Pilots see different information than mechanics or flight attendants,” she writes. “It also contains a comprehensive directory and organizational charts to make it easy to locate colleagues for needed assistance.” Although there were once reports about the intranet’s demise, I suspect we’ll see a greater effort by large organizations to create an omni-channel experience for their increasingly distributed teams that helps them collaborate much more loosely but also fluidly.
Great IT makes employees treat everyone as though they’re sitting in First Class: Air Canada’s use of social networking tools sounds much as you’d expect, though Fournel suggested it could not only be a conduit for working together but enriching the customer experience. “Employees are a community of like-minded travellers,” she said. “They also share travel tips, hotel recommendations and even restaurant suggestions for cities all over the world.” This kind of thing could actually be a more compelling business case for such tools than the usual song and dance about staff keeping in touch via text or “liking” each other’s status updates.
Of course, since this came from a Microsoft property there is absolutely no mention of the work Air Canada has been doing with Apple and IBM with its enterprise apps. Maybe that’ll be the subject of Fournel’s next post — for a Big Blue blog.
C-FIUR Boeing 777 Air Canada via photopin (license)