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Cathay Pacific’s IT Head Rethinks Innovation And Customer Experience

by Peter High, published on Forbes

3-10-2015

When Cathay Pacific began winning airline industry awards, it was for the service provided by its staff onboard the plane, the quality of the food and entertainment, and innovations to seats in each cabin of the aircraft, among other aspects. It may be surprising to find that one of the co-heads of the innovation for the airline as a whole is the IT Director (the CIO equivalent) Joe Locandro. (Perhaps even more surprising, his co-head is the head of Human Resources!) Locandro has taken charge due to the airline’s appreciation of the role that data will play in shaping the customer experience.  In my interview herein, he provides several compelling examples of the innovations that his team will deliver to customers, each of which will be of great interest to frequent travelers.

It should also be noted that Locandro has strong opinions on who ought to be the digital leader within the enterprise. There continue to be a variety of CIOs who have roles that are largely internally facing.  Locandro’s focus is bidirectional: both toward customers and to the enterprise.  Locandro believes that the digital leaders of the future ought to come from IT, as IT is the one division of the company that has understanding of the digital implications both internally and externally. He make the point that Marketing leaders (who often are thought of as future digital leaders) fix their gaze exclusively outside the company, and therefore do not think enough about how digital can improve the experience of employees.  In any event, Locandro is a model IT executive that other CIOs ought to emulate.

(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this podcast, please visit this link.  If you would like to read future interviews with CIOs like Joe Locandro, please click the “Follow” link above.)

Peter High: You are the IT director for Cathay Pacific, and yours is an organization that has been awarded many times.  The company has been voted best airline 4 times.  I was interested that your CEO’s mission includes a goal of having the best technology in the industry.  I wonder if you could talk a bit about how you, he, and your team define the best technology.

Joe Locandro: I think there’s a reason to ask “why do we think that’s so important” in an airline, and the reason we need the best technology is that technology in the aviation industry (which is very complex) draws from 3 fundamental areas.  One is in the area of customer intimacy.  The second one is on operational efficiency.  And the third area is on innovation. An airline needs each of those components to be one of the best airlines in the world.  And there’s a recognition that under the wing, on top of the wing, in the aircraft, on the ground, everything from catering services to baggage services -technology underpins the whole operation. So with that background, Cathay needs to continually invest in the technology to draw those 3 types of outcomes.  How do we define best?  Best isn’t always the most expensive or the most complex.  It’s the most appropriate.  Some of the areas that we’re looking at include investing in our infrastructure; using new technology such as adopting cloud solutions, or infrastructure as a service, Voice over IP (to consolidate and operate 33 call centers globally), across many countries and languages. We need to invest in the infrastructure that will enable that.  But also, invest in technology that lowers our operational cost.  So adopting technology and infrastructure to underpin those business outcomes is very important.  So you need to have scalable, cost effective, on-demand computing infrastructure to enable all those customer intimacy projects, those operational efficiency projects, and those innovation projects to occur.

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