Air passenger traffic in India is expected to reach 452 million by 2020, making India the third largest aviation market in the world. With passengers gearing up to embrace self-service, mobile and social media technologies for a faster and convenient air travel, Venky Sanjeeva,
senior director and head of transportation, Unisys India, tells Sayan Chakraborty about the challenges and opportunities in store for technology service providers in the aviation sector. Excerpts:
India’s airlines have been bleeding money for quite some time now. In such circumstances, what value does this sector provide to an IT company?
The journey that the Indian aviation market is going through now has happened worldwide earlier. Consolidation has happened in North America, Europe and even Asia. Its the natural aspect of any growth. If you look at the last decade, aviation has been growing in India. Once you try to describe the size of aviation in India, you have to look at a few things. One is obviously the traffic, both people and cargo. But, aviation in totality is a lot more than that. There are a lot of ancillary industries that feed the overall aviation industry. Flying an aircraft end-to-end doesn’t happen easily. There is a whole suite of services from catering to ground services, which come into play.
What services does Unisys offer in the aviation sector?
Our role is basically to serve three aspects. One is providing IT solution to the passenger business of an airline, like reservation and departure control systems. The second is the cargo business of the airline. The third one is to provide airport solutions. We have been in the field for a long time. The first solution that we built for an airline was almost four decades ago. That legacy is being continued. More recently, about seven years ago, we embarked on a journey to refurbish the solutions we offer. We started building contemporary solutions using current technologies. The teams in India are working on the newer solutions.
Among the three segments, what are your key focus areas?
The larger numbers are from our cargo and passenger services. We have some of the world’s largest airlines using our solutions in cargo in North America, some in APAC and Europe. There are basic differences between the passenger and cargo systems. In the passenger segment, you sell the seat and then its up to the passenger to board and leave the aircraft. In cargo, the biggest challenge is that it’s not one piece. Our systems help pre-processing of the cargo. It also involves automation for customs interfaces so that the approvals are obtained through government agencies in an automated manner.
In the airports space, we offer only the solution and don’t run it. We implement those solutions. Some airports are more automated than others. So we build systems to suit that particular unit.
How does Unisys create a differentiated service for its customers?
Passenger reservation is the bloodline of any airline. The differentiation in services offered is very difficult to discern for the end customer. Today we all go to the web screen to decide what services to purchase. Our solutions help build that differentiation. Our solution is built around the customer. The genesis of a relationship between an airline and the customer is the ticketing process. Earlier solutions used flight segment as the starting point whereas our solutions have turned that around. Today, an airline decides to add a new segment knowing the preferences of the frequent fliers. The knowledge base one gains through the frequent flier systems helps them to deliver products that customers are seeking.
What are the initiatives you are taking on the technology front to improve your products and services?
One of the things we are doing is to build contemporary solutions using contemporary technologies. The new technologies allow us to deliver solutions sooner and it is more cost effective. That’s what we are doing in both passenger and cargo spaces. We are also in the process of establishing a centre of excellence for the airlines here and the first framework of that is already being discussed. So for the rest of this year and early next year, that will be in place here. The centre of excellence will be a one-stop shop for any aspect of the products and services we provided. It may be inputs about the aviation market, competition or road map for future development. Mobility is another big area today.
What are the opportunities and challenges for technology service providers in the aviation sector?
Today, most of the airlines in India use services provided by global providers. There isn’t large India-based service providers, unlike in China or North America. In India, that opportunity is ripe and our plan is to look at that. In terms of challenges, the need for those kind of services is paramount now. The global service providers and the solutions that they bring are not localised to suit the market here. The other challenge is, when an airline looks at investment, they often like to purchase a new aircraft than invest in technologies that feed their business. It is always a challenge for the airlines to decide whether the investment goes into the IT realm or their core business.