It’s been nearly four decades since Virgin Atlantic first took to the skies, and the airline industry has faced some big disruptions during that time. But the past year has presented a challenge on an altogether different scale. The coronavirus pandemic, changed everything as the world shut down and passenger numbers fell to record lows.
Navigating this new landscape could be seen as a daunting prospect, even for a business that has continually defied expectations − growing from a cheeky upstart that wanted to “come in and shake things up” into a global travel icon.
For Virgin Atlantic, which is building on this pioneering spirit to achieve its aim of being the world’s most-loved travel company, two areas are key to the future: digital transformation and exceptional service.
“Many believed that we wouldn’t survive,” Ash Jokhoo, Chief Data & Information Officer at Virgin Atlantic, says of the impact of the pandemic on the company.
“But the passion of our people and our partners have allowed us not only to thrive and survive the very difficult decisions from last year, but now prepare us for growth and recovery in the years ahead.”
Among those partners is Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). The companies have worked together for 17 years, and today they are building on that relationship with a strategic partnership designed to power Virgin Atlantic’s recovery and growth with cloud-first digital transformation.
TCS will have exclusive responsibility for this transformation and run the airline’s technology services end-to-end. The partnership will leverage Microsoft Azure to create a series of technology and business initiatives that will enhance innovation and bring new capabilities to the company, from increased automation to analytics-enabled decision-making.
And at the heart of the new agreement is TCS’ One Team approach to people and culture. More than 70 of the Technology team from Virgin Atlantic will transfer to TCS, uniting a diverse range of people and industry expertise.
“When we looked at our values around people, technology and society, extending the partnership with TCS was an easy decision,” Jokhoo says. “Providing thoughtful purpose-led technologies is going to be essential for us to allow our customers and our business to grow further.”
The enhanced partnership is something akin to a “renewal of vows”, according to Kirsty Bennett, Vice President Technology at Virgin Atlantic.
She describes the one-technology team approach as something that’s been important throughout TCS and Virgin Atlantic’s history together. “We’re just taking that relationship further, deeper and stronger to bring benefits to Virgin Atlantic and its customers,” she says.
This deep customer focus will be vital when the world opens up and people get used to flying again. Leisure trips are set to fuel the sector’s recovery, according to research from consulting firm McKinsey. But customers will have to navigate a new global travel landscape that Jokhoo describes as complicated.
The next step for Virgin Atlantic will be making these journeys as simple as possible, he adds.
The company was already investing in this area well before the pandemic. With support from TCS, it began its digital journey in mid-2016 with apps that allowed cabin crew to perform their duties without paper printouts.
From there, a host of cloud and business system implementations – including a customer service chat-bot and self-service baggage drop – were transforming the business at every point of the customer journey, from booking a flight to stepping off the plane.
So what comes next? According to Bennett, it’s about providing seamless journeys.
“Now we must achieve the digital service that you would expect from Virgin Atlantic in every interaction with our customers and employees,” she says. Looking at customer and employee insights, the company can identify areas that could benefit from digital enhancement to deliver a smoother experience.
A cloud-first strategy and efficient development methodologies are central to turning these insights into real-world impact.
“Cloud automation and DevOps allow us to deliver things in a much more integrated way,” Bennett says. “We can be more responsive. We can do things more iteratively if something’s not working or not quite reaching our customers in the way we want to reach them. And we can very quickly pivot to create a more pleasurable experience for customers.”
All of this will be vitally important in Virgin Atlantic’s journey to being the world’s most-loved travel company.
Technological transformation will help the business become more resilient and more able to adapt to change. But travel is all about experiences, and in a world that has gone without for so long in that respect, it’s the unrelenting focus on the customer that will ultimately help the company achieve its goal.
“We know that people want to travel,” Jokhoo says. “And we’re ready to welcome them physically and digitally as soon as they are.”