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Qantas fast evolving into a digital business, says CTO

Qantas is fast evolving to become a digital business, in response to how customers interact with the brand, according to the airline’s chief technology officer, Rob James.

“If you think about it from a customer’s perspective most of their touchpoints with Qantas the brand is through digital channels. It’s only once you finally get to the airport and you experience a lounge or you get on an aircraft that you experience a physical touchpoint,” James told an audience Wednesday at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on  Australia's Gold Coast.

"For the most part you’re not walking into a travel agent anymore to book a ticket, you’re doing it online. You’re preparing a lot of things online or through mobile devices. You’re managing your relationship with the brand online. So we are very fast becoming a digital business,” he said.

James, who has been in the role since August said customer facing technologies were a priority for the national carrier, and were considered a point of competitive advantage.

"There is going to always be technology that just runs your business, and they'll be parts of that technology stack that aren't a differentiator. It might be how you manage your workforce, your fleet, your assets or your finances,” he said as part of an Avenade hosted panel discussion.

“But the areas we see that are differentiators are your customer touch points. How you reach out to your customer, how you provide services to the customer,” he said.

James replaced Chris Taylor who quit as Qantas CTO in February after being in the role since January 2014. James’ previously role was at bookmakers William Hill, where the digital focus was more mature, he said.

"In my previous role, we were a digital business. And what was interesting about that, sitting on the executive team there, was the amount of technology knowledge across the executive team. And also the need for myself to be able to speak in meaningful business terms – the technology was just part of the DNA of the business,” he said.

"Which made for very interesting debates. I remember having very robust conversations with the CFO about blockchain when he knew more about it then I did!”

Technology was increasingly a priority at Qantas too, James explained.

“Qantas as an organisation has really started to embrace technology as a differentiator in the business. We've got some very aggressive strategies around customers and operations and they're all backed by technology.”

Move early on AI

The company is now looking to introduce artificial intelligence and machine learning to different areas of the business. Work is already underway around predictive maintenance for aircraft.

Giving advice to CIOs and CTOs looking to introduce AI technologies into their business, James said it was important to move early.

Sharing advice with CIOs seeking to introduce AI, James said it was important to move early.

“Don't wait, AIs happening right now and you need to be at least experimenting to see where it’s going to help you, it’s not a wait and see kind of thing. It’s going to be a game changer for a lot of industries. And if you wait you'll be waiting yourself out of business,” he said.

“[It’s also about] finding the right use cases. It may not be one approach to everything. You need to find the right use cases within your organisation and get the learnings from that and if it doesn't work try something else.”

IDG Insider

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