Vinod Bhat, Chief Information Officer, Vistara

Enterprises in the transportation sector are increasingly leveraging ICT solutions to improve their overall efficiency and deliver world-class services. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic further accelerated digital adoption among enterprises in the transportation industry. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data and cloud are making inroads into the sector as organisations are discovering newer use cases around these new-age solutions. Vinod Bhat, Chief Information Officer, Vistara talks about the role of ICT in transforming the sector, the key technology solutions deployed by his company, deployment challenges and the way forward…

How has ICT transformed the transportation and mobility sector?

ICT has played a pivotal role in transforming the way we do business, especially in the travel, transport and mobility sectors. It has helped connect the dots digitally across the value chain and provide end-to-end visibility, along with seamless service to various stakeholders.

The pandemic demanded several quick changes in the aviation industry, which became possible because of ICT. From helping manage flight schedules and disruptions when an increasing number of flights were being cancelled to revolutionising travel by providing touchless services to customers, the recent developments in ICT have had enormous benefits for operations and cost optimisation. ICT systems help in taking informed decisions regarding the safety and maintenance of aircraft, as well as new flying routes. Well-managed ICT systems can generate tremendous pro­fits by frequently capturing revenue generating opportunities. New-age digital technologies such as cloud, big data, analytics, automation, AI and ML are the key enabl­ers in this transformation.

What are some of the use cases of technologies such as cloud, big data, AI and IoT in the transport sector?

There are several use cases of Industry 4.0 technologies like cloud, big data, AI, ML, IoT and automation in the aviation industry. The use of such technologies can help co­mpanies reduce their operational costs ex­ponentially and enhance customer experience through personalised offers and services.

Some examples that are visible to external audiences are deployment of biometrics and edge computing technologies for a seamless travel experience, and chatbots to provide instant assistance to customers. Cloud architecture helps optimise cost and inc­rease resilience and adaptability of aviation companies. By analysing data trends, AI and big data can help airline companies in taking proactive decisions related to flight planning, flight operations, ground servi­c­es, customer engagement, aircraft en­gi­neering, safety, and so on.

At airports, IoT sensors are used for better social distancing, security and gate management. Thermal cameras are used to identify customers with fever/Covid-19 symptoms.

What are the key technology solutions deployed by your company? How have they helped improve business and operations?

Vistara, since its inception, has been at the forefront of technology adoption and leadership. We are the first airline to have in­troduced touchless/paperless boarding at a few Indian airports two years ago and we continue to invest in various web/mobile digital technologies to revamp the way our customers travel.

Given the complexity of airline operations and the dynamic nature of the business we operate in, we are India’s first and one of the few airlines in the world to have 100 per cent cloud-based IT infrastructure. This makes things a lot more efficient and easier, helps us optimise costs, deploy seamless operations and make the organisation dynamically scalable. From enhancing our website and mobile application to passenger identification and baggage screening, to customer support and predictive maintenance, we relied heavily on technologies like AI to strengthen processes and facilitate a seamless travel experience for passengers.

Our teams have developed big data so­lutions to get a comprehensive view of our customers and their needs. We are on a digital transformation journey and are enhancing our “NextGen Connected eCo­m­­merce Ecosystem”, which will exte­nd the digital experience to customers and drive sales and marketing strategies. It will help provide an impeccable experience to our passengers through personalised content that caters to their specific needs. In terms of automation and productivity im­provement, we are in the process of transforming our fleet maintenance operations. The e-enabling data exchange between the aircraft and the base has been further enhanced for uploading software updates and downloading automatically generated reports, logs, etc. Flight planning and network planning are also processes that we are automating by developing solutions for intelligent flight operations.

What are some of the challenges faced while deploying new-age technologies?

While new-age digital technologies have helped transform the industry, there are se­ve­ral challenges that need to be add­ressed. First, the adoption and streamlining of these operations is not limited to an organisation; the industry must come together to ensure that these processes are sustained well and reviewed regularly. Se­cond, the seamless integration and exchan­ge of data across heterogeneous systems in real time can sometimes be challenging. The task of maintaining and processing this data is complex.

With multiple stakeholders, enforcing data security and cybersecurity compliance across the enterprise can be time-consuming. Sometimes, picking up the right digital technology for the enterprise becomes a challenge as it can be confusing to decide what meets the requirement. Lastly, for large digital projects, a good amount of research and planning goes into justifying the return on investment.

Going forward, what technological trends are expected to shape the sector?

It has been said that the pandemic has stimulated years of innovation in a matter of months. There is a surfeit of state-of-the-art technologies that are likely to shape the entire mobility sector. Before the pandemic, innovations such as touchless or low-contact travel were being made to create a more enjoyable, hassle-free expe­rience for the customer. The recovery from Covid-19 has sped up this process drastically, with touchless travel gaining a whole new meaning.

Various biometric technologies such as facial recognition, fingerprint system, QR scanners and smart cameras will soon become the sole ways of recognition and identification, leading to a complete paperless travelling experience. Smart airports powered by IoT technologies will play an essential role in guiding customers at che­ck-in counters and boarding gates, as well as airport staff and security agencies, by collecting and analysing data from various IoT sensors.

The adoption of 5G technology will significantly enhance customer experience, in-flight entertainment, safety, security and big data decision-making because of its high speed, reliability and ultra-low latency characteristics. To ensure that th­e­re is no misplacement or delay in the deli­v­ery of baggage, blockchain and RFID technologies will help travellers to track their baggage in real time. Lastly, we can expect big data and analytics, powered by AI, ML and automation, to continue to integrate data across customers, operations, planning, marketing, sales, engine­e­ring and support services to help make in­formed decisions.