Coronavirus has impacted the travel industry, but as it adapts, there is one factor airlines have always worked hard to minimize: delayed flights.
Arriving late or missing a connection can severely impact the customer experience, which is why airlines work hard to maintain high rates of on-time performance (OTP). To that end, pilots may have to use extra fuel to make up for a delayed departure or to reach a destination early, even if it means circling the airport before landing.
Delivering a stellar customer experience for any industry is paramount. However, time-saving flight techniques can burn more fuel and increase emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other greenhouse gases. Finnair has teamed up with Snowflake to tackle both by deploying modern data analytics and secure data sharing as part of its modern data strategy.
To address this tradeoff between the customer experience and environmental sustainability, Finnair is relying on data.
As the largest airline and flag carrier of Finland, Finnair has established a host of ambitious long-term sustainability goals, including cutting net emissions in half (from pre-COVID levels) by 2025 and attaining carbon neutrality by 2045.
Finnair believes data analytics is key to attaining its sustainability goals. For example, if operational data can be used to develop more accurate flight plans, then Finnair can preserve its OTP without using additional fuel to do so. Data-driven insights also provide visibility into how accurate these evolving flight plans are and can enable continuous improvement.
Sustainability is one important piece of a much larger vision Finnair holds around digital transformation. “Our vision is that, by 2025, our data savviness will make the whole organization the most efficient, reliable, and personal travel company,” Finnair’s Head of Data, Minna Karha said. Everything rests on Finnair’s data strategy.
Building a data strategy with wings
How do you develop a data strategy that maximizes the probability of success? For Finnair, it starts with alignment between organizational strategy and data strategy, coupled with a company-wide push to build a data-driven culture and a consistent focus on delivering a strong customer experience.
To that end, Finnair has built a five-year phased roadmap for its data strategy, from which five crucial elements emerge.
#1 Data availability
A widespread challenge in the airline industry involves combining data across systems. For example, bookings and ticketing data are not always available in the same system. As a result, many carriers struggle to understand a customer’s journey from end to end.
That’s why Finnair decided to focus first on data availability and establish a solid data infrastructure. The airline needed data to be available to all teams in a single, accessible, and secure environment where outcomes could be shared with other business units.
The Finnair data team knew these requirements meant moving data and data analytics to the cloud. Rather than build on top of the previous architecture, the data team examined its technology stack and determined a cloud data platform would provide the single source of data they needed.
Finnair adopted Snowflake’s cloud data platform for data analysis, data modeling, and data sharing. With its key data sources combined, Finnair analysts now use and analyze data with ease, and the consistent data model makes it easy to import large volumes of data for predictions.
In addition, data is now available in a shared, accessible, and secure environment for all teams to access and use, which breaks down silos across business units.
#2 Data asset product owners
But Finnair didn’t stop there: The airline took this silo-busting idea one step further by creating a new role called data asset product owners. While this position reports into Karha’s data team, the role works across organizational units and focuses on treating data as a valuable business asset.
Finnair defined a number of data assets (e.g. customer data, production services data) that are critical for the company to run its everyday business, and there are now five data asset owners who manage those data sets. These data owners work with all the different business units to ensure company-wide usage, keep track of the development backlog, and build and implement tools to identify and measure business value.
The data asset owner role feeds into the second and current phase of Finnair’s data strategy, which focuses on data asset value and data governance. In addition, the company is working towards ensuring data quality, understanding the content of its data, and further building out its data catalogue.
#3 Data culture
Building a data culture helps release the full potential and value of data assets. However, the process of becoming a data-driven organization requires employees to change behaviors and develop new skills.
One technique Finnair has adopted involves knowledge-sharing events. For instance, the airline holds bi-monthly analytics afternoons, which include an external keynote speaker for inspiration and internal employees sharing what individual teams have developed. The idea is to make data usage transparent within the organization and demonstrate what’s been done, what can be done, and which colleagues to turn to when questions arise.
Finnair is also looking at different strategies to ensure everyone is exposed to, and understands, data through strategies such as job rotations and training.
“There’s an opportunity to build skills through job rotations,” Karha states. “We want to empower and nurture peer support groups where employees, who are interested in similar topics around data and analytics, can learn from each other.”
#4 Customer journey
Ultimately, everything revolves around the customer experience and how well an organization delivers a product or service.
For Finnair, its data strategy is designed to deliver a stronger, end-to-end traveler experience. The airline wants to understand every moment of the customer journey, link real-time data to probable outcomes, and take action as early as possible to mitigate potential problems.
For example, operational data can help Finnair predict flight delays, based on factors such as weather and runway capacity, and then link that information with passengers and their flights. By understanding the whole chain reaction, Finnair can take proactive steps, such as rebooking passengers in advance of the likelihood they may miss their connecting flights.
#5 Data sharing
With more data comes greater insights and opportunities. That’s why secure data sharing is the hallmark of any data strategy.
With Secure Data Sharing from Snowflake, Finnair doesn’t need to copy or move data in order to share it. Data sharing enables instant and secure sharing of live, governed data with internal teams via an organization’s own data exchange created within Snowflake, as well as for data acquired from external organizations via Snowflake Data Marketplace.
Circling back to Finnair’s sustainability goals, secure data sharing will be key for optimizing flight plans and working in collaboration with other entities such as air traffic control. In addition, Finnair already shares some data with partner airlines, and a proof of concept is currently being run on their joint businesses to test sharing certain data (flights, customer information) through the cloud data platform.
Ready for take-off? Data strategies work for all industries
While Finnair is proving what’s possible in the airline industry, the same general principles of data and data analytics apply everywhere, regardless of business or industry.
The first step is to put the right data stack in place that enables performance and accessibility. With Snowflake’s cloud data platform, the ability to securely share, acquire, and combine data from various sources is built into the platform, as are the tools needed to work with the data. For any company that wants to analyze a comprehensive set of data, the Data Cloud represents the only method to safely share live, governed data across and between organizations.
For Finnair, adopting Snowflake’s platform enables the airline to move forward with its data strategy, which will help bring about more accurate flight plans and cleaner skies. And that’s something every passenger will appreciate.
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