I just returned from the 2013 IBM Airline Summit in Prague where I met with about 40 senior executives from airlines worldwide. The summit was two full days packed with stimulating panel discussions, group activities and breakout sessions with speakers from airlines, industry analysts, and other consumer-facing businesses such as Coca-Cola and Netflix.  I led a discussion about how nimble businesses are using social tools and techniques to help their employees be more effective, innovate, and share their knowledge.

Here are a few take-aways from the Airline Summit:

IBM’s Eric Conrad kicked it off with a fascinating vision for the near term future of travel.

Travel customers expect a truly personalized experience, before during and after their trip. That means airlines will need to become much more engaged with customers by using social business tools, big data and analytics.  Eric issued 4 challenges to the group:

  • Automate the ordinary to deliver the extraordinary
  • Collaborate far beyond current comfort zones
  • Elevate customer data analytics to an art form
  • Aggressively dismantle barriers to change

New IBM and PhoCusWright study about social business in the travel industry

PhocusWrights’s Norm Rose led a session about the new study PhoCusWright and IBM have launched for the travel industry. The study takes the pulse of the travel industry’s use and abuse of social platforms and reveals the strategies and tactics they are using today. Surveying all sectors of the travel market, the survey will dig deep into their tools, techniques, benchmarks, question marks, successes and flops. If you’re in the travel industry and you’re asked to participate, go for it!  Then watch for the results which will be published in a few months.

Why big data matters to airlines

We saw a panel discussion about “Airlines, Big Data & the Customer Experience.” Panelists discussed how airlines can take advantage of analytics to drive revenue growth and reduce costs. The consensus was that many organizations will need to change their culture and how they think about managing information. Here’s a fascinating white paper about Big Data and Analytics for the travel industry.

Saving fuel with analytics

Fuel is a very big deal to airlines, accounting for about one third of their total operating expenses. Air Canada’s Director for Fuel Efficiency, Captain Claude-Martin and IBM’s Lori Brewer presented a session describing how IBM Research and Air Canada have developed a solution using advanced analytics and “Watson-like” technology to provide decision support to optimize fuel usage. Attendees saw a demonstration of the fuel solution, named SIMON. Very impressive stuff!