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    Turkish Airlines Soars on a New Digital Journey

In the digital era, global airlines face many changes that prompt timely questions: How to develop digital strategies that respond quickly to complex and unpredictable passenger needs? How to use advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data to transform traditional business and service models? How to leverage these technologies to improve security and operational efficiency?

Turkish Airlines wanted answers to these questions.

Founded in 1933, the commercial carrier held the Skytrax World Airlines Award for “Europe’s Best Airline” for six consecutive years through 2016, and in 2018 was ranked 1st by Brand Finance as the most valuable Turkish brand. As part of its continuous innovation, the airline has begun a radical digital transformation to strengthen its position as a leading international airline. With this in mind, let’s take a look at its story of transformation.

The ‘Highest Flying Bird’ in the World

April 6, 2019 was a milestone day in the history of Turkish Airlines, as the new Istanbul Airport officially opened and the last flight departed the old Atatürk Airport en route to Singapore.

“Turkish Airlines will embrace better development, and the aviation industry in Turkey will enter a new era,” M. Ilker Ayci, Turkish Airlines President and Executive Committee Chairman said.

As part of this airport migration, Turkish Airlines also updated its brand identity. The airline has used a goose for its logo since 1956, because at the time geese were understood to be the highest-flying bird in the world, able to soar 8,850 meters into the sky. The 2019 version Turkish Airlines has changed the goose logo by slightly raising the angle of the bird’s flight, subtly indicating that Turkish Airlines will fly higher and with more agility.

Upon completion after 2027, the new airport is projected become the world’s largest aviation hub, with the capacity to handle passenger traffic of 200 million people per year. Istanbul Airport is expected to generate more than US$30 billion in revenue. In the short term, Turkish Airlines will increase the number of non-stop destinations to reach 310 cities in 124 countries; and further, Turkish Airlines will have a fleet of 500 aircraft in order to better fulfill the company’s crucial role in the global aviation industry from a base of operations centrally located in Eurasia.

Agile Infrastructure

The rapid increase of air routes, passenger capacity, and competing airlines has placed higher requirements for the internal operations and customer services provided by Turkish Airlines. The company must continuously optimize existing business operations and service models with advanced technologies. The airline must reform the organizational structure and IT architecture to eliminate outdated devices and processes to achieve cost-saving efficiencies at the operational level, and provide passengers with more advanced, personalized, and comfortable flight experiences.

Turkish Airlines is always open to technological and product innovation. With its own R&D and data centers, the airline has initiated more than 500 digital technology projects, including a new ticketing system, flight and route management, luggage services, airport networking, security checks, and facility maintenance.

Over the past three years, Turkish Airlines has continuously replaced outdated equipment with the most advanced technology available to provide stable and reliable network hardware support for business and airport operations, and passenger management.

Beginning with the airline’s new headquarters campus, Turkish Airlines is deploying IT infrastructure to meet or exceed the highest standards for industry best practices, .To meet the in-service requirements of the new airport, Turkish Airlines has chosen to deploy a robust network infrastructure to meet the requirements of a growing passenger base and to support increasingly complex operations in the future. Turkish Airlines remains determined to avoid system malfunctions and flight delays caused by network problems in order to provide every passenger with a comfortable, convenient, safe, and smooth travel experience.

After comparing solutions offered by multiple vendors, Turkish Airlines chose Huawei — the world’s number-one vendor for network routers. Considering the high requirements placed on campus network reliability and service response speeds, Huawei provided complete network coverage and created interconnections between the seven Istanbul Grand Airport (IGA) buildings in Phase One. This comprises five office buildings, the Ataturk data center, and the IGA terminal building and data center. The entire network is divided into a core layer, an aggregation layer, and an access layer. Huawei recommended that high-end NE9000 routers be used at the core layer, CE12800 high-end switches at the aggregation layer, and S6720 switches at the access layer.

The bandwidth of the airline’s new digital network is built to support high-capacity services, and was selected to meet the capacity growth requirements expected over the next 5 to 10 years. In addition, multiple service-protection technologies are used to bear services on the entire network in all scenarios. This provides an efficient, secure, stable, and scalable core network for Turkish Airlines.

One of the major concerns in digital transformation is how to control expenses, including labor costs incurred by the high price of replacing old technology using trial and error. Turkish Airlines is very disciplined with each decision, with strong Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for each partner’s delivery targets. For example, when selecting Huawei as its solution provider, Turkish Airlines’ management concluded that Huawei’s network architecture would be reliable, easy to maintain, and energy-efficient. The Huawei network was determined to require shorter staff-training cycles that would encourage airline personnel to quickly learn new technologies and equipment.

In terms of service response, Huawei continues to demonstrate high levels of engagement and professionalism. The Huawei customer support team in Turkey provides 24/7 Technical Support Center (TAC) service, backed by an SLA that guarantees a maximum time for spare parts delivery of 4 hours. Onsite support experts provide customers with a full range of services that includes spare parts replacement, equipment fault rectification, technical training, and system health checks.

Turkish Airlines executives speak highly of Huawei’s products and services. “My team keeps reporting good news to me,” said Bilal Ekşi, Turkish Airlines CEO. “We sincerely thank Huawei for its hard work in the transformation and upgrade of the new airport. There is no question that Huawei builds a very reliable aviation management system.”

The airline has also cooperated with Huawei in the desktop cloud, data center Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) storage, and executive mobile phone procurement projects.

Fly to the Cloud

Digital transformation is not only focused on updating hardware and software, it also entails reforming a company’s operational model and organizational structure. Digital technology requires building a service-oriented, data-concentrated, and cloud-based service platform that is able to meet a company’s requirements for managing multiple services and operational processes in a unified and efficient manner.

With 180,000 employees and business operations in 170 countries, Huawei deals with high levels of business complexity. Its own digital transformation experience is of great interest to Turkish Airlines, which strives to mirror Huawei’s digital transformation practice. Currently, the two companies have had extensive discussions around various topics, including digital transformation strategies, data center, cloud, storage, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), and virtualization technologies.

Service cloudification and virtualized operations can greatly improve enterprise resource configuration and utilization efficiency. Service cloudification reduces informatization construction and operation costs, and effectively ensures network and data security. For example, Turkish Airlines’ air routes span four continents. With multiple branches, it must effectively manage office network devices in different countries and provide technical support. These challenges have been troubling the airline’s HQ executives.

With cloudification, if the airline’s African office network is faulty, or needs to be updated, headquarters does not need to purchase equipment in Turkey for installation and commissioning, and then send it to Africa. Instead, headquarters personnel can conduct remote-control servicing and solve the problems on the cloud. This fast deployment and remote monitoring eliminates time-consuming and labor-intensive processes, significantly reducing operational costs and improving support services.

Cloudification helps deliver high-quality services, which improves customer satisfaction and enhances the airline’s global brand image. Turkish Airlines’ apps are important interfaces that serve customers. For example, the baggage management app enables passengers to learn about luggage movements in a timely manner and reduces the probability of missing luggage. This helps make Turkish Airlines the commercial passenger carrier with the least amount of lost luggage in the world.

However, when a new app function is developed, it takes a lot of effort to adapt it to the entire service network within the test-phase timeline. With virtualization, Turkish Airlines can perform tests on the cloud, greatly reducing commissioning costs and accelerating the R&D pace. In this way, more high-quality services are quickly delivered to customers.

After the ticketing centers are connected and sales outlet data is shared with the data center, big data analysis can be used to deepen the understanding of passenger experiences. This ensures that services are provided to passengers in time, at the right place, and in a targeted manner.  This is especially important for VIP customers. For example, in recent years, Turkey has seen a significant increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting the country. To accommodate the Chinese market, the airline has developed a new service project, where Chinese passengers who transfer in Turkey need only send their transit flight information to the company. The next flight can be scheduled within one or two days, which allows passengers to have a wonderful tour of Istanbul before embarking on their next destination.

The digital era has brought significant changes to how passengers buy tickets and travel. Foremost, the Internet makes airline passengers more sensitive to prices. It alters their seating-assignment expectations, and affects travelers’ requirements for improved airport services. Therefore, it is very important for airlines to forecast passenger needs, and adjust their services accordingly. By designing innovative products and creating new services, airlines can improve the experience for every passenger, enhance customer loyalty, increase brand value, and elevate ‘soft power’ by raising public perceptions to a higher level.

The Next Digital Journey

In early 2019, Turkish Airlines launched an ad campaign called “Journey” during the U.S. Super Bowl. In the advertisement, two protagonists chase each other among the beautiful, natural attractions and landmark buildings of Istanbul. The television ad gave audiences a deep sense of Istanbul, a beautiful and ancient city that spans Europe and Asia.

With completion of the new Istanbul Airport, more passengers will be flying to and from Turkey — as Turkish Airlines, soaring high through the sky, embarks on a new digital journey.