Why AI, blockchain and VR will be key tech trends for airlines

17 Dec 2021

Ryan Estes. Image: Datalex

Datalex’s Ryan Estes talks about the digital innovation within the aviation sector and how the pandemic has changed the industry.

With more than 18 years of experience in the software and technology field, Ryan Estes is the VP for technology at Dublin-headquartered digital commerce company Datalex.

Datalex provides airlines with products to drive revenue and profit as digital retailers. The Datalex Group is a publicly listed company on Euronext Growth. As well as its Dublin headquarters, the company has offices across Europe, the US and China.

In his role as VP of technology, Estes’ responsibility is to develop and maintain the company’s technical strategies across the product portfolio.

“I love tech and I love travel,” he told SiliconRepublic.com. “Realising the potential of technology for a transformed future of travel is fundamental to what I do.”

‘Imagine someone entering a virtual travel experience for a destination they are planning to visit’

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

The airline industry is one where the opportunity for real change in the underlying technology, particularly leveraging AI, is huge.

Airlines today cannot keep pace with a radically changed industry and customer. They are hindered by the complexity and limitations of their legacy technology. They need to embrace and deliver a true digital retail experience. This is where Datalex comes in and where we are spearheading a number of very exciting and innovative product initiatives.

One example is our work to disrupt and transform the traditional and static pricing methodology which airlines use today limited to specific customer segments or demand scenarios.

Airlines are losing out on revenue and more customers because they are not able to capture opportunities in real time across the revenue cycle. At Datalex, our work in AI-based dynamic pricing addresses this problem. It provides a much more powerful and data-driven tool set for airlines to understand market conditions, competitive landscape and to evaluate complex data based on sophisticated data analytics and machine learning.

It enables airlines to leverage real-time data, analyse new data trends and to react quickly to fluctuating market conditions with instant, smart decision making. Ultimately, capturing more customers and more opportunities in real time across the revenue cycle.

We are on a mission to unshackle airlines from revenue-limiting practices and legacy technology. It’s an exciting time to work in this industry where real change, and at a pace never before experienced, is happening every day.

How big is your team?

I maintain my own separate team comprised of enterprise architecture and R&D. We don’t outsource for our key processes. However, outsourcing is used to propel us forward faster and for scaling purposes, so we have some great partner relationships.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

Prior to the pandemic, more people were flying than ever before. At the time, airlines were heavily engaged in digital transformation initiatives focused on improving digital engagement, greater personalisation and more digital products to enhance the travel experience.

The long-term lockdowns and imposed travel restrictions caused most airlines to put a damper on digital innovation. However, some airlines took this as an opportunity to continue their digital transformation projects, but with a laser focus. These airlines are beginning to reap the rewards of that investment as travellers start to take to the skies again.

If anything, digital transformation is more important than ever before for the airline industry. The pandemic fuelled the power of digital; digital expectations are higher than ever before, and airlines need to keep pace with that.

At Datalex we are working with airlines to effectively prioritise and deliver on their digital transformation agenda such as innovation that enhances passenger engagement and enables a seamless traveller journey. Other areas of focus include improving operational efficiencies, enabling greater self-service and enhancing revenue with smarter, data-driven solutions.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

The aviation industry is faced with the most challenging time ever but equally the most opportunistic time in terms of adopting new, more modern and innovative technologies.

With plummeting demand during the pandemic, achieving greater efficiencies and much greater agility as well as cost reductions has been a top priority for many airlines. This means that airlines are increasingly turning toward software as a service and infrastructure as a service.

AI adoption is undoubtedly another major trend seen across the industry. Sophisticated chatbots are being used by airlines to resolve passenger queries. AI is even being used to estimate the average lifespan of the parts on an aircraft. Airlines are also looking to AI to become more competitive and profitable with its pricing strategies. This is the area that excites me the most. I am proud to be spearheading dynamic pricing using AI here at Datalex.

I think the adoption of airport robotics, blockchain technologies for data sharing, and VR technologies will be widely used in the future. In fact, blockchain for data sharing was explored by Datalex in a recent hackathon.

At Datalex we are intrigued with how the metaverse could refashion travel inspiration and shopping. Imagine someone entering a virtual travel experience for a destination they are planning to visit. In this virtual environment, the shopper could search out and experience hotels, activities, locations and restaurants and could interactively purchase travel products and book reservations along their way. Interactively building their travel itinerary in an immersive and experiential way.

What are your thoughts on how we can address the security challenges currently facing the aviation industry?

The aviation industry relies on very complex and sophisticated infrastructure, which is integrated into a multitude of different systems. The number of systems that need to be protected is the greatest challenge facing our industry.

Each system requires strong certification processes and rigorous cybersecurity controls. These processes should include both static and dynamic testing where exposures are identified within the software without executing the code and where penetration testing is performed by award-winning security experts that attempt to gain unwanted access to the systems.

Insider threat is equally a concern. Proper processes and playbooks should be put in place and frequently reassessed and rigorously tested.

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