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Airline industry demonstrates how to reframe the problem to achieve progress

Halt? Or perhaps consider a new way of working around an obstacle

Often, when you try something new, you hear: “No, because…” or you hear: “I will only approve when you can give me a detailed RoI with a payback in less than two years”, writes Group CTO Chris Lord, who spoke on the Horizon CIO Podcast earlier this year

The complexity of gaining certainty to enable a classical budget approval is increasing due to factors such as the inherent uncertainty in outcomes. But in order to be able to give certainty, you need to invest time and/or money and that breaks the increasing desire to fail fast.

So how do you break that deadlock? By reframing the problem and this is what is happening with autonomous vehicles.

Public and media perception show significant concern with the idea of widespread rollout of autonomous cars. The current enormous amount of autonomous mileage being driven annually is an attempt to improve the self-driving systems, but also to reassure the public. However, we still see huge media interest in electric car maker Tesla and other failures or the recurring commentary articles around the ethics of how to choose between pedestrians or passengers in the event of a crash.

The current sentiment around fully autonomous driving is “No” because there could be (more) accidents, “No” because liability is not clear, “No” because we need more evidence.

How about we reframe the question in two key ways – move from “No, because…” to “Yes, if…” and adopt an incremental and agile approach to business case building which looks like: “I will approve the smallest amount possible to solve the key uncertainties that are blocking progress”.

So, for autonomous vehicles, you could say “Yes” to rolling out experiments “if” you can avoid putting your brand in the public eye and “if” you can remove the uncertainty of dealing dynamically with all the people, vehicles and rules on the open roads.

IATA, the international air industry body, have taken this opportunity to heart (see this IATA White Paper) and are embracing the opportunity to look at autonomous vehicles inside airport’s secure fences.

heathrow podInside the fence, or airside, they have much more control on the environment through very limited foot and vehicle traffic and even then, only in tightly defined areas. They have better maps and are tightly geo-fenced inside an actual fence. They have predictable activity. They have tight supervision of all activity. They have singular control over rules and regulations and a community that sees strong benefit in autonomous vehicles. Most importantly, the general public is kept away while they deploy, test and improve land and air vehicles.

IATA have found a way to answer all the “if” questions and are working with airports and airlines to run trials with autonomous passenger boarding bridges, they are looking at moving aircraft, luggage and passengers through autonomous tugs and busses. In fact, for luggage, they are trialling end-end autonomous systems from check-in, through sorting, onto the tarmac and even into the plane. Airports are also looking at airborne autonomous systems with drones to inspect the landing strips and the planes that are able to see beyond the human visual range.

The other key part of reframing the question is flipping the question around building business cases from: “Please fund the full project” to “please fund only enough to address key uncertainties that are blocking progress” to create an incremental and agile approach.

Airports are working within this framework to do small proof of value tests using commercial and partner-funded vehicles so that they can build the knowledge to know where to invest. They are not creating large projects to roll out autonomous vehicles and migrate existing processes, make staff changes, re-write policies and so on.

Single airports are trialling different aspects of the full list of opportunities seen in the White Paper PDF, which spreads the risk and increases the funding pool. Each test is very constrained initially, for example, a recent trail at Heathrow was designed to prove how autonomous vehicles could navigate the specific landscape of an airport but was limited to going round a defined circuit.

The results of this trial were taken into account when Gatwick Airport announced a much larger trail to ferry staff around and then consider the full business case which will look at decreasing the 90% of time that airport vehicles can spend stationary.

As a traveller, expect your airport experience in the future to be slicker and more efficient thanks to clever reframing and to incremental business case building.

About the author:

ChrisLordChris B. Lord has worked in technology for over 25 years delivering leaner, more responsive and more impactful technology across many industries. He recently moved to Babcock International, the FTSE 250 global engineering services firm, as the CTO after three years as the Group CIO at Collinson Group. While at Collinson, Lord drove new services globally supporting mass-affluent travellers by integrating the company’s skills in marketing, loyalty platforms, insurance and assistance and lifestyle benefits and expanded the impact of Collinson brands such as Columbus Direct and Priority Pass.

 As part of his career, he worked in the USA for seven years and managed teams spread across Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, he speaks fluent French and passable American.

His main roles include Reuters where he ran the Fundamental and Reference Data services, Head of Technology at DST (a major global financial services supplier) where he was responsible for the re-design and re-architecture of two core products, culminating in five industry awards. He then took a role at dunnhumby where, as CTO, he was responsible for innovation in the customer analytics space using Big Data techniques to drive product strategy for Social Media Advocacy, Pricing and Promotion, and Customer Insight.

 As part of the CIO 2.0 community, he co-authored a best-selling book – “CIO 2.0: CIO Stories From the Frontline”, available on Amazon at http://amzn.eu/h34vq3y

 See https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisblord/ for more information.

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