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Vistara Was Born In The Cloud: Vinod Bhat, CIO

Vistara, a joint venture of Tata Sons Limited and Singapore Airlines Limited, started operations in 2015. It was the first airline in India to have hundred percent cloud-based IT Operation Management Systems. 

Analytics India Magazine spoke to Vinod Bhat, Chief Information Officer at Vistar, to understand how the airline leverages technology to enhance customer experiences and the predictive maintenance of aircraft. 

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A business leader with more than 28 years of experience, Vinod has worked in multiple geographies. He was previously associated with Tata Consultancy Services, last serving as the Global Business Head — Consumer Packaged Goods: UK, Ireland, Europe, and Delivery Center Head. 

Excerpts 

AIM: How did Vistara overcome the challenges of pandemic?

Vinod Bhat (VB): Vistara was born in the cloud. This gave the company little flexibility, adaptability and resilience, particularly during the pandemic. We started enriching the journey by leveraging the native capabilities of the cloud and by using automation-related and AI-related technologies. We are also working with the Airport Authority of India to implement the new biometric way of identifying customers at the airport. 

AIM: What are the challenges of having a 100 percent cloud-based infrastructure? 

VB: I would not call them challenges, per se, but there are some practices and things to keep in mind when working in a multi-cloud environment. 

Maintaining uniformity of the security standards is challenging. Every cloud has different maturity, functionality, and features. Therefore, it is essential to have orchestration layers to ensure that businesses do not compromise security standards. 

Secondly, cloud and infrastructure monitoring are essential. A very efficient monitoring mechanism has to be deployed to sweat the assets. Otherwise, businesses might either pay more or not leverage what investments they have already made on the cloud. 

AIM: How Vistara levrages AI and ML for effective decision making? 

VB: Airline is a heterogeneous environment, and airline companies need to have a hybrid approach in collating data and running analytics tools to make decisions. 

Identifying the customers was a big challenge for us. Airline companies do not ask for any social security number, and sharing the Aadhaar number is not mandatory for a customer to book airline tickets. As a result, customers often use their short names or change contact numbers while booking flights. And every time the system receives a new name or number, it creates a new customer. Vistara has addressed this problem using artificial intelligence. We have built an in-house algorithm to help deduplicate the customers and identify them. Therefore, once a single web customer is registered, we build our services on top of it. 

Essentially, we are using artificial intelligence at the core of our business to enhance customer experience. 

AIM: How do you use technology for predictive maintenance of aircrafts? 

VB: There are different ways in which data gets exchanged between the aircraft and the ground. The criticality and timing of the data is extremely important. First, from an engineering point of view, the received information can provide data about the safety of the aircraft. If there is a safety issue, analytics has to be run on top of it and the turn-around time has to be quick. The whole exchange of data can happen through cellular network, gatling wireless network or CWLU (Crew Wireless LAN Unit). When the maintenance operation centre gets the data, it runs the analytics tools on top of it. 

Besides operations and engineering, fuel is also very important for us. We use data to find the best route, calculate the weight or load factors, and for MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul). 

AIM: What are the applications and platforms used to increase efficiency of in-flight operations? 

VB: We have set up an IOCC (Integrated Operations Command Centre) which forms the nerve centre of the flight operations. Disruption management caused due to irregularity in flight operations are taken care of by the IOCC. 

Additionally, we use AMOS (Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering System) to manage complex maintenance, engineering and logistics requirements; ARMS (Aviation Risk Management Solutions) in flight operations; and ARIS for flight management. 

VB: The aviation industry is largely adopting the following trends: 

  • Customer facing technologies: Mobile is very powerful in the aviation industry. People want to book their tickets on the go, accrue points immediately, and they wish to have the same experience on mobile as in the web-based apps. Therefore, a lot of upgrades are happening on the mobile applications, including in Vistara’s. We are embarking on a very big omni-channel digital strategy. 
  • Data-related technologies: This includes data ingestion, data lake and data on the cloud technologies. 
  • Sensor technologies: From an engineering point of view, transferring of data is shifting to using sensors. Touchless services will continue to evolve with OEMs upgrading their technologies. Touchless technologies such as use of biometrics, scan-and-fly and e-checking are largely being adopted. 

Additionally, while blockchain technology has many use cases (such as for contract management), the aviation industry will take more time to adopt the technology. From a consumer point of view, wearable and IoT technologies will also be largely adopted. 

AIM: What are Vistara’s plans to further promote digital acceleration? 

VB: We have three broad objectives: 

  • Enhance customer experience: In the next 12 to 18 months, we will focus a lot more on enhancing the omnichannel customer experience. We want to leverage analytics and AI to identify customers quickly and serve them right. 
  • Improving operational excellence: We are looking at AI-driven automation interventions and process improvements from the business perspective. 
  • Improving the top line: Once the customer experience is integrated, we will offer more customised services to customers and identify more revenue opportunities. 
  • Ensuring that the IT infrastructure is resilient, adaptable and purpose-driven: We are working to enhance the multi-cloud environment further to address all security and response time issues. 

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Debolina Biswas
After diving deep into the Indian startup ecosystem, Debolina is now a Technology Journalist. When not writing, she is found reading or playing with paint brushes and palette knives. She can be reached at debolina.biswas@analyticsindiamag.com

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