SIA outlines key partnerships as it launches innovation blueprint

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has unveiled its Digital Innovation Blueprint, comprising key bilateral partnerships with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), Economic Development Board (EDB) and National University of Singapore (NUS).

The Digital Innovation Blueprint is part of SIA's ongoing transformation programme to boost its digital capabilities, in addition to the formation of the digital innovation lab announced by chief executive Goh Choon Phong. A key focus for each partnership will be building capabilities to increase effectiveness and efficiency, through digital technology and open innovation as well as develop new business opportunities.

According to Goh, the partnerships also mark SIA's commitment to developing Singapore as a digital hub in the aviation and travel industry. This is in a bid to become the leading digital airline in the world.

Goh also offered examples of how SIA's efforts in boosting digital capabilities will enable to better serve customers. According to Channel NewsAsia, Goh cited examples such as predictive maintenance to prevent aircraft delays.

It will also adapt its marketing strategies according to data analytics.

According to a statement from the company, the partnerships with CAAS and EDB establish joint support to foster a vibrant digital aviation and aerospace ecosystem, increasing the attractiveness of Singapore as a travel and aviation hub in Asia Pacific. The partnership was created to drive traveller-centric convenience with digitally-enabled experiences and engagements.

SIA's Master Research Collaboration Agreement (MRCA) with A*STAR will aid to identify and develop applied research partnership opportunities, which include areas such as Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality and data analytics. This is in an effort to boost the efficiency of maintenance processes, with the goal of developing smart solutions that help lower maintenance costs, among others.

The airline also signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with NUS, with the first being to establish and pursue joint research projects with three NUS faculties. The research projects will focus on longer term research related to business challenges that do not have immediate solutions available today. The second MOU allows SIA to partner with the entrepreneurial arm of NUS, NUS Enterprise, to jointly develop an innovation ecosystem around the themes of digital aviation and travel experience. A joint accelerator programme will also be introduced under the MOU, creating and growing new technologies, start-ups and talents that can help SIA solve its business challenges.

“The Blueprint will help to transform the aviation industry for the future. It will complement the other key initiatives under the Air Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM). We look forward to an exciting and fulfilling journey ahead," Kevin Shum, director-general of the CAAS, said.

Specialists Marketing, spoke to said that the "basic nature of the quoted examples indicates SIA has only recently seriously considered its push towards digital technology and it is looking to do plenty over a shorter period of time."

The challenge, one analyst said under anonymity, is whether its leaders have a different mindset and commercial cadence to partner, or even salvage, SIA.

(Read also: The ‘topping up’ mindset: Does Singapore Airlines suffer from it?)

Meanwhile, Brendon Chase, group strategy director, McCann Worldgroup Singapore and MRM//McCann strategy lead, APAC, explained that digital transformation happens when a company can effectively implement a culture of embracing new innovations to meet and exceed the needs of their customers. In the case of SIA, to be successful, SIA has to make it a real priority.

"A priority from management is to set KPIs, nurture staff members, train them and ensure they find the right creative partners to help them along the journey," Chase said.

"SIA needs a company culture which rewards brave ideas, ideas which look at technology from a human perspective and based on customer needs," he said.But of course, digital transformation is challenging as it requires solving problems in creative ways, rather than buying a piece of enterprise tech and hoping it can fix a problem. He said:

Gadgets for the sake of gadgets or digital ideas without a human need or want will end in tears, embarrassment, or both.

Flying ahead

In order to become the best airline globally, SIA needs to look at key pain points in digital and fix them. Meanwhile, to remain competitive against disruptors such as budget airlines, SIA needs to be relentless in having better customer experiences before, during and after consumers' travel journeys, Chase said.

The airline needs to create a relationship which matters to customers, such as having better bookings, check-ins and in-flight experiences.

Commenting on a past article and the headlines the brand made due to its recent  pricing and purchase, Chase described the booking process for airlines as "archaic" and is not transparent in terms of prices. He added that SIA could take a fresh look at loyalty.

"I’m not convinced the programmes really work for people outside of business travel. So perhaps loyalty could be redefined for the every-once-in-a-while traveller," Chase said. But he added that the partnership with Grab was a good idea to make travel better, and that more of such partnerships will propel it back to the top spot.