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Divina Paredes | Aug. 20, 2013
For Rob Fyfe, innovation and risk management go hand in hand, and he shares how this was demonstrated during his term as CIO and then chief executive at Air New Zealand.

From Hollywood to Silicon Valley
According to Fyfe, some of the "risks" they took during his term came from ideas outside the aviation industry.

"We are constantly looking for good ideas outside the organisation and I am happy to grab anyone's idea, he says. "Ideas are easy — it is actually being able to execute and implement and adopt, that is what is hard."

The idea for Grab-a-seat, for instance, came from Ryanair. He flew to the United Kingdom and saw the budget airline advertising one pound airfares. "I came home and said to my team, how can they do that? Why can't we do one dollar airfares?"

He explains that when they thought of making a "bland" safety video into a "form of entertainment", they looked at what is going on in television and the video industry. "How can we adopt some of that in the airline industry and break new ground?"

Fyfe shares that their safety videos — he had appeared in one dressed in nothing but body paint — have gone "enormously viral" and are getting up to 10 million hits on YouTube.

In the case of Ryanair, adopting the one dollar fare idea involved "figuring out how to make the economics work."

He says the process involved a "huge crossover" between IT and marketing and at the same time they had an innovations team that was doing work in that area.

"I was always a strong believer in creating these 'skunk works', just putting some really clever people in the room and giving them the freedom to do amazing things," he says, basically taking on "a start up mentality".

Fyfe adds that, "We found out the traditional IT team had all these protocols about development, about how things should interface with the mainframe."

"They are all barriers to us in creating this leading edge website."

So they decided that the new project would be outside the existing IT team.

He relates that they went to their IT partners like IBM and Datacom and told them: "We want to second your best and brightest for 12 months."

"We came out with an amazing solution and interestingly it caused us a few issues for us down the stream, because we hadn't worried about the robustness and the architecture and about some of the security issues early on."

"We had to go back and we re-engineered and we made the infrastructure more robust to ensure now that we have become so dependent on this distribution channel that it didn't let us down," he says. "But it was absolutely critical that we took those shackles at the outset to create the innovation and the progress we needed."


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