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Airline Leaders Interview Series – Neetan Chopra [IndiGo]

Iztok Franko

This interview is part of our exclusive ‘Airline Leaders Series,’ conducted in collaboration with Branchspace – digital reinvented, aiming to transform airlines into better digital retailers. Throughout the series, we’ll highlight the key concepts that are shaping modern airline digital retailing, ensuring you gain valuable insights from each discussion.

Leader: Neetan Chopra

Airline: Indigo



Talks about: Digital Transformation, Digital Experience, Data, AI, Conversion Optimization, Experimentation, Innovation

Neetan Choopra Indigo airlines

Why do you need to read this interview:

Neetan stands out as one of the most forward-looking leaders in the airline industry today. In this interview, Neetan shares his clear vision and strategic insights, offering a compelling roadmap for digital transformation that aspiring airline leaders and digital innovators can learn from. Neetan’s forward-looking leadership and clear strategic vision make this interview an essential read for aspiring airline leaders. Neetan outlines IndiGo’s successful digital path, providing valuable insights into how strategic foresight can drive an airline into the future. If you’re interested in the intersection of digital innovation and practical outcomes in airline digitalization, Neetan’s perspective is invaluable. This series is committed to bringing to light the varied voices and insights from the forefront of airline retailing, and Neetan’s contribution is especially illuminating.

Video Interview

Explore the full interview with Neetan Chopra here, to uncover insights from Neetan Chopra on IndiGo’s digital transformation journey, or continue reading for key highlights from our discussion:

IndiGo’s Digital Transformation Journey

Neetan: You know, Iztok, it’s a bit of a journey, digital transformation. But I’ll tell you what it means to me and then I’ll explain to you where we are, because that’s very important.

Digital transformation is, in my view, not just about digitization. Of course there is a huge component of digitization, so that needs to be done. But it is also about looking at your data and your capabilities and saying, “Can we build new business models out of it?” The new business model dimension is part of transformation. And then for me, the next layer is also about leaving some digital capabilities and then transforming the mindset.

So it’s kind of a composite picture: digitize IndiGo, IndiGo Digital, which is about exploring new business models, leaving some capabilities on which transformation can flourish, and then, of course, changing the mindset. Experimentation, co-creation.

Within that definition of transformation, IndiGo would be somewhere in the middle stages right now. Last two years, we’ve concentrated a lot on digitization because you have to do that first. There’s a lot of basics that need to be put in place. But I see the next two years, we will now dial in a bit more on the data front, a bit more on the AI front, and then the core capabilities and the mindset. So somewhere in between the journey right now.

2024 Goals and Initiatives

Neetan: Basically, if I look at digitization at IndiGo, we break it into three big pillars. I call it Happy Customer or Happy Employee – both are important. That’s creating great digital experiences for our customers and employees, because you can’t have great CX without great EX. Then we call it Invisible Ops, which is really digitizing the core of IndiGo, the core operating model. And then the Data Twins or Digital Twins, which is around data.

We’ve got initiatives in pretty much all three areas. On the customer/consumer front, we changed the architecture of our website and app last year. The app is still not done. We’ve got another four months to go, because it’s important to build a D2C architecture. We hired a conversion rate optimization team within IndiGo. All of that bit was done last year. Architecture change a bit still pending. A bit more basics are remaining. For example, UI/UX.

Then post-summer, the plan is to really start every three weeks improving the customer experience. There is a concentrated effort on CX. Then on the Happy Employee bit, we said, think IndiGo; think IndiGo staff; think breeze. So we invented a platform called 6E Breez. This year is again going to be about making sure everything gets integrated into Breez. For crew, for staff, office staff. So that’s Happy Customer, Happy Employee.

Then Invisible Ops, around 80% of our processes now run proper platforms. Industry standard, cloud native platforms. We’ve still got 20% to do.

And on the data front, last year was about selecting the data platform for the data fabric; this year it is about starting to implement. The team is in place. They’re building the data fabric, making sure there’s data governance, data lineage, meta data. You can’t do AI without data. We’ve done some experiments. So yeah, we’ve got initiatives in all of these four pillars.

IndiGo Airlines aircraft

Source: IndiGo website

Key Challenges

Neetan: I think the speed and velocity – speed is just dialing it up; velocity is dialing it up with a direction. I think the direction we’ve got sorted. We’ve cleared what we want to do. Now it’s a matter of really dialing it up.

On the CX side, on the Happy Customer side, we are now setting up these dedicated ports this year, which is, as you know, the scrum teams within IndiGo digital dedicated to CX, dedicated to commercial, dedicated to some of the innovative ideas. I hope that post-July – we still have some basics to fix – we can get into that four-week cadence of releasing, basically branching out, doing the development in these parts, and then branching in because the architecture is now ready.

I think the challenge is really getting that talent in place. The D2C talent within an aviation company is difficult to attract and retain. So that has been a bit of the challenge in the Happy Customer area.

CRO and Experimentation Journey

Neetan: We’re in the initial stages, Iztok, because we are also fixing some of the foundation architectures. But I must say, the team that exists talks a different language. They are very scientific about this. They run these experiments. “Should I put recommended fare here and there?” They do canary releases. Just to describe our journey, we first had to fix the architecture of the website to be able to run these experiments. So we did that. Otherwise we can’t run these canary releases and test.

To answer your question, the team, a few people are now in place who have done this in D2C environments, which is good. They are starting to look at the funnel very scientifically, starting to run these experiments, and I plan to scale those starting June/July this year. But what is amazing is the value you can get out of small tweaks as well. Because of the scale.

Emerging Technologies

Neetan: I’ve been following this for a number of years, even in my days at Emirates. There have been many iterations for AI, but I truly feel as a technologist, you have to put your mind around – you’ve got to call the shots. For me, I think AI is now in primetime. We study the transcripts of 6Eskai, and I can tell you lots of stories about how sometimes the tool is able to do quite empathetic responses, which sometimes humans can’t. So I think the tipping point has been reached.

We have a lab, Iztok. We call it the Lab 37, innovation lab. What we’re doing there, while we’re building the data foundation, I’ve told them to concentrate for the next 12 months on AI alone. So that’s one big area of focus.

I must say, I was approached by somebody from South America who was using quantum annealing for cargo load optimization, because you know that’s a big problem to solve. We’ve had a look at quantum, but we found it not ready really for deployment right now. But we are still in touch with the startup saying maybe we should have a look. But predominantly AI. Not much of Meta, but quantum and Horizon 3 we’re just having a look.

The Future of Airline Retailing in Five Years

Neetan: You know what’s beautiful – I’m a bit of an optimist, Iztok. I often say people see half-full, half-empty glasses; I see two glasses, both full. So please filter my views from that perspective. I’m a bit of an optimist. But I see the travel world just going through this fascinating change. If you look at it, most airlines today realize the wealth of creating proper direct channels.You don’t have to fight any more for those funding. That’s happening.

On the indirect channels, with NDC, you can see what’s going on in the world. We are also running a whole program for NDC. If that happens, then in direct channel also, strategic offer management is brought back to the airline rather than it being with the value chain.

And then you look at order, offer, settle – that whole PSS environment needs to shift. How does that interfere with revenue management? Revenue management itself is going through transformation with lots of these startups. As you know, Fetcherr, FLYR, etc. So many startups have come up which are looking at deep neural networks for new dynamic pricing. So the core value chain of the commercial area of airlines is changing, and I see us definitely looking at all of these areas.

And then if you look at operations, there is even more capability there because I think the operational technology and digitized environment is still quite legacy, to be honest. It’s very difficult to use. It’s not intuitive. The UI/UX is not meant for the youngsters who are now coming. So I think the whole operating environment, which is crew management or disruption management, or in fact just airport services – we still have all of these very legacy environments.

So yeah, I see in all three dimensions a beautiful picture coming through. We are looking at all of this within IndiGo, and that is one of the reasons – I went away from airlines for a while, three years, and then when this opportunity came up, I jumped right in because I see some beautiful opportunity for change in commercial, in operations, and then in data. All three.

Do You Want to Listen to More Talks With Airline Digital Leaders?

If you want to learn from leaders like Neetan about how to advance your airline digital retailing or want to be the first to know when our next Airline Leaders Interview will be published, please:

Iztok Franko

I am passionate about digital marketing and ecommerce, with more than 10 years of experience as a CMO and CIO in travel and multinational companies. I work as a strategic digital marketing and ecommerce consultant for global online travel brands. Constant learning is my main motivation, and this is why I launched Diggintravel.com, a content platform for travel digital marketers to obtain and share knowledge. If you want to learn or work with me check our Academy (learning with me) and Services (working with me) pages in the main menu of our website.

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