The past year has been extraordinary in so many ways and, while the tragic impact on lives takes precedence, we’ve also had to deal with the huge changes in our working life too.
As the crisis developed early last year, I was busy planning in my new role as CEO of Omnevo - AOE’s new specialist product division - positioned as a digital solution pioneer in the travel industry, launching in early 2021. As the crisis grew, this became the most challenging experience of my career, but I’ve been surprised to find that it’s also become one of the most instructive and rewarding experiences too.
Creating and launching any new company is always a huge challenge but we suddenly faced extraordinary new barriers as the way we do business had to be transformed. Much of 2020 was spent planning the new company and today, still operates almost exclusively remotely. Many of us, including some of the founders, worked together for almost a year but have still not actually met in person! Yet we already operate successfully in a global network and are scaling and winning new business.
Omnevo is a truly virtual organization; this is how we were born and that is how we thrive. In this short time, we’ve already made our mark on this industry, with a culturally diverse, agile and highly committed team working alongside customers of all sizes around the globe. We’re gaining a lot of attention because we are recognized as game changers - and that innovative spirit is integral to our team spirit. We are committed to being the digital challengers and innovators in the travel and mobility industry – an ethos drives us every day.
And it’s working. But what is the glue behind this, what makes us successful? Why is it working and, in these bizarre working conditions, how did we manage to get the team so well and engage with our customers so quickly? I’m obviously proud of what we’ve achieved but I want to share my personal perspective on how we made this happen and hope that it will resonate with others in the industry - and, hopefully, help you with your management challenges too.
We started last year with a lucky advantage. Pre-pandemic, we had already implemented hybrid working models to support a work-life balance for our teams. Good communication and participation in decision-making have become key elements to help compensate for the lack of face-to-face physical meetings and chats in the cafeteria. For example, we established some internal chat channels and these have helped us to structure projects more efficiently and supported team bonding.
When I started at Omnevo, I was a little overwhelmed by the different channels we were using for communication, across mail, intranet, extranet, social, mobile etc. Each one has a function so we have basically assigned functions to channels, ensuring that everyone knows the process behind this. I guess it’s comparable to a swarm intelligence, operating various communication channels to enable an organization to be mostly self-managed. Our communication and decision-making has become very fast and effective. It also creates maximum transparency and participation in the decision process for everyone.
We live digital, we work digital, but we never forget that behind the digital process there are human values at the core. We think as one team, with one aim. This is an approach which embraces diversity of culture and gender to ensure every point of view can be - and is - considered. Our solutions are meant not to replace human touch, but to alleviate working processes for people. I know, you’ve probably heard similar messages from many companies - but I want to show you how we actually live it.
Across our team our backgrounds are highly diverse, but we have a shared common value in respecting each other, independent of our cultures and opinions. Unlike many of our competitors, we don’t have a hierarchy. We live a truly agile culture, enabling leadership within everyone through shared values and respect. We transfer this approach from our software teams to our product and project development - a perfect mix which enables us to operate quickly and efficiently.
Innovation is at the heart of our mindset, not just in regard to developing our digital products but across every aspect of how we work. To deliver that we take a democratic outlook to our work where everyone’s opinion is heard and the best idea always wins – even if it’s not mine!
Our culture and values are one of trust, recognition and transparency; these values are not written in any company manifesto, but we live them every day. We are a new brand, but we are made up of a team of very experienced people and industry experts and I’m certain that these values - and the freedom and independence it grants - help us to unleash our people’s true potential.
We ultimately started this company because we all share one common belief and goal - living and challenging digital evolution. This is our DNA and is expressed through the two words that inspired our brand name: omnichannel evolution = Omnevo.
Much of the DNA of our ethos inevitably stems from our parent company AOE, which has been awarded the prestigious ‘Best Tech Employer’ award in Germany many years in a row, but Omnevo is proudly alive with its own personality, culture and independence.
What also sets us apart is that we have the independence to think both strategically and long term. This freedom allows us to help customers grow sustainably and we do not need to compromise on short term decisions from shareholders or investors.
Customer dedication starts at the leadership level.
Most importantly, we put the customer first (yes, another common claim, but we do it). We listen to our customer’s needs and pain points very carefully and we’re prepared to take different approaches for commercial models, including sharing risks with our customers. By working together, we know we can build something new, something different, and overcome any constraints.
We’ve also evolved our digital products to meet the pain points in this disrupted market, regardless of size or type of business, be it Full service, Hybrid, Low cost or Charter airline. Already we’ve brought a number of small airlines and start-ups into the digital world with our technology, which will expand and adapt with their business for the future – crisis or no crisis.
Thanks to the partnership approach, even in these challenging times, we are seeing our customers commit more to their IT budgets – they know that digitalization is inevitable. Others are expanding the scale of their projects with us, which is a huge vote of confidence in the work we are doing. Most importantly, such a commitment underpins a strong working relationship and that is what we will all need, going forward.
Agility and flexibility are the keys to success, but they are brought about by multi-dimensional thinking, resilient teams and a new type of leadership that enables innovation and new ideas to flourish.
The airline sector desperately needs new thinking. Let’s face it, traditional solutions are outdated and do not – cannot – fulfill the passenger’s rapidly evolving needs. Customers who have grown accustomed to instant, seamless experiences full of choice, service and 24/7 convenience - in everything from shopping from groceries to food delivery to luxury goods - will increasingly expect the same quality of experience from airlines! That’s the new reality. The leading online brands and operators are driven by dedication to the customer; we must adopt that spirit and we can only challenge the status quo with the right mindset, people and organization.
‘Together, stronger’ is what motivates us and is the ethos we take to all our business partners because we know that the best ideas are not always found in-house. One of our greatest strengths at Omnevo is that we genuinely listen to our customers and partners. Again, this may sound obvious, but many companies say it but don’t actually do it. Technology is for everyone, and we don’t hide behind a wall of technobabble to confuse our clients; we simplify technology. We innovate. By fully understanding the client’s needs and ensuring that they understand our solutions, we can break down restrictive silos, challenging what has been the 'norm' for too long, and offer new thinking that can support the industry’s future.
That brings me to my closing point; how we define the role of leadership in the future.
Although we had months of planning, I’ve only been CEO of Omnevo as an operating business since it was formally launched, just six months ago. Parts of this are new territory for me but I’ve worked in the travel industry for many years and I can see the changes coming and I’m convinced we will be very successful.
What has changed now is my approach and my mindset, and I see the benefits of that change every day, not only in our company and in our partners’ success but in my personal development too. At Omnevo, we are doing things differently - challenging the norms and putting customer and passenger needs first – and our leadership strategy had to evolve to drive that change. This crisis is far from over but I’m confident we will continue to adapt and deliver a stronger future, both for our company and our partners.
A three-part series of blogs showing how LCCs of any size have a proven, low-cost entry option to seize the digital initiative in driving their ancillary revenue recovery.
After 20-months of Zoom sessions it was amazing to be out in the real world again this month, flying the globe and actually meeting industry colleagues in person! Following the World Aviation Festival (WAF) in London I moved on to Future Travel Experience (FTE) in Las Vegas and it was so encouraging to find that these two major industry events, 8,000 km apart, echoed the industry’s increasing buzz around the digitalization of ancillary revenue. Sadly, I’ve now been brought back to earth by the latest twist in the crisis as Omicron looks to inflict yet another challenging phase. However, after two years of disruption the aviation industry knows it has to adapt to each new challenge and strengthen its ability to respond just as long as governments finally realize that locking down borders is a very short-sighted approach (unless you are an island state) and haven’t stopped any of the previous 4 COVID waves in any meaningful way. If the last two years have taught us anything, it is that airlines, like governments, will need to think a lot more globally than locally.
December’s World Aviation Festival in London was a great opportunity to bring the industry together and, although attendance was inevitably lower than normal, there was a strong conference program that carried a mood of guarded optimism. Best of all, I was delighted to see just how strongly the focus was on real action to drive ancillary revenue and recovery. Much of 2021 has been spent waiting for a recovery to be established and many airlines have understandably been hesitant (or unable) to commit to new investment or major change in their customer operations. The long hoped-for recovery has been impossible to forecast accurately and many airlines opted to simply ‘hunker down’ and wait until a clearer path can be seen through the storm. That strategy carries deep risks. We now face a new phase of crisis as Omicron sadly develops its global presence but the fact is that the world will continue to turn, people will continue to travel, the crisis will eventually recede, and traffic will return. Airlines need to be preparing right now to create the customer experience that the recovery will demand. Yes, the picture of how the 2022 travel market will look in recovery is still blurred right now - but the key point is that we do already know exactly what the returning customer looks like and what they want. We have a clear understanding of the experience they want - and we have the digital tools to deliver that experience.