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Strategies to navigate COVID-19’s impact on the aviation industry

Sep 8, 2020
7 MIN. READ

While it appears unlikely the aviation industry will recoup much of the growth anticipated for 2020, leaders have been presented with a unique opportunity to redefine success.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) closed out 2019 predicting that global airline profits would be over $29.3 billion this year. When COVID-19 began to reshape the entire industry, the outlook shifted to losses totaling $84 billion.

While these numbers are sobering, there are some silver linings and opportunities that industry leaders can mine from the pandemic crisis. Instead of looking back at what could have been, organizations can take time now to redefine success and reinvent themselves to prepare for the post-pandemic recovery. This process requires a collective focus on reimagined strategies, future-proof processes, and a new outlook on business priorities.

Once the strategies and priorities are in place, organizations need to find and embrace technologies that can support their new initiatives. The ongoing pandemic has proven that quick technology adoption  is not only possible, but essential. It has also provided an opportune moment for organizations to reset methods of assessing performance while designing innovative ways to operate.

But before any of this difficult and important work can happen, organizations need to shift their mindsets from the old pre-pandemic reality to a new post-pandemic one. This is already happening organically, and aviation leaders simply need to identify, internalize, and normalize the positive behaviors and actions that we see today.

Start by identifying your behavioral mindset

While some may view these behaviors as projects or initiatives, we view them as behavioral mindsets or traits.

  1. Measurement: To know the performance of the business, quantitatively and qualitatively.
  2. Analysis: To assess what can be optimized based on the measures.
  3. Optimization: To strive for and realize the best possible organizational performance at all levels.
  4. Simulation: To perform controlled trials and proving dry runs before full deployment of programs.
  5. (Re)Design: To design comprehensive solutions taking all the foregoing into consideration.

It’s best to think of these five behaviors in a non-linear and iterative fashion—much like the design thinking principles that organizations have embraced in recent years, the traits above are intended to inspire creative approaches to problem solving at the organizational level. Harnessed and nurtured effectively, these behaviors can—and should—influence how we act within an organization.

Then take action to internalize the positive behaviors

For behaviors to take root, it’s essential to internalize them. The following actions can help.

  1. Be nimble. This is about the ability to act very quickly. Taking too long to act in today’s environment means missing an opportunity—and every missed opportunity can hamper your organization’s future success.
  2. Be agile. Be ready to move in incremental development steps—and do so nimbly.
  3. Cross-utilize. All hands do all. Organizational silos are not going to survive moving forward. Definitive and substantive roles have become blurred in a good way. For example, analysts are now also solution architects and vice versa.
  4. Cooperate. At the macro level, we have seen large organizations sharing people and resources in structured and unstructured relationships, understanding that no one entity has all the answers. As a result, several overlaps and over-capacity issues will naturally resolve themselves.
  5. Collaborate. This is occurring internally within organizations as well as externally across companies. While cooperating helps to fill market needs, collaborating is helping with the creation of holistic and comprehensive offerings and solutions. Cooperating is about the How; collaborating is about the What.
  6. Adopt and go. Most companies now realize that they are too far behind in adopting modern innovation. Hence, just picking a solution and moving ahead is progress. There is no need to await the next big thing. Adopt what exists and go with it—and make this a normal part of operating.

At ICF, we believe that having well-defined processes and procedures and enabling those with technological capabilities will go a long way toward creating and cementing positive organizational habits.

Normalize positive behaviors through process rigor

Due to sheer necessity, all organizations have had to produce new policies, protocols, and procedures to adapt to shifting business climates. In some cases, these measures only encompass needs directly related to the impact of COVID-19 and therefore just affect management. In other scenarios, organizations have seized the opportunity to revamp all of their business processes. This is especially prevalent in recruitment, leave management, travel, meetings, usage of offices and common areas, social media engagement, and purchasing.

How are these complex processes and evolving strategies being documented and internalized? How often are they being revised due to changing needs? Bulletins, intranet postings, and mass correspondence can only do so much. We recommend a business process management (BPM) approach. Even if they have not been formalized or consciously implemented, the change cycles associated with BPM have all been unconsciously engaged in recent months. Organizations should commit to adopting the philosophy and making it a normal part of their business operations.

Bring your new strategies to life via technology enablement

This shortlist of technology enablement approaches can help reinforce positive behaviors, actions, and processes.

  1. Accelerate digital adoption. Exhaust all digital methods before entertaining non-digital alternatives. For example, eSignatures and paperless should become standard throughout organizations. They worked during the pandemic and should now work permanently.
  2. Use real-time data to analyze, make decisions, and act. This is the only proven way to be both nimble and agile. A key organizational goal should be the adoption of a central data warehouse or a similar SSOT (single source of truth). This will facilitate all implementation and scaling of decision support analytics.
  3. Automate as many tasks and activities as possible. Consistent with the BPM philosophy for processes, the trend today is towards RAD (rapid application development) and RPA (robotic process automation). They enable agile and nimble actions. This approach also puts the focus on the business functions rather than IT departments.
  4. Integrate disconnected applications. The pandemic has made fragmentation—silos, duplications, triplications, and sifting through layers—more visible. The time to address and mitigate these limitations is now. Point-to-point interfaces can only go so far. We recommend incorporating an open architecture and an enterprise-level approach.
  5. Deploy standard applications rapidly. For too long, IT projects have suffered from long implementation cycles, failed adoption strategies, and the inadequate realization of potential benefits. Selecting the best pre-packaged software, applying configuration options versus customizations, strongly engaging business managers, introducing a role-focused training program, and embracing a philosophy of process-driven versus product-driven implementation will all help facilitate rapid deployment. Change and innovation are occurring so quickly that robust deployment is now an essential capability.
  6. Decommission legacy cost and resource-prohibitive software. Far too often, IT implementations are fraught with re-creating the old when building the new. Unfortunately, the frame of reference for staff members involved in modernization projects is sometimes limited to what they know and have experienced for many years, which can cloud their ability to see beyond the constraints of their immediate environment. On projects where the influential viewpoints remain myopic, remnants of legacy methods and prohibitive software will persist. Make firm decisions on retiring solutions and sun-setting older applications early and embed them into implementation projects.

The promise of a new day

We all may be too close to the moment to think positively, given COVID-19’s overwhelming and unprecedented global impact. However, the good news is that both individuals and organizations have shown an aptitude for evolving their mindsets and smartly adopting and embracing progressive technological solutions throughout history. By identifying positive behaviors, embedding them into the fabric of operational processes, and enabling improved processes with modern IT, we can help organizations chart a proactive path for the future.

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