Finnair Soars To The Cloud To Cut Costs And Empower Employees

Finnair’s architect in corporate information management explain’s how the airline has benefited from a Microsoft Office 365 implementation

Finland’s national carrier, Finnair, was founded 80 years ago and now employs 7,000 workers.

As a medium-sized airline with an annual turnover of £2bn, it carries 10 million passengers annually with a particular focus on routes between Europe and Asia.

Accessible anytime

To improve customer service, increase employee effectiveness, and retain and recruit the best people, Finnair has adopted Microsoft Office 365. Employees use the cloud-based communication tools to work with one another and with partner airlines, find the information they need, and contribute great ideas to the company. Company information is accessible anytime from any device and is well protected. Not only has Finnair unified and empowered its employees; it has trimmed communications costs by 15 percent.

The airline industry has seen its share of turbulence over the last decade, as mega-airlines merge and acquire smaller players, more regional airlines take to the air, and customers aggressively seek online bargains. Finnair, Finland’s largest airline and the fifth oldest airline in the world, has remained successful because it knows how to adapt and find smarter ways to operate.

Finnair A321 Sharklet View 1In the face of many new low-cost air carriers springing up across Europe, Finnair still dominates both domestic and international air travel in Finland. “We have survived because we’ve been successful at keeping our costs under control, but we also understand that you can’t cut costs at the expense of customer satisfaction and employee effectiveness,” says Kari Hänninen, Architect in Corporate Information Management for Finnair. “We have to compete for the best people, who want a modern work environment where they are valued and listened to.”

Because airline employees are scattered between offices, airports, and airplanes, it’s sometimes difficult for field employees to feel like they’re part of a bigger team. As part of the Oneworld airline alliance, Finnair employees often need to work with partner airlines to reroute passengers when schedules are interrupted. These interactions happened over the phone and often weren’t fast enough to create new connections for anxious travelers.

In fact, keeping customers happy and coming back is the bottom line objective at Finnair. “Passengers have more choices than ever today, and we have to make an impression with every encounter,” Hänninen says. Finnair wants every employee empowered to help customers at every touch point.

Rethink IT Delivery

When Finnair had to upgrade its email system, it took the opportunity to rethink how it delivered the IT services that underlay nearly every employee and customer experience. The airline decided that owning and running servers was not the best use of its time and budget.

Finnair also wanted to give employees an “evergreen” portfolio of technology tools that they could use to work in more modern, innovative ways. “We had all kinds of older tools that didn’t talk to one another and couldn’t be used to communicate with partners. We wanted to empower employees to solve problems faster, help customers at every point, and contribute their ideas,” Hänninen says.

Gain Rock-Solid, Spam-Free Email

Finnair decided to unplug its expensive email and file-share servers and throw away its mix of document-sharing tools. In their place, it gave employees subscriptions to Microsoft Office 365.

“We ran a small pilot program of Google Docs, but Google doesn’t work well with Office, which all employees use, and its pricing model is not that great,” Hänninen says. “Microsoft had a far stronger federated enterprise solution, better support, a more convincing story around total cost, and a more enterprise-ready, innovative solution.”

The implementation was fairly straightforward, according to Hänninen, but not without its challenges. “It wasn’t a simple task to migrate from Exchange on-premise to the Microsoft Office 365 cloud service,” he says.  “In the beginning, we already knew that this was not going to be a simple migration. There are a plenty of tools that automate a lot of this stuff, but there’s still a lot of integration to be done, like your active directory stuff needs to be replicated, single sign on elements etc. So there’s some stuff you need to do properly. That took almost four to six months to prepare even before the migration started.”

Finnair staff and family 01 LowNow, though, Finnair pilots, gate agents, mechanics, and office staff have anytime, any-device access to their email, which helps keep everyone on the same page. Office 365 filters all Finnair email for spam and malware to help keep communications more secure. “We switched from Postini to Exchange Online Protection [EOP], the Office 365 spam filtering technology, in just one day,” Hänninen says. “The EOP interface is familiar and easy to use and the filtering is excellent. We get rock-solid protection with financially backed service-level agreements. And because it’s part of Office 365, it’s more cost-effective to manage.” Finnair is able to easily create targeted email filtering rules for different roles.

Get Passengers on Their Way Quickly

When bad weather, technical issues, and other events play havoc with airline schedules, Finnair customer service agents can send instant messages to partners to serve and reroute passengers. “The Office 365 conferencing and chat service makes communication so much easier,” Hänninen says. “Resolving problems like this used to take place solely over the phone in a laborious, serial, time-consuming process. We are now more proactive and have new connections ready for passengers when they step off a flight, instead of waiting for passengers to seek out a customer service desk.” Soon, Finnair will be able to also communicate with partner airlines using Office 365.

Help Employees Find Their Voice

It’s easy for Finnair gate agents, cabin crew, and pilots to feel disconnected from decisions being made at headquarters. Employees use social networking capabilities built into Office 365 to participate in relevant conversations. “It’s very easy to get a snapshot of issues, to contribute, and to invite others to join a conversation,” Hänninen says. “If you have something to contribute that could help the business, now you can. It really helps people feel that they are heard and also helps them get the information they need to make better decisions.”

Stay in Touch on the Tarmac

Most commercial pilots take laptops into the cockpit to access Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) documentation—information about the plane load, flight calculations, maps, and aircraft service history. Finnair has replaced bulky laptops with lightweight Panasonic Toughpad tablets running the Windows 8.1 operating system. Pilots can use Office 365 and EFB documentation on the tablets to access route calculations and flight history, for example. The cabin crew also uses tablets on board. In coming years, cabin crew can use tablets to contact colleagues and answer passengers’ questions during flights.

Reduce Costs by 15 Percent

Although the benefits of bringing its workforce closer together have been far-reaching, the reality is that there would have been no refresh unless it had involved saving money. “With Office 365, we have eliminated recurring software upgrade costs and the extra cost of Postini,” Hänninen says. “Over six years, Office 365 will be 15 percent less expensive than maintaining our own email servers. Plus, paying for software as a per-user fee makes it much easier to predict and budget.”

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