Airbus, one of the giants of passenger aircraft manufacturing, spotted an opportunity to bring the kind of innovative thinking it uses in aviation design to bear on its communications teams. Setting out to improve efficiency, free up time for staff to create more engaging content, and eliminate information silos, they teamed with Adobe technology to introduce a new production platform. This project also saw Airbus take its first step into B2C marketing with its IflyA380 site, enabling passengers to book flights that specifically use the Airbus flagship, which provided Airbus with valuable insights about passenger behaviour for the first time.
Laurent Fradin (LF) and Jérémiah Bousquet (JB), digital transformation leaders at Airbus Group, spoke to Adobe about the company’s move to the new platform.
LF: At comms we have several departments facing different audiences. The press department faces the media, and internal comms faces employees. Over the years, everybody has specialised, acquiring different tools to serve their needs. It was not always harmonised, and everybody was struggling with the acceleration of digital. We improved some tools and processes incrementally but knew this wasn’t sustainable.
Over time we tried to merge some processes or tools, but there was not the radical shift we hoped for. So, we started to interview people in those departments, trying to understand how they worked. We found the different departments were not so different, contrary to what they claimed. They were aligned on the same master process, and everything was about content.
This meant there was a chance to offer a common platform across all departments, to break the silos but also to offer a great collaboration platform.
There was very much a publisher-centric view of pushing a story on all the existing channels, and not customising the content, to ensure it would have a real impact, be shared, and drive engagement with our audiences. Taking digital as the main enabler, we thought we should be able to automise a lot of manual processes where people were spending a lot of time and resources, and give them back time to do their jobs.
Along the content lifecycle we defined five main services to offer our various internal users. We also needed a common interface to make people feel that they all work on the same platform, and can collaborate efficiently, beyond the usual silos. That was the initial context. From there we went to the market and looked for a solution.
Adobe: What were your ambitions when you started the project?
LF: Firstly, we wanted to be really audience-centric, to engage with them by offering world-class experiences. Secondly, to be efficient. We wanted a tool for all the comms people based on the content life cycle approach, so that people could collaborate properly and break down the silos and processes where duplication starts.
Our third ambition was to have an impact on the bottom line; to make sure what we invest is balanced by the decrease in recurring costs compared to the previous platforms. We calculated two to three years for the internal return on investment.
Adobe: What was the time frame for this transformation? And where are you now?
LF: There were two different stages, and something occurred in between that was not related to our digital transformation journey, but more to Airbus’s reorganisation.
We started within the commercial aircraft division. It took us a year to interview all the people, to get to this concept of a smart content approach. At this stage we went for broke. We took the opportunity to decommission one outdated tool—the tool dealing with the internal newspaper and the internal news multi-channel, publishing globally. That was our first proof of concept, and we continue to produce the newspaper this way. The second proof of concept was on the same platform, to demonstrate that you could run something very different with the IflyA380.com project. That was the start, and it lasted a year and a half.
Then came the decision to merge all the communication departments from the different divisions into one department, at the time of Airbus group activities moving to a single brand. We had to demonstrate that what we were doing for the commercial aircraft division would lead to the same benefits for helicopters, defence and space, and the group globally. It was also important that it became their project as well. Not only did we prove it to them, but we got their buy-in. Then we restarted the project properly.
Adobe: What have been the key lessons for you?
LF: Clearly buy-in is very important. Then, to start everything from the users’ point of view was really a must, and to force people to see things from this “single” perspective.
Second, all those users need to be convinced by the benefits of collaboration and the avoidance of duplication. Proof of concept was highly valuable to demonstrate this and to make sure that people have more than just belief, that they can see it’s much more efficient. It decreased pain points, so they have more time to do what their job is really about.
The third part is the analytics. You need to analyse what’s going on from the very beginning. We should be really data-driven and transparent, so everybody can see what’s effective and what isn’t. That was key and it’s still key for every sub-project being deployed.
Change management is also key, because it’s people doing the job, it’s not only the tools. Change management means that people need to evolve their skills, from publisher to acting more like community managers, listening to what audiences are saying and engaging with them. It may sound basic, but for a B2B company like us it’s not.
We are also in a duopoly, so it’s not a burning platform. The media will talk about Airbus and Boeing whatever we do, so it wasn’t easy to convince people that what they were doing was no longer the right thing.
Adobe: How did you drive the change?
LF: We did some very simple things. When we started at the Airbus level, we looked at the journey of one piece of communication content—one press release. This showed us for the first time that it took the equivalent of two-and-a-half months full-time work to publish all press releases (and the subsequent translated versions) on the internet, and two months to publish on the intranet. That was instrumental in showing that we needed to break the silos. To the management, of course, the recurring cost was more significant. And for everybody there was the promise to serve their audiences better and more quickly.
Then the burning platform came with the integration. The danger was that this was sold as just about integration of resources, but we realised in this project that the real value was not the boundary between the divisions, but the boundary between the different jobs. We had to make sure they didn’t just aggregate the press people from the three divisions and continue to work the way they used to. That could have hidden the essence of the project, which was to break down the silos and ensure real transversal collaboration.
Adobe: How does IflyA380 fit in?
JB: IflyA380 was the second proof of concept. We wanted to put some B2C behaviours into our activities, and also wanted to get into analytics, to gather knowledge about passenger behaviours. At Airbus, our customers are the airlines, and we don’t know our customer’s customer—the passengers—very well. We are working with analysts to study this passenger data, digging into this topic to better understand the passengers when they look at travel and at flights.
We are also implementing Adobe Campaign for Airbus around this use-case. We will provide inspirational content to create real brand awareness around the A380 among passengers.
Adobe: When did this project start? And where are you now?
JB: It took 12 months to launch. We were incubated in an internal Airbus accelerator, the Biz Lab, to define the ambition, the vision, and the strategy. Then we spent 12 months touring our airlines, creating the website and launching the project.
Adobe: You describe this as being initially a proof of concept—what’s its status now?
JB: The project is already a success, well-appreciated by the airlines and the travel ecosystem. Internally, we wanted to establish a digital innovation framework, which is the platform, but also ways of working on it. We created a team of different experts from communications, media buying, tool strategy, and business development to launch this project. The legacy of the project internally is the way we can now launch any digital project efficiently.
Adobe: How do you see things developing in the next 18 to 24 months?
JB: We want to dig deeper into this passenger knowledge, and have plans to offer passengers new kinds of services. For IflyA380, the next step is marketing automation through Adobe Campaign, along with the introduction of a mobile app, which along with the introduction of a mobile app, which launched last January. It will not only be a booking assistant, but also offer more services for passengers throughout their journey, including in-flight. Our goal is to offer the best possible experience to all A380 passengers.