While the global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every industry and business, one of the hardest hit industries, with the restrictions on travel worldwide, has been the aviation sector. The actions that government, industry leaders, and individual aviation companies take during this period will influence how deep the crisis reaches, how long the effects last, how quickly the industry recovers, and to what extent the industry will be transformed. While there are multiple factors that will play a key role in this comeback for the aviation industry, the role of technology and leadership would be paramount.
In this exclusive interaction, Videh Jaipuriar, Chief Executive Officer at Delhi International Airport Pvt. Ltd. (DIAL) shares his views on how the aviation industry is adapting to the rapidly changing business conditions, how organizations can double down on tech to thrive in the new normal, the technologies and digital innovations DIAL is employing to adapt to the new normal, and what are the essential traits people are seeking in their leaders in such times.
Jaipuriar has been the Chief Executive Officer of DIAL since December 2017. He has over 30 years of experience in diverse sectors such as infrastructure, chemicals and FMCG across products and services in B2B and B2C segments. Prior to joining DIAL, he served as Managing Director of Jubilant Industries Ltd. He has worked with various other companies including Bunge India, Blow Plast Ltd. and Britannia Industries Ltd. He has obtained a Bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and Master’s degree in Marketing from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
How is the aviation industry adapting to the rapidly changing business conditions?
The COVID-19 outbreak has certainly been an unprecedented challenge to the aviation sector - rapidly evolving and presenting newer and more complex issues to deal with (viz. partial and complete lockdowns). Having said that, the industry has responded through active coordination amongst involved entities to remain operationally ready at short notice. We, at Delhi Airport, have been working with authorities and partners to actively focus on enhancing passenger screening, emergency response, stakeholder outreach and coordination with relevant authorities to ensure business continuity. We have also undertaken additional measures related to hygiene, introduction of work-from-home policies and self-health declarations for all our employees.
Delhi Airport has been at the forefront of undertaking technological interventions as well as creation of alternative infrastructure to create a safer travel environment in these times. Air travel is essential to global trade, and that’s why we must find ways to continue air travel in the safest possible way.
As the world of work slowly adapts to the new normal, what kind of role do you think technology is going to play in the post-COVID-19 times?
Technology is increasingly being seen as an enabler and a savior in these turbulent times, by successfully aiding people to engage within the boundaries of physical distancing. During and after the recovery, new technologies and smart solutions will play a key role for teams to collaborate and align more effectively. Apart from video conferencing technologies that are already becoming business imperatives, the new normal will help companies adopt the digital paradigm much faster. Whether it is paperless documentation, data collection & analysis or management of various organizational processes, technology will become an essential part of our way of working.
How can organizations double down on tech to thrive in the new normal? What investments are the most necessary to create the technology environment that will allow your company to thrive in the next normal?
All organizations must look to prioritize meaningful digital transformation. By meaningful, we mean adoption of technologies that are suited to your industry and target customers. While digital innovation is important, boosting business resilience should also be part of such a business transformation. Organizations must start with digitizing critical to business activities in the near horizon. For us, building long-term resilience to optimize service delivery is extremely important. We continue to implement industry leading technologies to enhance passenger experience while reducing threats and vulnerabilities to the business.
We see contactless travel alongside physical distancing and CRM solutions to be an attractive suite of offerings for an engaging and safe environment for both our passengers and employees at Delhi Airport.
How do you see the future of remote work and how will technologies evolve to make flexible work easier for employees and employers? What are your biggest challenges with respect to dealing with this new style of working?
For an organization like us, work-from-home or remote working has certainly been an unexpected turnaround. We have, however, ensured that all employees have the necessary tools and equipment to perform daily tasks. To accommodate a remote workforce, I believe most organizations are re-evaluating processes and performance metrics while prescribing better communication and increased collaboration across the board. Just like in any transformation, leadership plays a crucial role in setting clear expectations.
The biggest challenge with such working is ensuring business continuity. Organizations need to implement necessary changes into its processes and culture. Additionally, companies that are “new” to remote working, must provide additional support to all their employees. Employees should clearly know what tools to use, how to use them as well as how to get help when needed.
What all technologies and digital innovations are you employing to adapt to the new normal?
There has been a whole array of technology and digital innovations ranging from baggage sanitization, trolley disinfection, thermal screening of passengers to self-check in, etc. We are now encouraging contactless travel to the maximum extent possible. Self-service processes requiring minimum human intervention have already been implemented. Our retail and F&B offerings are also getting contactless with introduction of digital payments and digital menus along with self-ordering kiosks as part of this business transformation. Next time you are at Delhi Airport, right from the time you arrive to the time you fly out of Delhi Airport and vice-versa, a bouquet of contactless processing can be witnessed whilst appreciating a smooth travel experience.
How are you collaborating with all your business leaders including the CHROs/CIOs/CTOs to make sure you have the right digital infrastructure post COVID-19?
At the very outset of the national lockdown, we started the concept of a ‘COVID-19 war-room’. This war room daily brings together all key personnel across the organization onto a single platform wherein we discuss and address critical business issues for ensuring business continuity and deploying mechanisms to limit the spread of virus within the airport ecosystem. Employee and customer health & safety is the top priority for which social distancing and remote working is an essential. This brings into prominence the role of the Technology and IT leads within the organization with whom we work to ideate-develop-implement technologies that will make processes safer. My task is to address challenges of our People & Technology managers as they set out to achieve extremely fast-paced implementations in this time of crisis.
The government has issued many guidelines for companies for returning to the work-from-office model? Please share some initiatives your organization is planning to take up as you open up in phases?
We have been keeping track of all important guidelines and advisories issued by competent authorities for implementation and to remain prepared for any upcoming situation. At DIAL, we are committed to the safety of our entire workforce, so while we follow the complete government guidelines, we go a few steps further in tailoring our preparedness to the specific context of DIAL and its people. Some of the initiatives undertaken include:
- Minimal office attendance to manage essential airport operations
- Thermal screening of office staff & mandatory self-health declaration
- Medical readiness for identifying & helping suspect cases
- 24*7 Employee Emergency Management Cell which is staff helpline to help both staff and their families in case of medical and personal emergencies
- Enhanced sanitization of office spaces
- Periodic awareness sessions on personal hygiene
- Training of people managing key safety and hygiene processes
Odgers Berndtson recently released a Leadership Confidence Index report in association with Harvard Business Review Analytic services. As per the report, the mindset & traits required for strong leadership are quickly shifting. What are the essential traits you see people seeking in their leaders in such times?
We see adaptability, empathy and fact-based communication as the top traits every leader must possess, irrespective of the situation. Adaptability is important to ensure business continuity while empathy can help all organizations steer through fragile times.
Along with these two traits, consistent, reliable and fact-based communication helps bring the organization together and reduce workplace anxiety. If you have the right set of people demonstrating these traits at all times, your workforce will align itself to effectively answer any challenge that the organization faces.
As per the report, the top challenges to manage disruption well is the 'resistance to change' and 'lack of vision & buy-in' from leaders. What are some of the changes you are seeing pan out in the aviation sector?
I agree that both these traits can be impediments to handling disruption. In aviation, ever evolving customer expectations have led to greater adoption of technology and a wide spectrum of services provided. We have been cognizant to revamp passenger experience at Delhi Airport through the introduction of leading technologies whilst carefully listening to traveler needs and wants. It is essential for our leadership teams to continue to have a clear vision and firm commitment towards gaining immunity from turbulent times while retaining our position of the Best Airport for decades to come.