A Conversation about Implementation: The Ups and Downs,Season 2, Episode 2

PROS Travel Podcast, Season 2, Episode 2: A Conversation about Implementation: The Ups and Downs

In this episode, we chat with Terra Davies, Senior Director of Professional Services at PROS and an industry veteran, about the nitty gritty of implementing new products – what works, what doesn’t, and where she’s seen the most successes. Because at the end of the day, implementing a new technology is a huge if not KEY step in the digital transformation process. 
 
Many different stakeholder groups in the airline are involved in digital transformation, and Terra describes how success is found through thought leadership and an end-to-end approach. Airlines must consider accounting for the time it takes to adopt to the science involved and dedicate resources to change management. Ongoing executive engagement is key!

You can listen to The View from 30,000 ft. on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Or listen to the full audio version below.  

  

In This Episode

[08:00] Are airlines ready for digital transformation?
[09:30] Examples of successful change
[10:32] Implementing RM: special considerations
[12:41] Change can be painful
[14:26] Biggest challenges for airlines when implementing a new RM solution
[17:45] True partnership means more value delivered!
[18:42] Training and change management are important
[20:56] Different approach for a large carrier vs. an LCC?

Full Transcript

Aditi Mehta: Hello and welcome to the PROS travel podcast - The View from 30,000 feet. A podcast series featuring airline industry experts tackling the real issues around airline digital transformation. This is our second season. I highly recommend listening to the last season if you haven't yet. And we're focused on big and small changes around travel IT, data, products, and retailing. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the flight....

Aditi Mehta: Hi everyone. This is Aditi Mehta. The View from 30,000 feet is all about chatting with folks in the business, especially those who've seen it all. It's always great for those in the industry to not only share their war stories, but also share what's shaping the unique industry that they work in.

Aditi Mehta: Though travel or airline can be a blanket term, it's clear that depending on what department you're part of or what part of the travel chain you work in, what region or business model you may operate in, things can be very different, and there's a lot to be learned.

Aditi Mehta: For today's episode, I wanted to sit down with Terra Davies, Senior Director of Professional Services at PROS, and pick the brain of an industry veteran. Terra hails from Canada and has tremendous history in the airline business, which I'll let her get into. But one of the main things I wanted to chat with her is about the nitty gritty of implementing new products. What works, what doesn't, and where she's seen the most successes. Because at the end of the day, implementing a new technology is a huge, if not key step, in the digital transformation process. Welcome Terra. It's so great to have you.

Terra Davies: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Aditi Mehta: Great. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to the travel industry?

Terra Davies: Sure. So I'm from Canada, from Calgary, which is the home of WestJet. I went to university in Calgary, and I have a sociology degree. So you can see the very close linkage between airline revenue management and my degree. And I was spending time in risk management at an insurance company, which was slightly on the darker, more depressing side of things.

Terra Davies: And WestJet was really just kind of getting started and getting rolling, and they were really hot. Everyone in town was talking about them. Everyone wanted to work there. And at that time the only people they were hiring were referrals. So a friend of mine got me an interview in the call center. So, I made a huge life decision, said, "Do you know what? I'm going to take a role in the call center. I'm just going to check out this WestJet excitement and see what it's all about."

Terra Davies: So, I got into the call center and very quickly got the hang of it and loved it. And at that time, there was a lot of time between calls, so I had access to the manuals for every department. From the pilots to the flight attendants to whatever. So I read everyone's manuals just to pass time.

Terra Davies: I mean, if you need me I could marshal in an aircraft if you're ever at a gate and they don't have the aircraft marshal, just let me know.

Aditi Mehta: I want to be on a flight with you next time.

Terra Davies: It was so fun. So WestJet being very entrepreneurial and small at the time. I had a lot opportunity to do different things. So, I did anything to get off the phone. So we'll go dust in the executive's office and water plants, and in the complaints department. So I ended up moving there. It was called customer care.

Terra Davies: So we dealt with irregular operations, a lot of snow storms in Canada. And then just, I answered Transport Canada complaints. So, the job was to resolve complaints. So I did that.

Aditi Mehta: That sounds like a very intimidating job.

Terra Davies: It was great actually, because WestJet is really about empowerment with a safety net. So you could do whatever you needed to do to get the customer happy again. So it was kind of fun actually to figure your way through that. And it was pretty rewarding work. The idea was, if you can resolve a Transport Canada complaint, it doesn't get reported. So, if you don't resolve it, then those look poorly upon your airline, so we did everything we could to resolve them, so it was fine.

Terra Davies: Then I moved into the schedule analyst department. So we would build the flight schedules. And that was not really for me. But what was for me was joining the committees that this team of introverts didn't want to be part of. So I joined the On Time Performance community, and the New Technology committee. So all of that. So that's where I started into new technology.

Aditi Mehta: Wow.

Terra Davies: And I started implementing new scheduling software and then moved all the way to implementing the PSS system.

Aditi Mehta: That's quite a journey.

Terra Davies: Yeah. So along the way I took night classes for project management and business analysis and all of that stuff. So I ended up working on the Sabre PSS as part of the core team. And that basically charted the course for the rest of my career.

Terra Davies: So at that time, Southwest purchased an airline called AirTran. And I knew both Navitaire and Sabre. So I thought, "Well, this is my chance to try something different." So, at that time I moved to the US as a contractor, and I worked with Southwest. Just helping them integrate AirTran and helping them with international operations.

Aditi Mehta: That was actually a pretty big deal, AirTran.

Terra Davies: AirTran.

Aditi Mehta: AirTran within Southwest.

Terra Davies: It was. Because, Southwest had never done international operations, so all the things that we had dealt with being a Canadian carrier, if you don't fly to the US you're pretty much out of luck. Your population base is not in Canada. So, we spent a lot of time working on international travel and they're doing it now, which is exciting.

Aditi Mehta: That's really fascinating how you've gone to so many different departments and had exposure to so many different parts of the airline. I think that helps really to understand the airline forwards and backwards. Do you have any favorites?

Terra Davies: Yeah. Oddly enough, it wasn't in the RM space. I loved ... I've sort of meandered a bit around retail most of my career, so a lot of web design and I love that. I think it's really interesting from an airline perspective, but my passion is in the operational pieces. So, managing irregular operations, managing crew scheduling. I just, I love that stuff, and I love it because it's so dependent on so many different things. There's so many providers, there's so many interfaces, and I just, I love how it all comes together.

Aditi Mehta: Well, okay, let's fast forward to your role today at PROS. What do you do?

Terra Davies: So, I have the implementation team for professional services travel. We call them implementation excellence. So that is the project managers, the implementation consultants, the solution architects, and a team we call technical professional services. And that group is unified in our desire to deliver our projects for our customers on time, on budget, deliver the value our customers expect. So we're the delivery arm of the organization.

Aditi Mehta: Yeah, that's really interesting. And I wanted to deep dive into some of that, because at PROS we talk a lot about digital transformation and what our airline customers are going through in order to really transform and be ready for this digital economy. But, change can be hard, and there's a lot of hang-ups around bringing that change to life. So, what's your experience been with airlines? Are they ready for this change?

Terra Davies: I think they think they're ready. That might not be a very popular opinion. But, I think digital transformation is one of those things that, like NDC, is a bit of a buzz word, buzz term, and carriers, airlines know they need to do it, but I don't think they know how to do it because I don't think they know what it means to their airline.

Terra Davies: I think a lot of people are doing good things in pockets. And I think sometimes what I have seen in my past career, just if you look on a more micro level at something like ancillary sales, is that so many different stakeholder groups in the airline are now involved. And it's not something that is in the fabric of airlines. Operations do operations, call centers do call centers.

Aditi Mehta: That's very siloed.

Terra Davies: Yeah, very siloed. So I think digital transformation rocks their world a little bit where it comes to understanding end to end and the integration of all those pieces. And without, I think a corporate cultural vision, it's a struggle. It's a struggle for airlines.

Aditi Mehta: So do you have, I'm putting you on the spot now, examples of leadership that's actually ... we talk about that a lot, where the buy-in comes from the c-suite. Have you seen at airlines, not necessarily our customers, but just anywhere where that change is starting to happen?

Terra Davies: Yeah, I think so. I just think in the organization of the airlines where they're starting to put executives in charge of digital transformation, is where you're seeing success. I mean, if you just look across the thought leaders, which I believe are in our customer group, that's where you're successful, where they have designated somebody who has oversight and the ability and the positional or informal influence to bring those groups together. That's where I think you're seeing success. And it's a end-to-end approach. It's not just RM, it's not just retail, it's across the board impacting all those areas.

Aditi Mehta: Yeah, that's really interesting. And I agree with you. I think, I mean, you talked to a lot of customers about implementing some big solutions like revenue management, right? So what are some of the considerations that you have to walk customers through when it comes to implementing a brand new revenue management system?

Terra Davies: Yeah. I think RM is really a special system at an airline. I mean it's do or die with RM. So they're very delicate systems and the end people who deal with them and spend a lot of time refining them and tweaking them and making them work for exactly what you as an airline want to have happen. So some of the considerations I think are just understanding how you use your product today, and what you're doing in terms of workarounds. Because I think sometimes you work around something and then it just becomes engrained in your process and you can't remember that that used to be a workaround.

Terra Davies: One thing where I see that we have challenges just with the most recent RM implementations, is we're not accounting for the time it takes to adopt. We're dropping a lot of information, a lot of very sophisticated science on carriers, and we need to help them learn that it takes time to adopt these things and to break them out of the habits. And that's part of our change management methodology.

Aditi Mehta: Isn't that typically a challenge for airlines? Because, I mean, there's that time to value, right? That's the pressure that the executives have. It's like, "We just need to make use of this system that we just spent a lot of money on."

Terra Davies: Yeah.

Aditi Mehta: What are those types of conversations like with your airline customers?

Terra Davies: Well, I think for an airline executive, to get as much value...they've got to dedicate resources. I know that hurts at airlines, I know it's hard. They have to put people on project teams who are users. When we run into problems, it's at the point in the project where users enter the scene to start testing. And it's too late at that point. I think executives need, to themselves, commit to the process. Where we have the most successful implementations are where we have ongoing executive engagement and support.

Terra Davies: I mean change is painful, right? You don't want to change the way you do something, you might love the process you do, you might feel really special because you have a lot of human intervention instead of using the power of the tool. These are all people issues. And executives at the airline need to help reinforce that this change has to happen, and they have to help understand how it impacts their organization culturally. So every success we've had in the implementations while I've been here, a lot of it has been due to good executive engagement. Why it's been important.

Aditi Mehta: That's really interesting. I like that. I really like that it's a people issue, not necessarily a solution or a system issue. You have to get both of those things right.

Terra Davies: Yeah. And people on our side too, at PROS. I think that how we approach this, just like marketing, what problem are we solving? Not, "Here's all the features of this cool thing you're buying, but let me show you how to solve these problems you have in your day job that you're working around today, that you don't have the power to solve. Let me solve that for you." So, we need to think more like that too, rather than, "Look at all this cool stuff, look at the Ferrari." And it is a Ferrari, but not everybody knows how to drive it right away, and they need some [inaudible 00:14:06] on the way.

Aditi Mehta: So, and you might've said some of this, but where do you find some of the biggest challenges for airlines when implementing a new RM solution? Is it organizational, is it resource constraints? I mean, where do you get that pushback?

Terra Davies: Yes and yes. I think from resource constraints, airlines aren't traditionally really advanced product management organizations. They're not necessarily set up to have people dedicated to this. So, like I said earlier, if you can dedicate resources and the right kind of resources, that can eliminate a big challenge.

Terra Davies: Organizationally, there's always a tendency to translate to how you did. You're always converting to how things were. And I think if you take the change management and business transformation recommendations and really take them to heart and make some of the organizational changes, I think that's kind of a recipe for some very quick success, rather than resisting. There's always that translation.

Aditi Mehta: So if I'm the leader of a revenue management team, the head of RM, I'm under a lot of pressure with tight deadlines and showing that time to value. And you gave some tips of like how I should approach that transformation project, but any other ways of, before you dive in and start working with a vendor, what are some things that you should think about?

Terra Davies: I want to know what their objective is. What are you trying to achieve? I know PROS is best in breed, but we need, I think if I just were to understand what are the business cases you struggle with, what are the things where you're hitting roadblocks? What's costing you time or your perception, where you're wasting time and causing you challenges with your team?

Terra Davies: I would love that upfront analysis to be done, rather than us to go in and have the sales pitch of, "Here's all the great things we can do." I'd love to know the problems we're solving, because it helps us target what we're doing. And I think on our side, we're smart people. I mean, we have a competitive advantage in that we are smart people. And sometimes bringing that to bear can be challenging for some customers who aren't as sophisticated, who don't speak the language in the same way, especially with RM. And we need to think about that too and we need to know that in advance.

Terra Davies: So, we have a focus this year where we're really trying to front load more of that information gathering, not just on the business cases but tell me how you do business, tell me what's important to you. Tell me what do you expect from a vendor, how do you know you're successful? Because we look a lot to ... we look at the revenue shift, the improved margin, but those are not the only metrics of success. And I think if we know those upfront, we can target our delivery to meet that, and to help them be successful, and to help them show the value of what they've invested in.

Aditi Mehta: Yeah, that's a really good point. Because it's not just us trying to implement a solution, we really want to be a true partner with our customers. And we can't have that partnership unless we understand-

Terra Davies: Yeah, I think relationship's important. I know this sounds kind of fluffy. Yes, the science is very important, don't get me wrong. But I think the relationships, and if I was an executive, and I've been on the other side implementing great products and projects, the relationship with the vendor's really important. Because when your vendor understands you, they become a partner. And I think that's important.

Terra Davies: We have a lot of really great customers and the ones we understand the most, so we have the best relationships with. We can move quicker, and we can deliver more value just based on that relationship and the intel that comes from it.

Aditi Mehta: Because everyone's working towards a common goal and you're all motivated so that's great. I mean, how critical are things like change management and proper training when it comes to a new solution that you're not familiar with? Like you're saying, we're throwing you a Ferrari and if you don't know how to drive it, what do you do?

Terra Davies: It's vitally important. I mean, absolutely. And we will not implement anything, any products, without a minimum number of training days and a minimum number of business transformation, performance management workflow, depending on what that, as an umbrella we call it business transformation. You cannot adopt these products, you cannot get value from them without these things.

Terra Davies: We've recently added a buy-up package because we have carriers who are saying, "I understand my corporate culture, I understand my team, we're looking for more training, we're looking for you to come in and solve specific business cases for us, so let's expand that consulting engagement." And I think those are really thought-leader type airlines who are doing that today.

Terra Davies: So the competitive advantage, I mean, I've worked for a major competitor of PROS, the competitive advantage PROS has, in my opinion, besides the science, is that we have experts, and we bring them to bear and they provide this kind of value-add service.

Terra Davies: I mean airlines, when I'm charging them for services, they don't want to pay for project management and they don't want to pay to set up an environment. I wouldn't want to pay for that either. But, they want to pay for those value-add things, and change management is that. That's what helps them reduce their time to value and really adopt and use more than 10% of the product.

Aditi Mehta: Exactly. It makes or breaks the product.

Terra Davies: And we're spending, in professional services, we have a dedicated focus there. We're improving the services, we're improving how we deliver them, we're improving the training for the people who deliver those things. So, it's a focus area for us definitely.

Aditi Mehta: So, these are some really interesting points and a great conversation. So I'm curious though, would any of this change if you're a large network carrier versus if you're a LCC or a smaller regional carrier? Does a lot of what you say stand true?

Terra Davies: Yeah, I think it does. I think the approach has to be different. I think there's a bit of a misnomer in the industry that if you're an LCC, you're less complex. I actually think for PROS, it brings more complexities, because they don't always work in an industry-standard way. They have data that may or may not be standardized in a way that we expect from working with the bigger Amadeus and Sabre, which is generally larger carriers.

Terra Davies: They pose their own challenges, and I think that's where our focus on consulting and training has to shift. There's personas, like marketing has buyer personas, we have airline personas. So, an LCC may or may not be as complex as a RM carrier. But we can't just say LCCs aren't as complex. I think to have that umbrella statement, creates problems and causes some implementation challenges we run into, because we underestimate what we're going to see.

Aditi Mehta: Yeah.

Terra Davies: Same with regional carriers. I mean, they have their own challenges that a network doesn't. Often LCCs and regional carriers don't have the resources. So, they might have the expertise, but that person might be doing three types of roles. Whereas if you move to Lufthansa or Cathay or any of those really great, best-in-class carriers for network carriers, they've got a lot of resources, and a lot of expertise, and a lot of specialization. So I think that's where the difference is. But for us, we have to be really careful that we don't assume LCCs are simple. They're not.

Aditi Mehta: Right. I think that the key takeaway from everything you've said is just understanding that airline forwards and backwards and what makes the environment they operate in unique to serve them better.

Terra Davies: Right. Like an LCC in Canada is not going to experience the same kind of challenges that one in China does. It's just different. So, we don't say all network carriers are the same, but for some odd reason in the industry, we lump LCCs as this one group that does everything the same. If only, what a perfect world that would be.

Aditi Mehta: Well Terra, thank you so much for joining this conversation. I do have one more question for you; we're asking all of our guests. What has been your most memorable travel experience to date?

Terra Davies: It's my best story. I mean, in my job, in the airline industry, I've traveled all over the world and I've seen some of the most amazing, literally the most amazing, places on earth. But my most memorable travel experience was a girl's trip to Vegas.

Aditi Mehta: Oh.

Terra Davies: I know. Sounds provocative. Where I happened to meet my now husband. So, if I didn't say that I'd probably be in trouble. Yeah. Yes, we met at a concert.

Aditi Mehta: Oh, so you met your husband through a girl's trip?

Terra Davies: Yup.

Aditi Mehta: That's a pretty unique story.

Terra Davies: I know. And so he was a Texan. And so when Southwest bought AirTran I thought, "Well, here's my chance to start my wonderful career as a airline consultant." Happens to be in Texas. So, that was the beginning for us.

Aditi Mehta: That's great.

Terra Davies: Yeah.

Aditi Mehta: Well, thank you Terra. It was great having a conversation with you and we hope you join us again soon.

Terra Davies: I'd love to. Thanks for having me.

Aditi Mehta: Thanks for listening to the PROS travel podcast - The View from 30,000 feet. Special thanks to our guests and our producer Genevieve Todd. We hope you've enjoyed this episode. If you have any feedback, a burning idea, or know of an industry expert we should feature, shoot us an email at amehta@pros.com. That's A-M-E-H-T-A@pros.com. You're now free to move about the cabin.

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