Ai Editorial: Assessing the role of `small teams’ in digitalization

First Published on 31st July, 2018


Ai Editorial: American Airlines, SilverRail and are making progress with their respective digital assets by counting on the talent and efficacy of self-organizing cross-functional teams, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


There is one common aspect that stands out among those travel companies that have embarked on the path to digitalization. It is about the way they structure their talent pool in order to bring agile principles into their respective businesses.


Key to continuous refining of digital assets lies in empowering `small teams’. These self-organizing cross-functional teams focus on iterative development and are offered full ownership and accountability for what they work on. Be it for an airline of American Airlines size, an intermediary like or a travel technology specialist in SilverRail Technologies, all these organizations have exemplified the prowess of such approach toward product development. Before understanding how these teams tend to function, let’s assess what these companies have achieved by structuring their teams this way:


· chose to offer a new functionality in NOMAD that would return the cheapest itinerary possible between cities on the dates that a passenger intends to leave and return. The algorithm finds and organizes flights for the user. So what over the years has proven to be a time-consuming and complex exercise for a user (since it can take multiples sessions to find the cheapest flight for different connections), now has been simplified. asserts that there product does all the work and visitors to their site can reap rewards of the results shown by algorithm created by their team.


·          SilverRail recently came up with an outstanding breakthrough to simplify the rail journey for travellers before they even leave their place. The company played its part in enabling Virgin Trains to become the first travel operator to sell tickets through Amazon Alexa. So travellers can use their voice, via Alexa-enabled Amazon devices, and Amazon Pay for this voice-based transaction.



Making it work


In one of our recent interviews, Bill McKimm, Business Development Director, Thoughtworks, referred to the significance of being “agile” and how a prototype of a new offering is crafted with the least effort possible to be used for validated learning about customers. An agile development team works on such minimum viable product to a subdivision of their users to test a new idea, to garner data and doing so learn from the whole exercise. Also, the chosen architecture paves way for the development team to deliver rapidly.  As for how the structuring or a framework like Scrum to embrace agility work is as follows:


There is an executive who is responsible for finalizing a list of specifics/ functions that the desired product would need and accordingly, prioritize the work that needs to be done. There is a timeframe and updates that flow in from the team working on the project. There are reviews and room for improvement with work being done. The idea is to learn, adapt, get better and try again. From his own experience,’s CEO Oliver Dlouhy says, “Innovative features usually require more work and polishing – you can still produce them incrementally, you even might want to get feedback along the way (prototype, beta, etc.), but you might release them once the increments work as a whole, fulfill the need and deliver the experience the customer shall receive.”


According to Dlouhy, incrementalism is harmful when confused with “doing only one-offs” or shipping half-baked products.


Agility is considered to be a mindset. Companies like looking for honesty, transparency, openness, ability to quickly adapt to a constantly changing environment, passion for travel, efficiency, willingness to fail fast and improve in their employees.


SilverRail ensures the team is supported with tools and resources needed. A couple of other aspects that ensure people are empowered:


·          Gear up for swift learning through shorter cycles and constant delivery pipelines. In a blog post, SilverRail recommended that companies need to encourage teams to spot impediments and allow for time and aid to get them sorted. Plus, one should focus on capitalizing on the aggregation of marginal gains to garner exponential returns with minimal investment.


·          Another recommendation from SilverRail: Set up means for clarity so that teams are optimizing for the throughput of the system and not any specific or single part.  Cut down on short term initiatives that affect long term velocity and manage technical debt that has the possibility of expanding. Assess and quantity every aspect and set up a core set of key performance indicators that drive to the largest gains in velocity.


How can airlines and travel companies embrace innovation? Hear from experts at the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific (Ancillary, Loyalty and Co-Brand Conferences) to be held in Bangkok, Thailand (28-30 August, 2018).


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