iOS apps for business: Airline rolls out enterprise iPhone apps

Finnish airline Finnair starts with iPhone apps for engineers and supervisors, with more to follow from the Apple-IBM tie-up.

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Finnair's new iOS app for supervisors.

Image: IBM

Finnair plans to roll out a series of iOS apps to its staff, starting with programs to assist maintenance crew and their supervisors.

The Finnish carrier's first apps are 'Inspect and Turn' and 'Assign Tech'. Inspect and Turn provides aircraft mechanics with digital 'task cards' and documentation with analytics-driven recommendations to complete their assignments. Assign Tech provides aircraft mechanic supervisors with an overview of flight schedules, maintenance processes, and mechanic availability, recommending the best shift assignments according to each mechanic's skills and certifications.

These apps form part of IBM's suite of iOS apps for aviation, with some modifications for Finnair's particular processes and procedures. According to IBM, it's around a third faster to deliver an app to a customer that's already part of the portfolio, compared to building it from scratch.

"We see that our internal processes have a growing impact on our customers' experience, and we really want to bring up-to-date and modern tools to our employees who are working in different parts of the company," Finnair chief digital officer Katri Harra-Salonen told ZDNet.

"We are working with the aircraft maintenance teams at the moment," said Harra-Salonen. "The first application that we are working on will be in the hands of our mechanics, we hope, in the springtime. Our mechanics and the supervisors will have mobile apps that will help them do their daily tasks and help them have transparent data in their hands."

Finnair is the first company to use IBM's new app design and development model, which the company said increases the speed, efficiency, and quality of iOS apps. The apps will be managed and hosted on IBM Cloud.

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Finnair's app on an iPhone.

Image: IBM

"We have been looking a lot internally at the IT infrastructure that we have and are providing to our employees, and we want to come from the old-fashioned availability thinking first to usabilty and to loveable products -- not just to our customers, but also to our employees," Harra-Salonen said.

The first apps will be rolled out to between 300-350 staff, but Harra-Salonen said that future apps will increase that number: "Potentially it's a large amount of our employees that we hope to serve with the apps we develop."

Finnair has not decided on the eventual number of apps it will roll out, but the company is looking at different parts of its operations, including crew and pilots, she added.

"We look at this as a journey," said Harra-Salonen. "We have a clear vision of where we want to be in 2020 and it's quite ambitious -- it's really hard to say how many apps we will include, and I'm not sure we have an end state."

In September last year Finnair signed a 5.5-year agreement with IBM for digital services.

Raimon Christiani, IBM's global industry leader for travel and transportation, said airlines want to drive new sources of revenue and be more efficient to reduce costs. IBM was seeing high demand in the airline sector, he said: "A lot of these workers in their different roles at the airport are in very mobile job roles, so it was very suitable for this kind of segment."

Back in July 2014, Apple and IBM agreed to work together on developing enterprise apps and selling iPads, iPhones, and the Apple Watch. As smartphone sales level off and sales of iPads start to decline, Apple is looking to business customers for new growth. The idea behind the tie-up is to combine Apple's hardware expertise with IBM's ability to integrate apps with the core systems used by enterprise customers.

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