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Why did ChangeYourFlight.com win Flightglobal’s website of the year award? February 7, 2012

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, eBusiness Applications/Services, International Business Development, Internet Marketing.
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“It all started when five of us booked a trip to Paris”, says Iñaki Úriz, one of the founding partners of ChangeYourFlight. When three of his friends had to back out on the non-refundable tickets, he thought the airline could have made money had they known the three seats would be empty.  A simple concept was born: Would low cost airlines offer money in exchange for cancellation of a non-refundable seat they might be able to resell?

That is how this Barcelona based company got started. Úriz and co-founder Jose Vilar  put up some of their money for a prototype and then rounded up development money from friends and family. The partners had no IT or aviation background. But the two things they did have were airline consumer experience and design engineering backgrounds.

That explains why, when I first opened the website while judging the “Site of the Year” category for Flightglobal’s Webbies, I knew immediately that I had come across something very special. The concept was easy to understand and the design was simple but very slick. And, as Flightglobal’s Michael Targett points out, this translated into a wining website with fantastic usability.

The current concept took two and a half years of development. The site officially launched in December 2011 with Italy’s AirOne as its first Airline. In a phone interview last Friday, Úriz tells me that things have taken off rapidly for the website: “Air One is approving about a dozen voucher requests per day. And we are getting regular inquiries from a number of other European airlines.” For more background, on the company, check out this excellent post from the APEX blog. The company is now hiring IT talent and is actively looking for its next round of financing.

As a specialist in the use of Internet by the Aviation industry, I see my fair share of “new or improved” websites every day. The vast majority wouldn’t even get nominated for site of the year, let alone win it! So in my discussion with Úriz, I really wanted to find out what sets his creation aside and what other companies can learn from this example. Here are three things companies can learn from ChangeYourFlight.com:

  1. Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. “It is not because something does not exist that it is a bad idea”, says Úriz. Too many companies perpetuate the same processes and approaches to customer service and relationship “because they have always done it this way.” Most companies need to start from a blank canvas and change things up. This doesn’t always mean building your own website by the way. Using marketplaces such as ChangeYourFlight can bring the benefits of innovation and standardization without the costs of development.  Noteworthy websites provide innovative and more efficient ways to interact with a company. Winning websites roll-out simple win-win processes that benefit all parties.
  2. Users Prefer Doing to Reading. The era of the website as a slick electronic brochure for the company is long gone. Sure, the company needs to describe what it does succinctly right up front (i.e. elevator pitch), but today it is all about customer interaction. Could airlines set-up their own customer support procedures to handle the ChangeYourFlight concept over the phone? Sure! But for Úriz, “what makes our success is that it is all self-service and information rich. You just enter your data, pick a few options and then wait for the answer.” Noteworthy websites provide self-service information portals. Winning websites provide interactive and influential action portals.
  3. Keep It Simple Seniõr (KISS). “We felt that it we had to explain too much, ChangeYourFlight would never be used”. Did you ever notice that the iPhone does not come with a user manual? Imagine that you had to learn all of the Microsoft Excel functions before you could start on your first spreadsheet. As a rule of thumb 90% of the complexity is introduced by the last 10% of functionality. So the secret is to provide a simple interface that handles 90% of the task at hand and cover the rest some other way. Noteworthy websites provide a simple way to handle the most common tasks. Winning websites handle all the situations with an integrated and layered approach focused on delighting the customer.

I would love to see more website use these principles by next years’ Webbies. But in the meantime, give me your feedback on this winner or these principles. And if you have a good example of a company that is doing this right, pass it along!

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NBAA 2011 Online Coverage October 19, 2011

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, Conference, eBusiness Applications/Services, International Business Development, Internet Marketing, iPhone, Management, Social Media, Twitter.
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A week ago today, the2011 edition of the annual NBAA convention came to an end in Las Vegas. Although the show was a great success “by every yardstick” with over 26000 registered attendees, many business aviation professionals also rely on online coverage to figure out what are the industry trends. So, as I have done in previous years, here is my take on how the show fared on the internet.

News Outlet Coverage

As always the main aviation news outlet were out in force to cover the show. There were no less than 4 production rooms at the convention center where teams from Aviation International News, Aviation Week, Flight Global and NBAA relayed important information online. The content numbers were impressive:

  AINonline Avweek FlightGlobal NBAA
Articles 230 21 130 55
Blogs 2 18 12 0
Videos 10 0 13 18
Photos 54 75 18 216
Daily
Magazine
3 3 6 0

First of all, it was interesting see how NBAA stepped up in its own news coverage of the show with a team of freelance journalists and photographers. They produced quality material throughout the show and took advantage of their website and social media to distribute their content (some of it exclusive). Their website is a bit poor in potential interaction, but in my opinion, they did a better job than AviationWeek. AvWeek’s team continues to disappoint with the least amount of innovation, the smallest online content output and their ill-timed decision to part ways with their star reporter Benet Wilson (@AvQueenBenet) right before the show (although she did a very professional job covering the event for them from Washington).

For innovation, you had to look at AIN and Flight which both released a new version of their websites in time for NBAA. Both companies have recently invested heavily to upgrade their content management capabilities behind the scenes, which will allow them to grow the usability and features they can provide their online readers. At Flight, the changes were both cosmetic and premium user focused. It resulted in a redesign of the navigation features and (at last) in the introduction of a good comment function. As huge as these changes were internally, they left me and many other users underwhelmed by the new website. It is “OK”. I am sure the PRO users will get more for their money, but I did not get a chance to review that part of the site. For AIN however, the change in internal content management provided some much needed improvement to their old website. Because they switched to open platform Drupal, they were able to immediately take advantage of off-the-shelf widgets for twitter, Facebook and trending (showing the most popular article). It is definitely the most improved website of the four I reviewed and I really liked it. Because AIN continued to provide the most extensive content, in a well-designed new website, I think for the first time in my reviews, they have actually edged Flight Global for “best in show” (by the slimmest of margins).

With that said, all these news organizations continue to ignore the iPad as an important delivery platform at the show and off the show. These devices were everywhere in Vegas, and must be included in the content delivery plans of many aviation companies. Testing all websites for iPad compatibility is now a must. None of the four sites’ videos could be accessed directly (other than by jumping to the YouTube app). Furthermore, the daily magazines, available online on each respective websites, were not viewable on the iPad. And even though Flight Global and AIN have iPhone apps that work on iPad, but they have not been upgraded to take advantage of the content features of their new websites, nor do they feature conference specific filtering.

Social Media

Twitter was once again very active with over 2700 posts in the #NBAA11 during the show. The statistics from the archive show a healthy proportion of original content versus retweets as well as a crossover of users. Compared to last year the numbers are similar, but businesses were more directly involved with good interaction. A lot of companies took the opportunity to jump in for the first time, unfortunately most of them simply tweeted “Come see us at booth CXXXX”. Hopefully they have learned something by watching the event stream, joining others at the NBAA sponsored Tweet-up, or reading my advice (shameless plug!).

Amongst the companies most active in Social Media, Duncan Aviation continues to show exemplary behavior. They have been active on Twitter (@DuncanAviation) before and during the show, posted multiple blog entries, and deployed a show specific landing page that increased interactivity online as well as at the booth.

The Future

Technology continues to play a growing role in the world of aviation exhibitions. As mentioned before, the iPad was omnipresent both in delivering solutions, in marketing products and services, but also as an effective tool for attendees. The superior NBAA mobile app was also an interesting step towards changes that are upon us. For future shows, I think that the world of online and on site are headed for convergence with much activity taking place before the show online, while the actual onsite presence will become more efficient but will be shared online with others at the show and watching from afar.

Do you have any thoughts about NBAA or the future of this kind of show? Is there anything I missed online? Let me know what you think.

NBAA11 Mobile App Raises the Bar High for All Future Aerospace Shows September 29, 2011

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, Conference, eBusiness Applications/Services, International Business Development, iPhone, Management, Social Media.
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If you read my critique of previous Aerospace trade shows, I have always said that exhibitors needed to do more with technology to get noticed at such events. Attendees have a limited amount of time to spend in the expo hall and they will be armed with a predetermined list of booths to visit. I am a big fan of mobile apps, and I have been looking forward to the possibilities of making trade show going a much more efficient experience. But so far, I have been disappointed with what has come out. For example, the 2011 Paris Air Show app was far less that exciting. However all of that changed this week.

For the 64th Annual Meeting in Last Vegas next month, NBAA has just released the official NBAA11 trade show app that sets the bar very high for all future large aerospace events. The FREE app, created by Core-Apps and available for iPhone, Blackberry and Android, is nothing short of brilliant. Finally!

FIVE BEST THINGS ABOUT THE NBAA11 MOBILE APP

  • No Internet Connection Needed – When you open the app, it updates the information if you have an internet connection. But to use the app, no connection is required. Everything is already there! Exhibitor info, maps, documents, news, twitter feed, etc… are all available as of the time of your last connection. This is an absolute requirement for large shows where connectivity is usually very difficult to maintain.
  • Booth Categories and Map – You can find exhibitors easily through an alphabetical directory or a category directory. This is very efficient. For example, if you are looking for a new base of operation, you can easily find in a list all the airport representatives at the show. You can then jump to a zoom-able map, exhibitor contact info, description, and (if you have connectivity) their website.
  • Booth Tagging, Tracking and Notes – In preparation for the show, you can tag the booths you would like to visit and create notes for the topics you would like to discuss. Once in Vegas, you can update the notes as you visit the exhibitors and flag the booths you have seen. At the end of the day or the show, you can email yourself all your notes for follow-up or reporting.
  • Events List with Personal Calendar – The app comes with a personal calendar for the days of the show. From the conference agenda, you can add the sessions that interest you to the calendar, then add your own meetings. And if your meeting will take place at a booth, the app will add the location information automatically.
  • Central access to important document and feeds – From the main menu, you can also access important documents, YouTube videos, and the NBAA Facebook page. This is a very convenient way to have all the event information in a central location although some of these features do require connectivity.

THREE THINGS THAT COULD MAKE THE APP EVEN BETTER

  • Trending and Social Networking – Since the app knows the exhibitors that are tagged and visited, I would love to see trending on a map. Rating and/or public notes could be additional information collected by the app. This would be a great way to find hot products or important innovations. If that trending can further be curtailed by my sector of interest, the opinion of renowned experts, or by the habits of the “friends” I have connected with (perhaps through LinkedIn), we could start seeing some interesting efficiencies.
  • Booth Tagging of News – As news gets submitted to NBAA over the wire or via press partners, the items could be tagged with the relevant booth numbers to make them available directly from the booth page. This would allow visitors to see the latest items relevant to the exhibitor right as they approach the booth.
  • Check-in and Directions – “Visited” flags are great, but “Check-ins” are better. It would allow visitors to keep track of where they have been, but also to provide them with direction to where they need to go directly on the map. Combined with the social aspects above, this would also allow colleagues to find each other on the show floor if the check-ins are made available to the network.

I know this app will be a huge success at NBAA 2011. And I hope that other show organizers take notice and build upon this strong foundation. Exhibitors should also push for this development as it is one of the best ways for them to rise above the fray at these large shows.

Do you have an opinion of this app? Are you planning on using it at the show? What has been your experience?

Five Mandatory First Steps for Corporate Social Networking September 8, 2011

Posted by ludozone in eBusiness Applications/Services, FaceBook, Internet Marketing, LinkedIn, Social Media, Twitter.
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Now that many Aviation companies have woken up to the fact that they can no longer simply ignore Social Networking as part of their business strategies, I am often asked what should be the right approach to get engaged. Below are the five first things a company MUST do before deciding how and when to participate.

  1. CLAIM YOUR SOCIAL BRAND.
    It is important for companies to realize that, for the most part, trademarks do not carry over to the cyber world. Just like with domain names, companies do not have a guarantee that their brand name will be available in social sites. For example, @Boeing on Twitter is NOT owned by Boeing Corporation. So the first thing to do is to claim accounts in all the main sites before they are gone. You can use namechk.com to find availability in a single search. You should probably claim the most important sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, WordPress/Blogger, and Flickr. Set-up the accounts using new email addresses like twitter@mycompany.com to maximize flexibility in the future. Grab all the main accounts even if you might not use them in the future. If a key site is not available, pick one brand for the majority of the sites and a derivative for the unavailable sites. For example “MyCompanyVideos” might be a good alternative on YouTube. Keep a central register of all your Social Media accounts with usernames, passwords and associated email accounts. Leave the accounts’ public profiles to the bear minimum until you are ready to use them.
  2. ORGANIZE YOUR LINKEDIN UNIVERSE.
    Search for your company on LinkedIn. Claim the company profile and edit it to your satisfaction. Include links to key parts of your website (i.e. careers), and review the groups that might already be related to your business. Create two official groups: MyCompany News (public group managed by your marketing folks), and MyCompany Current Employees (private group managed by HR). Leave them empty for the moment (more on that in step 4 below). Take stock of your employees already on LinkedIn and make a general quality assessment of their profiles.
  3. ORGANIZE YOUR TWITTER UNIVERSE.
    It is very likely that if you end up using Twitter, you will have multiple accounts. For example, you might use @mycompany as the main account but you would have @mycompany_jobs for career opportunities and discussions. Think about the account structure you would like to have and register the key accounts you might need. If @mycompany is available, it is unlikely that that @mycompany_anything would be taken. This is not as much to grab the actual accounts as it is to establish a nomenclature and structure for your future accounts. As with step 1 above, don’t forget to set up distinct email addresses for each account and put them in your register. Remember also that key members of your staff might have personal twitter accounts that should not be mixed in with their business activities. For example, Bill Smith might be your CEO and he might be active as a volunteer in the community. He might use @BillSmith for his private posts and you might want to create a @mycompany_CEO for his business posts. Do not create
    @mycompany_BillSmith because you will have to change it if/when he leaves. Instead put his name in the profile and change it when necessary. It works the same way with the associated email address which should be CEO@mycompany.com rather than BillSmith@mycompany.com. Make sure to create a @mycompany_employees account which you will use in your policy enforcement (see step 4 below). Set-up minimum profiles for each accounts and clearly indicate in the profile if these accounts are dormant to avoid any misunderstanding or judgment. Finally, set up the accounts structure in HootSuite or TweetDeck to be able to read/manage the multiple accounts in a single powerful interface.
  4. ESTABLISH A SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY.
    The good news here is that most of what needs to be covered should already exist in other policies. Social Networking is really not different than email, although you might have less ability to control distribution. You need to simply remind employees that amongst others, your confidentiality, responsibility, and harassment policies fully apply to social media and will be enforced equally. In addition, you should mandate that your employees declare their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to you. This is simply to enforce your policy. You do not need access to these accounts, connect with them, or “friend” them. You just need to know that they exist. You should encourage your employees to keep their Facebook accounts locked and perhaps offer them a class on how to set that up. You should follow every employee’s Twitter accounts from your @mycompany_employees account to monitor potential breaches of policy. Employees should also be required to “like” your FaceBook page so they don’t miss important public news and announcements. Finally, you should mandate that everyone who has an account on LinkedIn join the private “MyCompany Current Employees” group for internal communication and discussions (Tip: LinkedIn has the ability to create subgroups for specific projects/departments). As an appendix, you should publish a list of all your Social Networking accounts with a clear responsible person or department associated with each.
  5. LISTEN BEFORE YOU TALK.
    After you have established all the accounts and policies listed above, it is now time to listen. DO NOT start posting “Hello World” messages on all the platforms. Each tool must be part of a coordinated Two-Way communication strategy. Be sure to set-up Google alerts for your company, products and areas of expertise. Set-up saved searches in HootSuite or TweetDeck to mine the Twitter conversations. Join a few key groups in LinkedIn and set-up weekly group email reporting. Create reporting metrics to quantify the activity you witness in each channel. Listening to the conversations that are taking place, finding out where your audience “hangs out” (including employees), and deciding what channel to use for what purpose is extremely important to developing a strong social networking presence.

After you accomplish these five steps, you can start to define your approach and goals. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try small projects. That is the best way to learn. You might want to read my post on “How to effectively combine website, blog, and Twitter?” for some ideas of how to move forward. But even if you decide to stand back for a while and just listen, at least you will be assured that a strong Social Networking foundation has been set up for your company and employees.

Do you have questions about these five steps? Are there other things you think should be added? Please leave your questions and comment below or email me directly.

Conflicts of Interest amongst Parts Locator Marketplaces June 14, 2011

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, eBusiness Applications/Services, International Business Development, Internet Marketing, Online Supply Chain Management.
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In my recent blog post titled “The challenges of online aeronautical parts locator systems”, I asked if it is ethical for a parts locator marketplace to be affiliated with an actual part reseller. In this post I am analyzing this potential conflict of interest in more details.

For a parts distributor to be successful, they need to:

  • Effectively manage the inventory they keep: Distributors must avoid stocking parts that will stay on the shelf for too long, tying up valuable capital. But they also
    want to have a large enough inventory to become a preferred “one stop shop” for customers. For example, they want to know when to get rid of OEM parts when an
    equivalent but more readily available PMA part becomes available. Or, they want to know when to hold on to that rare part that is impossible to find.
  • Price the parts based on market pressures: Distributors want to know when to increase the price of parts that are hard to find and when to lower the prices of parts
    that are tying up shelf space unnecessarily. For example, if the FAA issues a mandatory service bulletin, distributors know that some parts will be in high
    demand and they might want to increase their margins.
  • Stay ahead of the competition: Because the aviation aftermarket parts industry is so fragmented, it accounts for hundreds and hundreds of parts distributors
    or resellers. These companies range from a couple of employees to multi-national conglomerates. Competition is fierce and the pressure is on to surpass or eliminate competition at all costs.

The analytics required to achieve these goals are pretty straight forward:

  • What are the parts most in demand: distributors want to know what parts buyers are looking for. More importantly, they want to find out which parts are not found.
  • Who has the parts available: distributors want to know which of their competitors have the parts inventory. They want to know quantities and locations to be able
    to adjust their own inventory.
  • What is the market price of the part: distributors want to know what others are charging for the parts they have in inventory to be able to adjust their own
    price to the market.

Online parts locator marketplaces often advertise that they process thousands of searches and RFQs per day, thus generating the exact data that a distributor would need to dominate the market. The data mining possibilities of such websites affords a unique vision into the key tendencies of the Aviation Aftermarket.

This is analogue to the data that credit cards company collect on the consumer side. However, credit card companies are regulated and are FORBIDDEN from using the personal information they collect. Such rules are outlined in their Data Privacy Statement. Supermarket chains like WALMART also collect such data to manage their operation and apply pressure on their suppliers. However, they keep that data for themselves and are not about to share it with any of their competitors.

In the Aviation industry, not only is there no regulations about this subject, but thousands of distributors VOLUNTARELY provide this information through online parts locator marketplaces directly owned by some competitors. This means that distributors, manufacturers or resellers using these systems indirectly provide their competitors with a view of their
inventory, availability, and pricing in a data format easily analyzed and interpreted. Also, buyers should be concerned about trusting the search results they receive when they are looking for a part that the marketplace owner actually has in inventory. Will the buyer receive independent results or will he be “guided” towards a specific answer?

So to make sure that you avoid these conflicts of interest, perform these two checks before deciding what marketplace to use either as a buyer or a seller:

  • Be sure to research the background and affiliation of each marketplace. You will be surprised how some of these websites don’t provide you ANY information about
    their ownership or business background (Check out gemaviation.com as a good “mystery” business). The more transparent they are about whom they are the better. Make sure you know the actual business entity (e.g. Inc., LLC, GmbH) and who the key executives are before proceeding. Here is an affiliation list of the most common Parts Locator marketplaces:

Marketplace

Affiliation

ABDonline.com Air Service Directory
AeroXchange.com 13 Major Airlines
Airparts.com Turbine World International
APLS.com Defense Solutions Group
Avmarkets.com Av-tools.com
Dataccess.net Independent
fipart.com Independent
ILSmart.com Aviall/Boeing
Locatory.com Avia Solutions Group
OneAero.com Independent
Partbase.com Independent
Partslogistics.com DakotaAirParts
RHOBI.com Independent
Spec2000.com Air Transport Association
Stockmarket.aero Component Control
  • Check out the Terms & Conditions and Data Privacy documents. These documents should be readily available (usually linked at the bottom of the page). You
    will be shocked at what some of these sites will do with your data. Most of them bind you to these terms from the moment you log in. Be sure to read both documents as there is usually confidentiality and data usage clauses in both of them.

The aviation aftermarket industry is still one of the most immature industries when it comes to using the web efficiently. The large number of parts locator marketplace and their wide range of quality and professionalism are a good indication that things need to improve. Industries that have gain much efficiency through the use of internet and marketplaces have done so through transparency and quality.  In my opinion these are the two things that we should improve in the Aviation Aftermarket.

Full Disclosure: Although this blog represents his own personal opinions, Ludo Van Vooren is the VP of Customer Solutions for fipart.com, an independent parts locator marketplace.

Use of Twitter takes off at MRO Americas April 18, 2011

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, Conference, International Business Development, Internet Marketing, Management, Social Media, Twitter.
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Last week, the MRO Americas conference and exhibition hosted by AviationWeek in Miami Beach was the largest in the 16 years series. Clocking in at over 8500 attendees and 950 exhibitors, it was good to see the buzz in back in this segment of the industry.

Both FlightGlobal and AviationWeek were reporting from the show by posting a constant stream of blogs, pictures, and videos on their respective show landing pages. FlightGlobal sent their aviation web celebrity team of Mary Kirby (@RunwayGirl) and Jon Ostrower (@FlightBlogger), both of whom continue to bring their unique brand of refreshing reporting to the industry. But it was AviationWeek showed notable improvement in their online presence. Largely attributed to the leadership of new President Greg Hamilton, AviationWeek was here in full force from the editorial, sales, and event sides of the business. They all seemed re-energized by the enthusiasm of web-minded talent such as Rupa Haria (@AvWeekRupa) and Alejandro Wyss (@AWyss). For example, @AvWeekEvents credited Alejandro for the idea of the innovative Twitter Electronic Boards in the lobby and exhibit halls which many thought were a great addition to the show. Beyond the conference hashtag (#MROAM), the conference also had a Four Square location and a fun tweet-up to get attendees, suppliers, and web followers connected. This resulted in the best performance by the AviationWeek online team to date with much promises for the future.

Beyond an excellent use of twitter by the two news organizations as well as veteran social media users such as @DeltaTechOps , it was good to see a number of suppliers jumping into the conversation, many for the first time.  The #MROAM conference stream registered over 600 updates in a period of three days, even briefly trending on Twitter during opening day. But it was obvious by the posts coming from the newbies that they were not really sure how to use the medium. So here are 3 pieces of advice for using twitter effectively at large tradeshows:

1)      People talking about you is better than you talking about yourself
Too many suppliers simply said something like: “For a great demo stop by booth 3145”. This is not enticing to an attendee as much as if a journalist says your demo is worth seeing (as did @AvWeekKristin), or a customer proclaims their satisfaction with your services. So rather than tweeting about your own great virtues, ask journalist and customers to tweet about you. That is 10 times more credible

2)      Don’t Shout, Converse
The proper use of Twitter is in the form of a conversation. Leave the news flash to the professionals. Instead, ask questions or engage attendees in conversations: “What did you think of this comment?”, “What swag do you like best?”, “What innovations have you noticed in the exhibit hall?”

3)      Be helpful without being overbearing
Try to think about what would interest you if you were an attendee to this conference. What would be helpful to you? But if you have nothing to say, don’t retweet other posts. Retweeting is not the equivalent of the FaceBook “Like” button. If you like what someone says, simply reply to the post with a thank you message rather than a re-tweet. This is especially important when you have far less followers that the original poster. If you feel that your audience could benefit from the original post but might not be following the conference stream, retweet it, but by removing the conference hashtag from the post. This will eliminate a lot of noise from the channel and make everyone happier.

For additional tips on how exhibitors can use Social Media at tradeshows like MRO, you can check out my review from last year’s show entitled: “Missed Opportunity for Exhibitors”.

The next big show will be Paris Air Show this summer. With both AviationWeek and FlightGlobal promises new web updates and other goodies for the show, as well as many suppliers entering the social media fray, it will surely be the strongest A&D online event to date. I can’t wait to witness it.

What would you like to see happening online at Paris Air Show?

The challenges of online aeronautical parts locator systems February 17, 2011

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, eBusiness Applications/Services, International Business Development, Internet Marketing, Online Supply Chain Management.
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3 comments

A recent magazine article (PDF) and subsequent post on LinkedIn started an interesting discussion regarding the phantom inventories that have plagued most Aviation Parts Locator services for many years. The contributors argued that integrated inventory systems and/or feedback functions could potentially help with the problem.

Phantom inventories, the exaggerated or completely fake listing of parts, quantities, or condition code, is just one of the issues faced by these systems. As a buyer, you might find that your RFQs do not get answered. Of course, this is also one of the only industries where prices are still not published and a buyer actually has to ask for the privilege of spending their money. For suppliers, there is the frustration of distinguishing themselves from their lesser quality competitors. Also, most suppliers receive many “price fishing RFQs” from pretend buyers not really interested in doing business.

So although I sympathize with the opinions of those who commented, the issue is really related to dishonesty in the industry. Phantom inventory can be managed equally in an integrated system than in an excel spreadsheet. Until dishonest or at least misleading suppliers, buyers, and parts locator platforms are exposed and driven out, there will be little progress. This can only be achieved through transparency, quality, and community.

First, we should work to get rid of misleading online parts locator services. As the article pointed out, some of these platforms continuously reload inventories that were previously deleted. They also steal information from other platforms, or harass potential subscribers with incessant phone calls. Let’s expose these companies in forums such as LinkedIn and let the community know. Also, we should request transparency from these platforms. Is it ethical for an open parts locator service to be affiliated with an actual part reseller? Can the search results really be trusted?  Isn’t there an inherent conflict of interest? Let’s ask that these platforms disclose their ownership and other business activities. If they refuse, we can do it for them. Finally, it should be clear what each platform charges for subscription and why they feel it is worth it. Why is it that subscription price is such a mystery with these platforms?

Talking about pricing, we should demand price transparency from suppliers. A part in a specific condition with specific documentation should have a fixed price. The only difference between suppliers should be availability and delivery. We should be able to see part prices immediately and just get a quote for delivery. There is no reason part prices should be secret. That business model has passed. Serious suppliers should embrace transparency and quality so they drive away the misleading suppliers that list phantom inventory. Even if dishonest suppliers list the same prices, they won’t be able to beat the delivery time and handling quality of suppliers who actually have the part. So let’s reward transparency by doing more business with suppliers that list prices in locator services.

By doing so, we will also drive away the fake buyers. If prices are displayed, there is no reason for price fishing. There is also a better feeling from the buyer that they are not being “price raped” when dealing with AOG situations. Only delivery should be more expensive in this case, not the actual part price. This will create a more efficient process, with better quality and competition.

The advantage of doing business in the 21st century in a relatively small industry such as Aviation, is that the community can yield enormous power over outdated and efficient business processes. So instead of creating technology to fix an old process, online parts locator services should use technology to change the industry through transparency, quality and community. And as members of the community, it is now our responsibility to make this happen.

Why PrivateFly.com won FlightGlobal’s Site of the Year award February 9, 2011

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, eBusiness Applications/Services, International Business Development, Internet Marketing.
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When FlightGlobal’s 2010 webbies winners were announced last week, it was probably the first time many people in the industry heard of PrivateFly.com. This small UK-based company was founded just over four years ago by Adam Twidell, an ex-RAF pilot and NetJets alumni. The company’s purpose is to compare instant pricing and book Private Jet flights from an accredited global network of operators. PrivateFly aims to bring the use of business aircraft into mainstream air travel. Sounds interesting, but what is so special about PrivateFly.com?

PrivateFly exemplifies how the Internet can be used to solve challenges that cannot be addressed in any other way, offering the possibility of truly industry changing innovation. Adam Twidell, CEO of PrivateFly, agrees: “Every other area of travel and brokerage has been transformed by the Internet. Despite the creation of giants like NetJets and others, BizAv is still an extremely fragmented industry. For example, there are over 700 operators in Europe alone. We are aiming to be the disruptive technology that finally offers customers the transparency and flexibility they need to book a private flight from a safe and reliable operator at a competitive price.”

To achieve this goal, Twidell and his team have been hard at work designing the powerful technology behind the website. Harvesting data from aircraft databases, airport information, and other public sources, the development team in India produced a simple interface design with efficient functionality. Then it was time to involve the community of Operators. “That was the hardest part, but the recession helped a lot”, says Twidell. “Many operators were worried that this platform would generate price wars that would lower the value of their services. But once they saw that this was much more about safety, reliability, and transparency, they started coming on board. Our platform does not sacrifice luxury or customer service in favor of price. It provides the potential customer with knowledge to make an informed decision with the confidence they obtained the value they wanted. Small operators with a handful of jets but that offer great service can now be recognized globally on the value they provide rather than by the size of their marketing budgets.”

PrivateFly harvests industry knowledge and public information to instantaneously provide a “ballpark” pricing for any global trip from a small jaunt in Florida to a safari trip from the UK to Kenya. It then aims to educate the customer with the choice of aircrafts available for the trip as well as airport information. Finally it offers to send out for a formal quote from its network of operators. In the RFQ, the customer can specify additional requirements such as aircraft age or other services to further refine the list of targeted operators. The application is also available on iPhone. Already quite an achievement, Twidell says this is just the beginning: “We are working on introducing a feedback loop from both operators and customers to help raise the bar on quality. We also want to use technology to help educate customers about choices and options. Too many times have I flown American customers into Heathrow because nobody ever bothered to tell them about some of the other London BizAv airports such as Northolt or Farnborough that would have saved them thousands of dollars and potentially hours of ground transfer time. I would like to see the website offer customers alternatives based on aircraft size, final destination (after the airport), or specific services required. I also want to develop the mobile application to support the actual flight, not just the booking. For example, I think customers should be able to precisely locate their aircraft and access its pilot on their way to the airport from the convenience of their iPhone. ”

Today, the company is gathering momentum based on the successes it has earned with a number of operators as well as its stringent quality control. PrivateFly has dropped several operators from its network when they failed to meet its required service standards. Now in the middle of their next financing round, the company plans on expanding both its technology and its network with the £2M it hopes to raise.

PrivateFly has the potential of changing Business Air Charter in the same way iTunes changed the music industry. As its community grows, so will its functionalities and before you know it, this website will be the de-facto standard for private jet booking. Because it aims at profound industry changes by promoting transparency and distributed knowledge through web-based innovation, PrivateFly.com deservedly earned FlightGlobal’s Site of the Year award.

FlightGlobal updates its iPhone App, makes good progress November 30, 2010

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, eBusiness Applications/Services, Internet Marketing, iPhone, Social Media.
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In my previous “FlightGlobal and AINOnline Apps Reviews”, I noted that although FlightGlobal should be recognized for its pioneering effort to bring Aerospace news to the iPhone in a comprehensive app, their first version had a number of shortcomings. Earlier this month, FlightGlobal released its new version 2.3 with a much improved implementation.

First of all, the application has been greatly simplified. It is faster and easier to use than version 1. It provides News, Blogs, Videos, and Images in a clean and simple interface. It is good to see that the twitter feed and jobs sections are gone, thus allowing the app to focus on a sole purpose: keeping up with industry happenings. Navigation is reduced to four buttons at the bottom of the screen. The main “Home” button gives you the news headlines, latest videos, new pictures, and latest blog posting in a straightforward scrollable screen. If that was all FlightGlobal improved on, it would already be a giant leap forward. However, there is much more to this version.

The application now cashes text and photos anytime it connects to the Internet, so most articles, images and blog pots are available for viewing offline. The app also uses imbedded text, picture and video browser, no longer requiring a user to jump out of the application. These two aspects were the biggest drawback of the previous version, so I was very pleased to see them fixed.

But the main new feature of this version is the “MyFG” section. This tab is completely customizable to allow the selection of specific news from 12 different categories as well as 11 blogs. This provides the user with a “customizable” view of the news, relevant to their specific topic of interest. In this example, the user can configure the app to only show headlines related to aircraft and airline safety in the “MyFG” tab. This is extremely useful and is definitely the most distinguishing factor for this app.

I could not find any major “flaws” with the design. It is a read-only app with no ability for interaction and sharing on social networks, but it is better to not have these functions than have them implemented in a clunky way. My only other comments are merely annoyances that should be easily fixable in a point release. In the Home section, the blog logos don’t seem to load so it is hard to tell which blog the headline is from. Once a blog post is open it is also hard to tell where it came from. I like the “bookmark” feature that grays out the  news articles and blogs you have already read, but the flags don’t carry across tabs (a post read in the “blog” tab still shows unread in the “home” tab), which slightly defeats the purpose.

This version is now definitely an iPhone app you should download. Its distinction from the current AINOnline version is merely a question of personal preference rather than functionality. And apparently, many users are downloading the app. When I contacted FlightGlobal regarding this upgrade, they revealed that they have had over 10,000 downloads of the free app with a current rate of 50 new users per day as opposed to 15 per day for the old version. Next on the horizon for FlightGlobal is an Android version of the Aerospace news app as well as other iPhone app(s) providing access to their data products.

What do you think of the new app? What should the next improvements be? What other kinds of Aerospace app would you like to see on the iPhone?

NBAA 2010 online coverage review October 26, 2010

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, Conference, International Business Development, Internet Marketing, Management, Social Media, Twitter.
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In her excellent NBAA Social Media preview, Benet Wilson of AviationWeek (@AvWeekBenet) predicted correctly that this year show would be well covered on Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube and LinkedIn. Well, a few days after the end of a very successful show in Atlanta, it is time to analyze the results.

First of all, the ambiance at the show was much more optimistic than in the last two years, so there was a lot more to report. The major Aerospace publications all had a strong presence on-site. They each put out 3 show dailies that were distributed online. The format was similar to that of the Farnborough editions, with the exception of AIN which managed to produce much more professional video through their AINtv brand. They also added blogs for the first time which is another step in the right direction.

In terms of volume and quality of information produced, AIN continues to lead with the largest amount of news stories, while AviationWeek took the lead in blog posts due mostly to the personal involvement of Bennet Wilson who was actually on the ground for once! Flight Global continued their casual style of video reporting with the @RunwayGirl and @Flightblogger team. As usual, Mary Kirby stole the show but her style is perceived as too cavalier by some. I personally disagree and the number of YouTube views seems to side with me.

The bottom line numbers go as follows:

  News Stories Blogs Videos
Aviation International News (AIN) 285 4 10
AviationWeek 33 41 1
Flight Global 103 23 12

But there were other big changes compared to last year’s show. First of all, @NBAA was itself much more active in Social Media. As I suggested in my analysis from last year, they were much more engaged with the people attending the show. They used Twitter a lot and maintained a very active Facebook page with plenty of good information. They also catered to the people who could not attend by providing their own NBAA News Bureau. Finally they once again hosted the very popular NBAA Social Media panel (See report from ABCI’s Paula Williams) which was attended by over 100 people and is now available as online video(s).

Secondly, there were a lot more people reporting directly from the show using Twitter. Over the period of Nov 18-22, over 2200 tweets were sent on the #NBAA10 stream. That is nearly double the volume from last year. Looking at the list of top users below, I am pleased to see a healthy mix of media, large OEMs, suppliers and service providers. Embraer, Boeing, Airbus and Dassault are noticeably absent from the list while Bombardier and Gulfstream gained great exposure with their brand also showing in the top words tweeted from the show.

[Click picture to enlarge]

Finally, there was also the first ever tweet-up at the end of the show. Sponsored by allFBO.com, it was attended by many of the people from the list above and generated a promise for bigger and better things to come in the future.

For now, NBAA takes the crown for online coverage amongst all the shows I have analyzed in the last two years, so congratulations to all on a job well done.

What were your impressions of the show? Please share your comments and highlight below.

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