Virgin Atlantic CIO Don Langford talks Workplace, automation, and taking teamwork to new heights
In this ongoing series, we’re looking at how CIOs are actually using Workplace and measuring the impact on their business. Next up, Virgin Atlantic’s Don Langford on rapid deployments, ease of use, and pioneering new integrations.
Few airlines take technology as seriously as Virgin Atlantic. Twenty years ago, the iconoclastic British brand became the first carrier in the world to introduce seat-back screens. More recently, Virgin has led the industry in trialing wearable tech and offering Wi-Fi across its entire fleet.
The man in charge of this hardware is Don Langford, Senior Vice president of Technology for Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays. But hardware isn’t the half of it.
Using Workplace to join 10,000 people together
There are nearly 10,000 employees at Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays and, fittingly, the vast majority of them are mobile – whether flying with the aircraft as pilots and cabin crew or working in hangars, at check-in desks or airside out on the tarmac.
We felt Workplace would fit the bill better than Yammer – and it did
Don’s job is to get this workforce connected, keep it engaged and make sure ideas, news and information can flow freely through the various teams and departments. Which is easier said than done. “We’d been using Yammer but we never really got the adoption rate anywhere near where we wanted it to be,” says Don. “We felt Workplace would fit the bill better – and it did.”
The initial appeal was simple. “Many people are Facebook users so when we saw the interface we thought it would be a very easy transition,” recalls Don. “And we were right – people took to Workplace very quickly.”
We’ve created many new channels of communication that didn’t exist before
In fact, the whole project moved at “lightning speed” – from initial exploration to full deployment in just four months. Today, “we’re over 80% adoption and we’ve created many new channels of communication that didn’t exist before.”
Using Workplace to collaborate and get work done
But the impact of Workplace at Virgin Atlantic has evolved, going way beyond simple communication. “It shortcuts the ability of people to ask questions and send information,” says Don. For example? “I have a weekly IT stand up. Someone films it on their iPad and puts it on Workplace a few minutes later.”
Using Workplace shortcuts the ability of people to ask questions and send information
“Within 24 hours, dozens and dozens of people have watched that who wouldn’t have done before. That’s just magnified many-fold across the company. It’s really turbocharged the things we do.”
Workplace has also transformed employee recognition and engagement. “When I went on holiday, I spoke to one of our reps and posted a selfie to one of our company-wide groups open to everyone. More people saw her face and heard of the work she did in just a minute of my time than would ever have been possible before.”
Using Workplace to automate work and build bots
Virgin is now taking the next step on its digital journey, building new integrations to help turn previously mundane processes into automated chatbots. The first, Load Checker, is already helping staff take advantage of their travel perk by making it easier to discover flights with standby seats available.
“You can just pull out your phone, go to the Load Checker bot and see how many seats there are to Boston tomorrow,” says Don. “Every airline employee loves it. To have that piece of data delivered into your hand so frictionlessly, it’s really been a big hit.
“And it’s helped drive usage of Workplace. The adoption rate went up about five points in the period shortly after we turned it on. I think integrations are a fantastic way for us to try new things.”
I think Workplace integrations are a fantastic way for us to try new things
Don has been in the airline industry for over two decades. But he puts his success as a technology leader down to his lack of expertise in the area. “I came to technology from customer service and that’s been really helpful,” he explains. “To be able to understand what my business partners want, what the organization wants, has made it very easy to get things done.”
With that in mind, how would he pitch Workplace to his fellow CIOs? “I’d say Workplace does two things really well. It does a fantastic job with communications and engagement, especially if you have a remote or disparate workforce. All of your employees already know how to use it and many of them are already very engaged with it.”
It does a fantastic job with communications and engagement, especially if you have a remote or disparate workforce
“And then the integrations allow you to create lots of light applications that will help lots of issues that you have in your business. You can use it for customer service, use it for operational reasons – and everyone’s going to be able to slide right in.”
The impact has been just as great for Don himself: “Personally, as an employee of the company, I’ve been in touch with people I haven’t been in touch with before. I’ve seen all kinds of activities I really hadn’t seen before. I’ve made connections with people I wouldn’t have made connections with before. They’re all fantastic things.”
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