Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dana Air, best ICT Driven Airline – Because?

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, it is Tuesday evening I’m back from work and I sit at my computer to write and post my blog and I have no idea what I am going to write about. That’s right folks, the blogs you read every week may have been conceived in the hour before they are written. Now that says a whole lot about my writing style, but I made that confession to say that this is one of those evenings.

So, as I am wont to do, I check out a couple of sites that I usually follow in my RSS reader – not specifically looking for an idea, but to keep my eyes busy while I let my mind wander over several of my ideas to write on. One of the sites I follow is Startups Nigeria. Startups Nigeria covers, well, Nigerian Startups and most things to do with IT in Nigeria. They had just done a story on Dana Air’s being awarded the ICT Driven Airline of the Year in a recent Awards Event. Being someone who fairly regularly has had cause use to the various Nigerian airlines websites, I had to go check out this award winning site.image

First of all, I will applaud Dana Air for winning an information technology award within the first few months of being in operation. Winning any award is no mean achievement and considering the well experienced airlines in the industry that have been using information technology to provide services for some time, Dana should certainly be congratulated. So take a bow, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Now Startups Nigeria did their story and I’m not going to duplicate what they have said nor will I rehash their opinion – for one thing, I don’t plagiarise, for another thing they really didn’t express one. However, having visited the site and experimentally made a booking I have got to ask: why?

I’m trying very hard to avoid being negative on this blog and to be fair and objective when I talk about the product of other people’s labour and investment (my “Cinematic Experience” notwithstanding). So I am honestly really only expressing curiosity when I ask why was Dana Airlines given this award. What have they brought to the table (OK the internet) that makes their web offering better than www.acn.aero, www.virginnigeria.com or www.arikair.com? To be frank, I really can’t find anything.

There are three perspectives with which to look at the website. First is from the perspective of a customer. The site is OK. It is easy to make a booking with the only “bad” part being the requirement to register before I can actually complete a booking. It asks for a bit more information than other Nigerian airline sites ask for, information not pertinent to a flight booking, other than that it basically works. In fact, from said customer perspective, it is better than Aero’s site because they let me make my booking and give me up to 10 hours to pay. Aero make’s me commit my cash at once. On the other hand Aero and others let me use both InterSwitch and eTranzact for payment and Virgin Nigeria will let me use an international credit card as well. My point is compared to others, it is OK. Nothing significantly better or worse.

The second perspective is that of an IT Professional. As much as I can I avoid speaking as an IT professional on this site because it is meant to be from a consumer technology perspective. However, as an IT professional, I understand that behind a website, or more correctly in this case, a web application, there are a lot of technologies and business processes that work in the background to make the entire service offering work. The award was not given because of any such backend processes however, at least that isn’t what the press release states:

"Dana Air was chosen as the recipient of the Best ICT Driven Airline award, despite being a new entrant in the aviation industry, because of its early deployment of ICT solutions. The introduction of e-booking and payment services by the airline is proof of the airline's commitment to passenger convenience and comfort, and deserves to be complimented."

Now this may be nitpicking, but “ICT driven” should mean a lot more than the website they have. It should mean how ICT is used in the running of their operations. I don’t think early deployment of information technology is enough of a reason to give an award. I may be wrong of course, the awarders may actually have taken all that into consideration and did a full and comprehensive comparison with the other airline’s web offerings and backend ICT tools, technologies and processes. I can only work with the publically available information. In any case, any business of the scale of an airline that doesn’t start up with a fully functional booking system with fulfilment capabilities should be hounded out of the industry instantly. So not enough reason for the award in my humble opinion.

From the third perspective, that of a someone familiar with web technologies and website (no this is not the same as an IT professional), I noticed that the website looks remarkably like Arik Air’s. Setting the two sites side by side, it looks like they were built from the same template or the same platform. That is not a bad thing, in fact it is makes a lot of sense. In the old days of web development you built stuff from scratch.

image image

However, in today’s world, a lot of smart people have created platforms that take care of the backend technology so that businesses like Arik Air and Dana Air can take care of the service offerings. Digital Crossings is built on top of such a platform. Blogger, a blogging engine owned by Google is the platform on which a staggering number of blogs are built each with unique content and layouts. Startups Nigeria is built using another platform called WordPress. WordPress is a more powerful platform than Blogger, letting you do a whole lot more. So there is absolutely nothing wrong in two or more Nigerian airlines being built on the same platform. A little bit of investigation (Thank God for Google) shows that both sites are based on an Airline Management System from Travel Technology Interactive. In fact Arik gives the platform due credit at the bottom of their home page while Dana doesn’t.

This was a smart move by both sites to use a specialised platform to rapidly deploy their web offerings. However, my point remains, seeing the sameness between these two offerings, how does www.flydanaair.com stand out?

In my opinion, for any technology product to win an award it must do something that makes it stand out from the pack. It should do make the lives of its users better in some way that other products do not. It should load faster, give more information, have a mobile version, provide access to other complimentary services (hotels, taxi services, traffic information?), reduce the number of clicks to complete a booking or provide live chat with a human being online. At the very least it should look better than the competition.

So using my criteria, who would YOU recommend for an award as the best ICT airline in Nigeria? Let’s do our own little people awards and vote for which Nigerian airline gives the best customer friendly website? Take the poll and be heard:

Choose Your Airline
Which Nigerian Airline Website is the Best
Aero Contractors - www.acn.aero
Arik Air - www.arikair.com
Dana Air - www.flydanaair.com
Virgin Nigeria - www.virginnigeria.com



Loy said...

Dejo - thanks for the fantastic analysis! Maybe we should get you on board Startups Nigeria:-)

Here are my thoughts, so please listen.

Awards, esp. those given by any organization, company or individual, are usually biased. As long as users did not vote, we are forced to accept their judgments.

I could have done a critical analysis in my post to bring out different perspectives (like you've done), but I reasoned:

What's the point debating after decisions have been made?

It's interesting to analyze and I do that most times, but for me it's best saving time and energy for other important things.

Really enjoyed your article, but please don't wait for me to post before you blog again:D

Oladejo Fabolude said...

Thanks Loy, you gave me an "easy" topic to write on this past Tuesday. About that writing job offer...

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