Vistara: A Highflyer Spearheading the Technology Revolution in the Aviation Industry

Ravinder Pal Singh, Chief Innovation & Information OfficerTechnology has been the common source of disruption across industries, and aviation is no exception. The phenomenon is here to stay for the long term, along with regulatory, social, economic and environmental factors. At a time when the ‘experience’ has become more important than ‘things’, embracing new age technologies is sacrosanct to win customers and elevate the status of the aviation industry in India. Robots being one of the coolest tech toys to bring-out one’s inner child, filling children & adults alike with excitement, an increasing number of airlines are embracing robotics to strengthen their bond with customers as well as for enhancing their operational efficiency. It is indeed a proud moment for us Indians to boast about the fact that this robotics revolution was spurred by Vistara Airlines, an Indian domestic airline based out of Gurgaon. Its recently unveiled project RADA arguably the first robot in the history of aviation that is designed to assist travelers at airports, intends to redefine the on ground experience of travelers and the way people interact with airlines.

The perfect amalgamation of two world renowned organizations Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, Vistara has naturally imbibed their values and worked on many such pioneering & potentially gamechanging initiatives and experimentations. Falling as the linchpin at the center of all these technological endeavors is its customer centricity an attribute its parent organizations are celebrated for. Customer experience is just not digital for Vistara, but something inexplicably intertwined with its DNA. Driven by the objective to delight today’s new age air travelers, this trendsetter thoughtfully engages with its customers to ensure a travel experience that is more seamless and personalized than before.

Standing Tall on a Robust & Tidy Foundation
“The central idea is to deliver an unmatched travel experience to our customers and optimize processes & operations by adopting more intelligent, sustainable and cost effective ways to perform routine jobs, thereby also elevating our workplace,” delineates Ravinder Pal Singh, Chief Innovation & Information Officer, Vistara Airlines. Having always verged towards assignments that proffered a true opportunity to create body of work, Ravinder has built the end-to-end IT infrastructure of Vistara on Cloud, which cements its place in the aviation history as the world’s first such airline. Vistara’s portfolio and its architecture is a mix of strong, core world class platforms which are complimented by a growing portfolio of Robotics, AI and Big Data, which are solving simple and complex problems ranging from different attributes of the customer experience, aircraft and its engineering, optimized operations and connected employees.

Vistara positions itself high in the sky with its robust & tidy architecture and clarity of thought on how it wants cutting edge futuristic technology to provide potency to its architecture keeping today’s need in consideration while laying the foundation for future. “As a startup airline and organization, we keep things simple and our enterprise architecture is clean, as it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees without a comprehensive view of what the proverbial forest looks like,” remarks Ravinder. Its digital agenda is based on the foundation of a modern, robust, scalable and an elastic infrastructure. Constantly defying expectations, Vistara is currently building a strong layer of core system of records pertaining to airline commercial, financial, engineering, flight operations and people orientation all mapped with social, mobility and analytics.

After meticulously studying the complexities of launching an airline business and its dependence on technology, Ravinder built a strong foundational IT organization which can hold a growing world class airline now and in future. Discussing the pros and cons of a completely digitalized architecture, Ravinder says, “Born digital companies or what I call organizations born in Cloud, have the obvious advantage of providing a clean slate, but you don’t have the second chance to get it right. If the strategy and architecture go wrong, it weakens the foundation, giving birth to a series of problems. Also, your strategic dependencies are more complex and interdependent on various factors ranging from revenues, cost, operational readiness, human factors,regulations, technology and its architecture and most important digital expectations of a mature organization”.

Ravindra surrounded himself with people who are leaders and experts in their own right and complement his experience & expertise. His management philosophy has been in the range of autocratic to democratic, but always leading and never controlling. He takes pride in his team, each of whom brings remarkable credibility along with exceptional talent, which motivates and influences other communities within Vistara and drives innovation across the spectrum. Not restricted within the IT and Innovation circle, Ravinder spends more time with people from ground operations, marketing, loyalty, finance, flight operations, facilities and others.
He draws inspiration from observing their work & environment as well as their delight & frustrations as end users.

Customer experience is just not digital for Vistara, but something inexplicably intertwined with its DNA.

Ravinder has always been associated with an organization/institution where incubation or change is core necessity and challenge its quality. This has enhanced his natural ability to apply art & science to solve today’s problems and build sustainable foundation for tomorrow. “My professional persona is biased towards creation, influencing my social style, management philosophy and leadership virtues,” proclaims Ravinder.

RADA - A Power Packed & Genuinely Indian Technology
The idea for developing RADA stemmed from an observation that many people in the aviation sector are young, brimming with enthusiasm, but their true potential is challenged with the limited scope of their routine work. Especially, the ground staff end-up spending decades within the walls of an airport, answering similar mundane customer queries, which leaves little room to explore their skills and leverage them for more strategic activities. On the other hand, there were only a handful of organizations seriously working towards developing highend technical solutions for the aviation industry, almost all of which were developed outside of India.

“The basic premise of the thought was to develop a simple & extremely costeffective robot that can engage in basic human interaction to begin with, and can further be developed to perform more complex tasks. Another key focus area was to create RADA indigenously in India with all things Indian,” remarks Ravinder. In fact, most of the equipment and materials used to make it have been sourced from local shops in Delhi that sell computer hardware or software. Interestingly, the total cost of developing RADA until now is less than Rs.1 lakh, which makes it easily one of India’s most economical robots ever created.

Today, RADA can scan a boarding pass, provide information about a passenger’s flight & destination city, make announcements on flight updates, address basic customer queries, and entertain its customers by playing games & other multimedia content at its lounge in Delhi. It greets customers and interacts with them using basic hand movements, and is capable of moving around in the lounge on predefined pathways. While ground staff personnel would manually check the systems and answer a customer’s query, RADA becomes the system itself for customer interface and gives-out accurate information, thereby saving customer’s time and eliminating chances of any human error.

Vistara’s social media platforms filled with customers’ appreciations for this effort stands as the biggest proof to RADA’s roaring success. “Our customers are excited to see and meet RADA at our lounge every time they walk-in. On an average, a customer spends at least two minutes interacting with RADA, and those two minutes reflect to them what Vistara stands for. That matters a great deal to us, because through RADA, we have been able to tell our customers in one more way that we care for them and we’re thoughtful of what they may want at our lounge before boarding a flight,” proclaims Ravinder.

"Vistara has recently launched ‘Vistara World’, a complimentary wireless streaming service of entertainment content on customers’ smart handheld devices and laptops."

Charting the Course for Soaring to Greater Heights
“The thought behind RADA from day-1 has been to enable it to perform more complex tasks than it already can today, with more advanced interaction with humans. Therefore, we will be further developing RADA based on customer feedback and equipping it with the most effective features in the time to come,” adds Ravinder. Vistara’s long-term roadmap has five different phases and staged deployment of robots possibly near gates and counters. Going forward, its fully functional family of robots will be providing great customer experience, where the robot scans/prints boarding pass, scans fingerprints, entertains with AR & VR, carry luggage and converse intelligently with customers & help them, of course with necessary approvals.

Ravinder anticipates that this will further ignite innovation culture in Vistara and encourage employees to think beyond boundaries. The company’s unique startup culture, its nimbleness and the spirit of daring to experiment naturally paves the way for innovation throughout the organization. Vistara is also developing an m-Learning platform to ensure that its large mobile workforce (mainly cabin & cockpit crews) is not deprived of any learning opportunities. Internally, it has created Vistara’s first virtual employee who interacts with other employees of the company with child-like innocence and patiently listens to them. It uses machine learning to evolve and has become a channel for the management to gauge the workforce’s pulse as well as a channel for employees to get their issues resolved.

Being quite bullish on leveraging new technologies, Vistara has successfully completed experimentation of its intelligent bot based Alexa to open new channels of interaction with its customers using NLP and redefine customers’ experience. Raising the bar higher for itself with every project it takes on, the company is also dabbling on neural-behavior areas to measure and interpret intents & customer emotions in social environments. Likewise, its Big Data pilot initiative in combination with AI aims to solve route profitability equations. The company recently launched ‘Vistara World’, a complimentary wireless streaming service of entertainment content on customers’ smart handheld devices and laptops. Made available across its entire fleet & network, it offers a content rich multimedia library.

Despite being a four years young entity, Vistara is already preparing for who its customers will be in 2035, how its schedules & network will be aligned to customers, and what will be the future of aircraft designs, especially the interiors. Balancing the responsibilities of human and machine resources is on the top of its list as well. To accomplish these, Vistara is exploring synergies with various organizations worldwide in diverse domains (cybersecurity, robotics & automation, AR/VR, IoT, future of aircraft designs, alternative modes of rapid transit and geospatial technology), many of which are from within the Tata ecosystem. At this point, it may suffice to say that Vistara is exploring everything possible to stay ahead of the curve and remain at the forefront of innovation in aviation.

Key Management:
Ravinder Pal Singh, Chief Innovation & Information Officer
Ravinder’s stint as an entrepreneur, a management consultant, a technologist and an angel investor has enabled him to perceive complex problems & opportunities with varied lens. He is an avid mountaineer and a yoga buff, who has worked in diverse domains across five continents. The core of Ravinder’s professional persona is that of an engineer who today can fly airplanes, can envision and to a certain extent predict digital future.

Locations:Gurgaon(headquarter)and New Delhi