CIO & Comms Leadership Alignment at Swissport


Nicole Alvino


Dave Lynch

Mind the gaps – maintaining leadership alignment & engagement

Making the CIO your partner can be the key to unlocking all the moments that matter for your employees, whether rotas, payslips, policies or anything else they need. Join Dave Lynch, Group CIO at Swissport and our CEO, Nicole Alvino as they discuss their experiences of building relationships for success.

Video Transcript

– Okay, so thrilled to have Dave Lynch who’s the CIO of Swissport. And when we have new hires join Firstup we always ask them to share three fun facts as a way to get to know them. So I’m going to ask Dave, what are your three fun facts?

– I think this is my worst nightmare question actually, but so first job is what I will say, which I was born and raised Blackpool, which had, at the time, you’re not allowed them anymore, but an animal based circus. So my first job was cleaning the elephants enclosure out before the matinee and evening performances. So not necessarily in IT terms a sort of career starter but second one I would say was I was lucky enough to get an invite to the BAFTAs a few years ago. And you have a great sort of experience going to the Royal Hall, or at the time I think it was it was sworn in Cove Garden. But afterwards you go back on coaches which is the bizarrest sort of thing in the world with all these stars that my wife knows film stars, I have no idea. But Samuel L. Jackson is one person that I know and you sit in the Grovner Hotel and you’re on round tables. And I sat there and I thought, bloody hell, that’s Samuel L. Jackson. And, like a fool, he was sat on his own and like a fool I decided to go over to him ’cause my wife was a big fan and ask him, could my wife have a photo taken with him? Little did I know, he literally taught me to shreds and I would never go and ask him for a photo again. He was not a happy man, but I don’t know if that was a fun fact. And then my final fun fact is the last week of March of this year, this is where I’m gonna show my geekiness. I am a massive Depeche Mode fan. So I toured America with Depeche Mode, three dates in seven nights. So I went from San Jose to LA to Vegas watching Depeche Mode the final week of, well, no, sorry the start week of their tour. And I have god knows how many other dates I’m gonna go and follow ’em, but, so that’s the three-

– Yeah.

– Good, good, a fellow Depeche Mode fan.

– Okay, so how did a Depeche Mode fan who got his start cleaning out the elephant cages, find his way to Swissport?

– I’ve basically always been fascinated by what technology can do for the business. So I’m not a traditional geeky sort of megabyte gigabyte person. I’ve always been very interested in the business side. So I went on from cleaning elephants out to Blackpool transporters there, aptly named Computer Coordinator. And then I got a chance of a job working for a software house in Manchester, which did bus companies and barristers chambers, believe it or not. And that was, I did about 12 years and I got to be MD and it was about software development of two PRP solutions. And then again, I very rarely applied for a job. I got asked to go to Go-Ahead group which was a sort of Irish English rail and bus company at the time that bought in, believe it or not to the glamorous world of car parks and aviation which was where I got my first taste of aviation and went through SARS and 9/11 with Go Ahead. Then swapped to my own business then swapped to First Group, which got me to North America which was 44,000 little yellow school buses and Greyhound which ran out of Dallas. And then one of the non-exec directors for First Group said you look like a man who wants to come back into to aviation. And a guy called Warwick Brady, who’s the chief exec, I’ve got something I think you might be able to help me with. And I just fancied a worldwide challenge to be honest. North America and the UK is great but can I test myself against, you know, the six clusters, 58 countries, 300 airports and so on. So five months in, I’m thrilled to bits but I think I’ve got public transport, aviation, planes, trains, and automobiles in my blood, to be honest.

– I love it. So you can’t go to an airport without seeing Swissport somewhere but what do you actually do?

– It’s a very good point, and I, even me sort of going in and out and seeing the logo. So core skills, cargo management. So first of all Swissport is the biggest sort of cargo manager in the world, we do all Amazon’s work around the world as well in terms of shipments. We do passenger handling for a lot of the world’s big airlines. So we’re sort of, we always call ourselves below the wing which is, as my mother used to say, seen and not heard. So we actually swap uniforms for certain airlines but BA, American, Qatar, Emirates, Qantas, you know, Ryan Air, Easy Jet, a lot of the the big airlines passenger check-in. We do a rather glamorous small division of private jets which operates funnily enough in France and Zurich. Then we do refueling of aircraft. And then the final one which is probably one of the few perks for working for Swissport, is airport lounges. So we do, our brand is the Aspire Lounge brand. So I get now to go in the Aspire Lounge with my little card but it’s a range of services and as I say, we’re as far over to Brisbane, Sydney, South Korea, Japan, and we come back, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Mexico, into North America, into Canada, and then literally all over Europe and all over the middle Eastern Africa, Ghana, South Africa, you know, so it really is a challenge which is one of the things that I’ve fancy taken up is the language differences are amazing. So, you know, having an app like Firstup that does languages that’s an enormous benefit without getting into anything else. So I think for me it’s how do you do IT across that, how do I engage users across all that even though we’re doing the same things. That’s in my mind every day as to how do I get IT used by people who typically are not sat behind a desk. You know, that’s the key challenge.

– Yeah, so in addition to them not sat behind a desk and all of the countries and languages you named what are some of just the additional challenges at Swissport as far as just connecting with your people?

– Well, I mean the fundamental one of connecting with the people, you know, I mean this morning I was up at 6:30 talking to a weekly one-to-one with a guy from Brisbane who runs Asia Pacific and you know, I’ll be finishing with a meeting nine o’clock tonight with the guy based in Miami, you know, running North America. But I think the IT team isn’t really the problem it’s actually connecting with the business leadership and Swissport a company that’s grown by acquisition and hasn’t necessarily over the years standardized its applications. So we are running right now with a count of 450 applications, which when you think we’ve got five business lines is somewhat of an amazement to me. So my sort of role is to try and get some of the basics in place and try and get IT adopted at the front line because you know, the whole mobility, the whole app, the whole getting information out to the front line is a is a very important thing. And getting my message out is as important as, you know, getting the senior leadership’s team sort of feedback from that point of view as well.

– So is with the 450 applications, how many of those when you got there were focused on connecting to the frontline?

– Being very honest, not many. Because the front line was broken in so many different respects, so many different airports We didn’t have one consistent way of doing it. And you know, when I walked in as you know, I had experience five or six years ago of using and developing an app for student. But the Firstup platform was at least from my point of view, starting to be implemented. So that gave me a great thing of, well brilliant it’s cloud adopted, it allows me to at least look at things as to how do we start to publish information, how do I start to get messages out there? But I think there was a feel from the comms team that everything had to be perfect, and I’ve sort of brought a slight change to that saying that people do want messages, they absolutely want to know what’s going on in any business, but also they want to know their pay slip. They want to know, you know, can they apply for holidays? Can they do it, ’cause they don’t have a PC to go back to or a browser or so on. So the idea of looking at shift patterns which was a big thing in Swissport where these guys didn’t know, ladies didn’t know they what they were working more than seven days in advance. So that the whole Firstup platform, and I call it a platform not an app or an intranet was talked about yesterday. It gives me chance for ideas, but I think that’s the biggest challenge with technology these days is getting users to use a fraction of the functionality in the platforms. You know, it’s very, very easy to say we’ve bought this product, but how much of it do you use and how much of it is adding value? And you’ve gotta, you know, we’ll talk later on about statistics and the importance of data and I think those sort of things are a combination and just keep like a washing machine going round and round around sort of trying to reinvent it and getting more people using it.

– Yeah that’s great. So what is the, so the full vision, with the Firstup platform, is all those things you mentioned, anything else? The payslips, the-

– Stickability, I mean I want to make the platform, the platform of choice. We we’re calling it OneSwissport, which is I think, I didn’t come up with the the brand name but I’m prepared to sign off and say, I actually think it’s pretty good. But that’s down to the comms teams. But I actually like the message of OneSwissport. I think for me I want it to become the sort of application of choice. I think we heard earlier about so many different applications out there now. I don’t particularly want so many different applications, I want OneSwissport. And what I see is that we develop it with so many different communities. So we have, you know, we had super users in my previous business that developed content. I wanna be fairly flexible about allowing people to publish content and what they want but I also want to let the feedback come from the field as to what they want in the app because what I learned in student and in Greyhound was they had better ideas than I did. So if I listen to their ideas and put them in then strangely the usage of it went up. So my view is to consolidate behind Firstup and it’s got a lot of great integration points that are out the box, which saves me doing that work as well. So it’s really to build a community of helpers that will put the content on there but I will work with the teams that I’ve got in the back office to make sure that the integrations are there that people want to use.

– Yeah noo, that’s great. And how is, you know, investing in the platform? How do you think about it driving from a business perspective, top line, bottom line?

– Well, our biggest problems in Swissport are the attraction of people. You know, COVID was decimated I would say, the aviation industry because outside of certain countries we had to let an awful lot of experience people go and then when COVID finished, the airlines launched their schedules far quicker than they said they were gonna do. So that caused quite a lot of people, if you’ve ever waited for your bag over the last 12 months that was because we couldn’t get enough people to come and want to work with Swissport again. And then the other thing is, once we’ve attracted people into the business, the attrition levels, because if you’re bringing a whole new workforce in, people don’t like unsociable hours they’re not necessarily sold on what they’re doing. So you’ve gotta be very careful bringing people in and then we’ve gotta retain them. And what we see, well one other stat I’ll give you is it’s four and a half thousand euros, I’ve learned, to train up an individual in Swissport. So we don’t wanna lose too many four and a half thousand euros going out the door. So we see this platform as being very, very important from the attrition perspective, first off. But what we’re also seeing, we’ve linked and we are linking with a product called iSims which is a recruitment platform, a clever recruitment platform. And what we’re doing is we’re using Firstup to use the usual thing of phone a friend of sort of if you’ve got a friend that wants to come and work with you we’ll give you an incentive, but by the way click this link and it goes directly into to item. So we’re seeing it as a frontline attraction and an ability to sort of move between systems from that point of view. So it’s, for us, 45,000 workers, 75% people without a PC or laptop, Firstup is pretty important to to be that contact with the frontline to be honest.

– Yeah, so what else do you wish the platform had that it doesn’t?

– Gosh, I think that’s-

– It’s not a feature request list, but just hypothetically.

– I mean we talked somewhat about it yesterday. I think that data analytics and the advent of it, I mean I quite enjoyed listening to content, I think, and fresh content is very difficult to keep producing. So I think the simple things, and we talked about AI yesterday, we thought, we talked about how we can self-generate some of that content with, you know, information like birthdays and work anniversaries and so on within it. And I think that would help me, ’cause my natural tendency I wouldn’t say IT people are not communicators but I’m not a natural communicator. And so help with content creation and also then help with immediate feedback. You know, what worked, what didn’t work is what I would see as the where I would like to go. I mean, I don’t see integration as a problem. I don’t see the look and feel as the, I see getting more out of it from a data and how our users are are using it. So we can pinpoint, you know. almost sniper esque to get the right content on there.

– Yeah, no, that’s great. And we’re even thinking if there’s, how do you use the data to better inform your content strategy. but then what are other ways that you can. what other things that we can give you from an insight standpoint that would help predict things maybe like attrition or something else.

– And that’s it, the use of our data. I mean we have a data strategy that it’s probably minus six right now in terms of where we need to be. But I think everybody chases after sort of data is gold and all that sort of thing, but you gotta make sure the data is worthwhile and it’s and it’s decent and so on. And we see the sort of modern interface of Firstup as an opportunity to build good data to be able to make good decisions from. You know we’ve got lots of different databases but actually would they give us, you know, good data and good decisions. So I think Firstup is modern, and we talked yesterday about bringing things into Firstup and sort of having it as a mishmash of other data and I think that’s also important.

– Yeah, and then from a data strategy how are you using it just in other parts of your business? Hoping to predict things.

– We have put a lot of effort, if you imagine the the model of an aircraft, whether it’s cargo or passenger handling, believe it or not I asked a question about surely cargo is easier than passenger handling ’cause we all sit on aircraft that are late, very rarely early but late. And the answer was, cargo providers don’t tell us when they’re turning up. So we can get a China Airlines aircraft turn up at London Heathrow, we have no idea it’s arriving which is bizarre in my mind. How do you plan a workforce to take, you know, whatever the goods are on and off that. And likewise, we have a lot of data around individual flights that turn up late more than early. And bringing that data in so that we can plan the workforce better. You know, our idea is that if we’ve got them in the door, how can we get them with the skills that we need? And then how can we get, you know, them out onto the the apron of the airfield to make sure that they are doing the job in a safe manner. You know, those are the sorts of activities. So we’re merging lots of different data sets that I mean the whole seaters, the whole messaging of an aircraft has started its journey, an aircraft has landed is all public information, to be honest. You can get it on many apps, but merging that with our own data, merging that with employees who are, you know, sort of on airfield, and at the moment we have old fashioned swipe machines that you you have to go, why can’t we use, you know, the Firstup app to allow us to know who’s on airfield, who isn’t on airfield, who’s within, you know, 200 yards of the of the 747 or 380 or 350 that’s landed to be able to go do and go service it. To be honest, I mean, how many of us have sat on an aircraft and I’m the first one to say it the at the captain says we haven’t got anybody to basically move the jet bridge, so we’re gonna have to wait here for 20 minutes, which is pretty annoying. And sometimes that’s our fault. So I’ll own up to that. Sometimes it isn’t-

– Give you his email, you can just call him. Kidding.

– And you’d be surprised that people who’ve got my email now, so yeah, where’s my bag? Yeah, so it’s another frequently asked question.

– So if we think about, and I love that, taking data, turning it into insights, and then driving action.

– And it’s slowly, yeah, it’s slowly. I mean we are at the beginning of that journey and it’s getting, ’cause everybody wants to rush to that. But I think you’ve gotta make sure that the data that you’re joining is actually worth joining and is actually providing an insight to the business. You know, I mean, one of the job, one of the things I’ve done since I arrived at Swissport, I’ve actually deleted 20 terabytes of data which for those non geeks in the room is actually quite a lot of data. Because it was just stored forever and nobody was doing anything with it. You know, it’s sort of, so unless it’s worthwhile get rid of it. You know, it’s sort of how do we move that around? And a lot of your data for me is timely information, it’s giving us here and now, it’s giving us what people like and what they don’t like. Probably in six months when an article’s been published, it’s less useful. It’s more about giving feedback to the execs that did you realize that that article that Warwick put out on our latest acquisition got read 10 times more than anything else we’ve ever done. And our execs don’t do that. We do old-fashioned town halls and we do that sort of broadcast of the world but that allows one way communication. It doesn’t necessarily allow people to ask questions, to be honest.

– Yeah, yeah, yeah. So AI how do you think about AI from a CIO perspective? From a Swissport perspective?

– I worry somewhat about it in that, you know, what are we gonna use it for? I think that often people ask me for I need a Power BI license, Dave, I want to go and interrogate my data. So I think AI can be, in the right hands, an absolutely brilliant tool. But I think that people have gotta really really hone in on what do they want from it? What are they gonna ask it? What are the questions that they want to do? I think if I talk to a log of people in our business about AI they think it’s this thing that’s gonna come in and tell them what to do and what they’re doing wrong. And of course that’s not what it is at the moment. Who knows what it’ll be in the future but right now you’ve gotta ask it the right questions in the right syntax to get the right feedback. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do at the moment. We’ve got a sort of set of people who can what I call read data far better than I can in at the moment looking at our cargo data, as to what does that tell us? You know, retrospectively going back what we really want is what you said a few minutes ago is, you know, the negativity from sort of our employees, you know, where are those pockets and where can we sort of provide positive influence there? Where does it look like people aren’t happy? You know, we are a very unionized business, you know, we we’re not short of unions telling us what we’re doing wrong, but actually we’d rather get those messages from employees again in a normalized way rather than being able to check on individuals but monitoring sentiment and where we see people being happy or not because the lifeblood of people leaving causes us real problems. And so it’s, for me, AI is about giving us timely decisions and maybe not things that we would normally look at you know, so we wanna look at cargo volumes which at the moment are slightly dropping off because of the world economy. Airline figures, you know, we’re looking at passenger numbers. We’re not necessarily in control of that, but we are in control of our own employees environment, our work environment. So actually making sure the coffee machine works, making sure that you know, they’ve got the right health and safety equipment is equally important to passenger numbers and cargo. Because if people don’t have that, they leave. And so that’s where we see it coming in and we’re building more around employees so that we can get more sensitivity to that information.

– Yeah, I like it.

– Hopefully that makes sense.

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