Into the clouds: Comair used lockdown to drive digital transformation

The airline business turned downtime into uptime with a new focus on cloud innovation.

Johannesburg, 03 May 2021
Read time 3min 00sec
Avsharn Bachoo.
Avsharn Bachoo.

Avsharn Bachoo had no idea what was coming when he shook hands on his new role as CIO at private sector airline group Comair. Within a few short months, global aviation has been thrown into a tailspin by the biggest threat the industry has ever seen. Many predict that the future of air travel has been changed for good; weaker players have fallen by the wayside, and the recovery is set to be long and painful. Amid this doom and gloom, Comair may well soon be the only corporate in South Africa to have revamped its entire legacy tech infrastructure and migrated to the cloud during a year of global lockdown.

Operating the British Airways brand in South Africa and the Kulula low-cost carrier, Comair went into business rescue during the pandemic, but took to the skies again in December 2020. Bachoo is no stranger to delivering on large-scale fast-paced projects; he has stepped up to show just how quickly a company can embrace new technology to improve operating performance to not only cope with a crisis, but emerge stronger from it.

“Early on in the pandemic, a number of international aviation experts commented on how the pandemic could force industries to rethink their ecosystems, help boost investment in new technologies and radically reshape the industry,” says Bachoo. “For us, this is not future planning. We fired up all engines just ahead of South Africa’s 2020 national lockdown to start moving Comair to the cloud. In just the first week, with the support of our tech partner, Teraflow, we successfully achieved a month’s worth of work on backup and disaster recovery. Since then, of course, we’ve already come a long way.”

Comair teamed up with Teraflow, a local data engineering and artificial intelligence firm, to modernise and rearchitect the group’s organisation across the entire stack. “This is really all about risk-taking for innovation. Being a responsible and proactive business in the unprecedented context of COVID meant taking risks in an already hugely risky environment,” says Brett St Clair, CEO at Teraflow. “We’re stoked to show how to turn downtime into uptime. There is never a better time to start innovating than right now”.

Bachoo admits that there were multiple legacy issues to address, many of which are now being addressed through network modernisation and migration to the Google Cloud, to improve efficiency, financial sustainability and regulatory compliance. “Cloud has become the foundation that enables businesses to transform, differentiate and gain competitive advantage. A successful cloud strategy extends beyond the scope of just the IT department”, he comments. As a result of moving to the Cloud, alongside organisational culture change, Bachoo’s work will foster long-term cloud centric ventures at Comair, such as converting monolithic systems to API ecosystems.

“We know that this has been a hugely frustrating time for travellers in general but all the changes we are implementing will turn all that around”, explains Bachoo. “Data analytics projects in the coming months, for example, will help us understand our customers much better and help us provide them with a much more efficient and personalised service.”

As Comair takes off again, it’s clear that COVID-19 has been a driver for digital innovation and responsible business management into the long-term.

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