Inspiring A Mobile Culture At Alaska Airlines

Simon Barton

Alaska Airlines was formed in 1932 and has been operational for over 80 years. Today they fly to over 100 destinations including Canada, Mexico, Hawaii and across mainland U.S. They are the seventh largest U.S. carrier, and a low-cost airline.


Around 70% of Alaska Airlines’ workforce is mobile. They don’t sit behind desks, but, instead, are on the frontline helping customers. “People are our greatest asset,” says Derek Chan, Enterprise Mobility Architect, Alaska Airlines. “Their goal is customer service, so our mobility strategy revolves around our employees and what tools we can provide that will help them serve the customers as best they can.”

Flight delays are part and parcel of air travel, and it’s the job of Alaska Airlines’ frontline staff to diffuse potentially difficult situations with passengers. Timely and accurate information delivered to a worker’s mobile device could make the process a lot easier and stress-free for the consumer. As Chan says: “Ultimately, our (Alaska Airlines’) mobility strategy seeks to increase customer satisfaction.”


Within Alaska Airlines there are a number of stakeholders, and from an IT perspective, this was a major challenge. How do you create an application which caters to flight attendants, pilots, mechanics, customer service agents, business administrators? Chan says: “It is very hard to have a coordinated effort across all groups.”

Mobile technology is changing rapidly – and that doesn’t give the company much scope to make long-term strategic plans. “You can’t define a three-year plan or five-year plan because a lot of the change is driven by end-user mobility products. A new tablet, wearable device or software upgrade comes out and this defines what we will do, but also challenges us to support the end-user experience on new devices,” states Chan.

As the company seeks to inspire a mobile culture, the main challenge, according to Chan, is: “How can we move quickly but also have a coordinated effort so we don’t we reinvent the wheel again for each end user group? We need to share what we have done for each group and come up with the standard for the company at the same time.”

The organisation’s key objective was to be more agile and responsive to technological developments, but also to focus on foundational capabilities. Chan says: “It’s like building a house. Focus on the foundation first to make sure the house is solid before adding to it.”

There were also considerable technical challenges to overcome. The differences between the main platforms - iOS, Android, Windows phone – makes the decision of whether to use cross-functional technology or a single platform an important one, mainly because that influences the developers the company would have to employ. Chan states: “In order to be successful, we want to ensure our developers are mobile and app focused – and supporting our foundational capability. When developing apps, we also need to ensure we are supporting sustainability through a good continuous integration process.”


Alaska Airlines’ staff now have dedicated corporate mobile devices. Chan states: “We use AirWatch for our Mobile Device Management and the AirWatch app store to distribute the app, and last year we started using Apperian’s Mobile Application Management (MAM) platform to allow us to also reach personal devices.”  This increases usability for employees and fits directly with the company’s mobility needs.

For Chan, a truly great company gives their employees access to information wherever they are, and he follows this up by saying: “to do this, we decided a MAM approach was the best fit for Alaska Airlines and a workforce that is often on the move.”

The airline also used the Mobile Competency Center (MCC) to help with the tactical side of its mobile strategy. Alaska Airlines is concentrating on four aspects. In each of the four bullet points, Chan describes how Alaska Airlines is using the MCC:

·        Knowledge sharing

“Each end-user group has a lot of knowledge and we want to facilitate the sharing process. We did that with the Mobile Competency Center."

·        Technology adoptions

“There are many mobile frameworks and mobile libraries that we have developed. A lot of the time the group developing the application may not know it already exists. They may go out and find something that seems like a great technology from a 3rd party provider. We seek to create an environment for learning and understanding.”

·        Education

“We cannot do all this through one small group, we need to teach people in all the business units how to develop solutions to problems. What we want is for those groups to think “Is this a problem that other parts of the company might experience?” If it is then we want them to reach out to use so we can help generalize the solution and give it to other groups.”

·        Oversight

“We rely on a governance board to oversee mobile projects on that needs to be developed and what we already have. This inspires integration of all mobile projects into the MCC.”


In 2015, Alaska Airlines distributed 10,000 devices to all their frontline employees, something which was crucial to the company’s foundational capability goal. “If you don’t have a device, you can’t push apps to employees,” says Chan.

After the staff had received their iPads, Chan saw a big difference: “We then saw significant adoption in the mobile usage and started transforming the company – not replacing desktop apps, but transforming how and where we receive and share information through mobile apps. For example, sharing company news can now be done through an app, not the internet.”

Apperian’s BYOD store, App Hanger, was downloaded by 40% of Alaska Airlines’ employees to their personal devices – something which demonstrates how important it is for the company’s employees to receive information on their personal devices. Chan says: “When we launched “App Hanger” we didn’t expect over 30-40 percent of our employees to download it to their personal device within two weeks. This tells us just how much our employees want to consume company information on their personal devices and confirms our strategy to expand our mobility toolset with was worthwhile.”

Alaska Airlines also became the first airline to supply its pilots with iPads, again, showing the desire to meet their employees’ needs. While an exciting development, Chan’s quick to add: “We try new things but never compromise on safety.”