For Eurowings' Daniel Schönheim, Senior Director Lean Management, Digitalization & Processes at the value airline, process mining is the perfect choreographer to improve the ballet of ground operations, the maintenance supply chain and ultimately the customer experience.
Celonis Execution Management System (EMS) and Process Mining is part of the airline's digital transformation, systems, lean management, and continual improvement strategies. As a value airline, Eurowings has to run efficiently to keep prices affordable for travelers.
The airline industry has endured a bevy of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down airlines for months, employees left the industry and demand rebounded quickly. As a result, airlines had to not only regain their operations muscle memory and account for new suppliers but create new processes.
"We faced the biggest crises we ever had, and process mining has already been helpful to tackle some of the problems," said Schönheim. "For instance, we can handle disruptions of our supply chain better because we know much better with process mining where the spare parts are, when they're being put back into the aircraft. In regard to our crew management, we are now more data driven and fact based."
Schönheim added that process mining and the data aggregated from multiple systems creates a layer that provides visibility on Eurowings’ operations and allows the airline to better handle volatility. The airline industry is among the most volatile and is accustomed to dealing with issues such as inflation, supply chain and sustainability that many industries now face.
"Industries that have been quite stable in the past are also becoming more volatile," said Schönheim. "The airline industry is one of the most volatile industries and companies which are not yet at the point of knowing how to deal with those volatile situations can learn a lot."
The choreography of airlines
At Eurowings, Celonis is part of what Schönheim calls a "data spider web" that sits on top of the airline's systems and data stores.
This technology layer aggregates process data on internal systems and ultimately the supply chain network, said Schönheim. With the entire value chain exchanging data, Eurowings plans to use process mining to become more predictive.
"If there's a delay coming up in the morning, we have a chance to mitigate it during the day," said Schönheim. "I'm not talking [about] the typical delay reasons like weather as much as smaller contribution factors from partners. If we gain all the information from all the systems, we will be able to better mitigate. The more transparency we have from all stakeholders, the better we can bring the system into balance."
Bringing the system into balance will require each member in the value chain to be digitized. Airlines have processes on everything from maintenance to baggage to food deliveries, and they all have to flow smoothly before a single plane takes flight. "Every single partner in our network and every stakeholder has to become more digital," said Schönheim.
If successful, Eurowings will be able to use process improvements to overcome complexity, manage through volatility and automate decision making, said Schönheim. "The complexity in our industry in combination with a colorful system landscape shows the need for something overarching," said Schönheim. "We need to adapt the system based on better processes."
Schönheim said process mining, automation and continual improvement brings multiple layers of value, but ultimately the customer experience, which relies on efficient processes, is what matters most.
Sure, Eurowings had a 5% improvement in crew management as it optimized the number of standby crew needed at airports. But Schönheim said the intangibles of having a data layer that can connect the value chain is just as critical.
Ground operations are also critical and Eurowings is tracking turnaround time for its planes. This turnaround time depends on a host of partners in addition to Eurowings. With data visibility, Schönheim is betting that airlines can mitigate delays before they ever happen.
"In the end, it's a supply chain ecosystem. But the passenger is not separating between the parts belonging to the airline and airport. Or the different parties overall," said Schönheim. "To the traveler it's all one thing."
To measure the value of process mining, Schönheim said it makes sense to combine various Key Performance Indicators like turnaround time and lead times with the Net Promoter Score (NPS). According to Schönheim, the NPS represents "the happiness factor of our customers and how likely they would recommend us."
"I'm a big fan of combining process mining KPIs and NPS because then you have the full focus on the customer experience," said Schönheim. "In the end it's always about the customer."
Eurowings has also organized its operations to focus on the customer experience with one group responsible for process mining, lean management and automation. "We understand where the problems are by process mining. We improve on them based on lean management principles. We improve and then we go on to the next circle of improvement," said Schönheim.
Schönheim said the future for Eurowings is to be Europe's leading value airline. "In the end, the customer decides if it's worth traveling with your wings and to provide that value to our customer we need to reduce waste, disruptions and problems wherever possible," said Schönheim. "One big driver for sure is efficiency, but it's also accelerating processes that give us room for further innovation especially in disruptive times."
Eurowings now plans to expand process mining to other use cases throughout the organization. Typically, Celonis customers start with shared services like Accounts Payable to notch early wins and then scale to other use cases. Eurowings chose to initially use process mining for more complex airline-specific use cases such as crew management and maintenance.
"We started with very airline specific topics that are quite complex," said Schönheim. "I'm not sure that this was a conscious decision as much as process mining was important to restart our industry again."
Schönheim said the plan has evolved to move process mining to other departments within Eurowings.
"We plan to go to more typical scenarios and issues like order-to-cash and purchase-to-pay," said Schönheim. "That's why the CFO department is now having a lot at what process mining approaches we can start."
As more departments adopt process mining and a continuous improvement mindset, Schönheim said Eurowings will move up the maturity ladder from descriptive to predictive analytics to automating decisions and actions. This process mining meets continuous improvement approach also leads to a cultural change that can democratize process excellence. "How great is it when your employees and colleagues are coming to you saying they found a problem and they already have a solution?" said Schönheim.