Interview: Malaysia Airlines’ Head of Digital on business intelligence, innovation and digital transformation

Phu Nguyen Event, Event News Leave a Comment

“We have a company-wide ambition to be a premium Asian airline offering the best of Malaysian hospitality, and technology is one enabler to make this happen.”

– Peter Pohlschmidt, Head of Digital, Malaysia Airlines –

Following the successful Aviation Festival Asia 2018, we’re launching an eBook featuring some of the industry’s most forward-thinking digital innovators to talk about their digital innovation journey and where they think we are headed. Download our ebook here for full interviews. Below is an excerpt of our chat with Peter. 


Your job scope covers a wide range of areas. As Head of Digital, which area(s) do you think should be the priority?

Peter: We prioritise primarily based on two criteria– impact on revenue and customer experience. There is also a third criterion which is really tricky. It is impact on internal process improvements and efficiencies, which will require a wider engagement with the entire organisation.

In these two key aspects you mentioned — going digital for revenue generation and better customer experience — what is the biggest challenge?

Peter: We are a legacy airline saddled with a lot of old back-office systems and internal processes, and core airline systems that have been designed 40 – 50 years ago. At the same time, customer expectations as far as digital interaction with the company is concerned, they are set by digital pure-plays, like Amazon, Google, Uber, Grab, eBay, Zalora, name whatever you want. These companies are not saddled with the same legacy systems and issues. Customers have this mentality “If Amazon can do that, why can’t you?”

Then there’s also our ability to be quick to the market and get things done. Another one is, an airline’s customer journey is very fragmented, with elements provided by so many service providers and the airline is actually not delivering many elements itself but through service providers, airport authorities, customs officials, etc. And the customer moves from web to mobile to social media, and then there’s in-person interaction. So, to maintain a consistent customer journey across all touch-points, that’s tremendously difficult.

Customer expectations — comparing now versus 5 years before — how has that changed? And how do you think it will continue to change?

Peter: Over the last 5 years, it was definitely social and mobile, especially in Asia. A whole generation skipped the desktop and went digital the first time through mobile phones. The same you have in Africa, for instance. Specifically, for the airline industry, social media has made it very challenging for airlines to respond quickly enough to the expectations of customers. For example, when a luggage gets misplaced, the internal investigations within an airline takes a long time before we can come back with the right response, but the customers expect a response between 5 – 10 minutes.

And this is not going to stop. The next 5 years we will see a more gradual shift to mobile and social. Customer expectations on personalisation will intensify too. Consumers know that we have all the data about them, so they will expect us to do something useful with it. Why are you still not greeting me by my name? Why are you not wishing me happy birthday? Why do you not know what I want? Making use of data to personalise offers will be one of the key customer expectations.

Obviously, the next big thing will be, what will we do with AI to put services in place? Maybe we can elevate customer experiences by providing smart- or pro-active servicing. I believe the same will happen in any industry, not just aviation.

With rising customer expectations, how havelegacy carriers, like MAB, been coping with legacy systems and even legacy mindsets?

Peter: When new digital channels are placed on top of legacy systems, a lot of the ‘smartness’ or ‘nice interactions’ are limited, and…

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