- United Airlines
Apple, IBM, and United Airlines are teaming up to develop a new generation of mobile apps for the carrier’s employees.
The new collaborative effort, announced Thursday, is aimed at creating greater levels of functionality for the more than 50,000 Apple iPhones and iPads that United has issued to its flight attendants, gate agents, and other front-line employees.
“A partnership with Apple and IBM gives our app-development enterprise scale, reusability, and – most importantly – speed,” United Airlines chief information officer Linda Jojo told Business Insider in an interview at the company’s Global Leadership Conference in Chicago.
“We’re going to be able to deliver more tools and technologies faster to our front line than we could if we were building it all ourselves.”
According to United’s top executive in charge of technology, the airline is seeking the input of its front-line employees to determine which functions and features to include in coming apps.
“Last week, we had flight attendants and gate agents in Cupertino with our technical team, with IBM, and with Apple,” Jojo told us. She added that they were working on software she said would “allow flight attendants to communicate maintenance items discovered on the plane back to the maintenance teams.”
Rather than be limited by the number of computers at a workstation, the airline can now call in as many people as it needs with these mobile devices in tow to help ease congestion during emergencies and periods of high traffic.
- Getty Images/Scott Olson
“Our employees are now mobile – they’re not stuck behind a desk anymore,” Jojo said. “At the gate, we now have an agent that can close out a flight, or if there’s some kind of problem, they can actually issue boarding passes and bag tags right from a printer that’s on their hip, and it’s all done from a mobile device.”
The United Airlines announcement is the latest development in the partnership IBM and Apple entered into in 2014 seeking to revolutionize enterprise mobile apps.
“We wanted to have the best devices in the hands of our employees,” Jojo said regarding the decision to equip customer-service representatives with Apple iPhones. In fact, it was one of the first decisions the executive made after joining the airline as CIO in 2014.
- REUTERS/Louis Nastro
Since then, the airline’s internal tech team has been hard at work building tools for the devices. United understands that it can always use some extra workers and expertise. That’s where the tech firm formerly known as “Big Blue” steps in.
“While we are quite good” at app development, Jojo said, “it takes time.”
“And IBM really understands how to build systems at scale and for enterprises,” she said.
In 2011, the airline’s flight crews received iPads to serve as digital maps, charts, and navigation tools – replacing clunky pilot bags that weighed as much as 45 pounds. United issued iPhones to flight attendants and gate agents in 2014 and 2015.