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A look back at last year’s CIO50: #20 Grainne Kearns, Jetstar Airways

A look back at last year’s CIO50: #20 Grainne Kearns, Jetstar Airways

How Jetstar's former CIO Grainne Kearns transformed the airline's IT team from a cost-driven startup to a group that is delivering highly optimised technology solutions under 21 strategic initiatives.

CIO Australia is running its second annual CIO50 list which recognises Australia’s top 50 IT most innovative and effective IT chiefs who are influencing change across their organisations.

This year’s top 50 CIO list will be judged by some of Australia’s leading IT and digital minds. Our illustrious judging panel in 2017 includes the Australian government’s former chief digital officer and now Stone & Chalk ‘expert in residence’ Paul Shetler; and former Microsoft Australia MD and now CEO, strategic innovation at Suncorp, Pip Marlow.

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CIO is taking a look back at last year's top 25. Today, we profile Grainne Kearns, the former chief information officer at Jetstar Airways who took the number 20 position in 2016.

Read Grainne's story below:

#20: Grainne Kearns, former chief information officer, Jetstar Airways

In an industry made up of long-established, iconic brands, Jetstar Airways is the relative young upstart in the airline market.

A wholly owned subsidiary of the Qantas Group, the company launched its Australian low-fare operations in May 2004. It has grown up quickly. It’s Australia and New Zealand based fleet now comprises 75 aircraft, flying to and from 19 Australian domestic and 17 short and long-haul overseas destinations. The brand has airlines in Singapore, Japan and Vietnam.

Today, Jetstar is the third largest airline (by domestic market share) and a top five international airline by capacity share. It’s a growth and rapid maturity that has been guided and supported by a major IT and technology program taking place behind the scenes.

Grainne Kearns, who announced her departure from the airline in April, was appointed to the CIO role in late 2013 putting into action a transformation plan made up of 21 strategic initiatives.

“Prior to the commencement of the IT transformation program Jetstar Technology operated very much as a start-up,” explains Grainne, “with all decisions being cost-driven. While this was totally appropriate in the early days of the start-up organisation, it was no longer serving the organisation well.

“Jetstar also operated on a ‘get-it-done’ mentality, again totally appropriate for a startup, which had typically led to teams executing in silos and missing out business optimisation opportunities and that sometimes led to sub-optimal solutions,” she adds.

High flying aims

The over-arching goal of the transformation was to ensure Jetstar technology supports the Jetstar business strategy and business vision. Kearns' team needed to ensure every one of the business’ technology needs, for today and the future, were met, at optimal cost and the right quality. They had to guarantee that service gaps would be closed, to industry standard and the ongoing cost would be less than it was at the commencement of the transformation.

A broad approach was required, including a full review of the environment – people, processes and technology – to understand the current state and define the future state required to support our business strategy, a plan to migrate from the current to the future state, a refresh of teams and skills, a new sourcing strategy, new processes, new engagement, operating and service delivery models and new governance models.

The program required significant change within the IT team and the broader business.

“The organisational change management elements were tougher than the technology changes – as is usually the case,” says Kearns. “This was compounded by the youth of our organisation and our associated relative inexperience with large change programs (we are only 12 years old) our ‘lean’ business model, our geographic spread and the cultural diversity across our footprint.”

Kearns team has been restructured twice: at the start of the IT transformation program to support four streams of initiatives – commercial and financial, technology leadership, operational and service excellence and IT operating model – and at the end of the program to support the ongoing operating model.

“This program of work involved a significant organisational change management component as it drove change not only within the IT functions, but also across the wider Jetstar organisation and the day to day business processes,” says Kearns.

“The approach was to clearly call out why there was a need to change. Once my stakeholders could see the need for change, they needed to be taken on the journey to understand what would be better for them and Jetstar in the new end state.”

Communicating the change has been done through a range of channels from face to face to emails, posters to Yammer.

“The goal was to be fully transparent, have all questions raised, have all concerns addressed, have any gaps called out and closed out and to make our stakeholders feel like we were all trusted partners and could rely on each other,” Kearns explains.

The over-arching goals have been achieved with new processes, functions and governance established, technology strategies defined and underway, a new sourcing strategy implemented, reduced ongoing operational cost, and a new operating model in place.

“It was a big push but the target goals were achieved and really set up Jetstar for an exciting future,” said Kearns.

Innovations take off

Over the past 12 months, the team has implemented a number of innovative solutions, including a new mobile boarding process which utilises a mobile device to validate the passenger boarding pass at the gate in real time and replaces legacy scanning technology. Jetstar has also implemented an API gateway utilising the Axway product.

“While the base Axway product could be considered a standard gateway solution, our implementation is highly innovative in that it not only leverages the core capabilities of the product but it also allows for varied airport solutions to be easily and rapidly integrated back into Jetstar’s core systems,” Kearns says.

The API gateway has also provided improved capability for external systems to securely access Jetstar which incorporates a generic open standard for authorisation service that promotes industry-leading security standards in system-to-system integrations, providing secure session-based bearer tokens, supporting Java Web Total Language, client credentials and API keys.

Kearns parted Jetstar in September, and is replaced by Claudine Ogilvie. Jetstar Group CFO Race Strauss said Ogilvie “inherits a great platform to build upon” following “significant strides”. Speaking of Kearns’ departure he said: “She has led us from ‘start-up’ to ‘enterprise’, delivering constantly along the way.”

George Nott

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Tags CIO50Pip MarlowStone & ChalkMicrosoftGrainne KearnsManheimPaul Shetler

More about AustraliaAxwayJetstar AirwaysKearnsMicrosoftQantasTechnology

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