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Our General Manager, Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç, attended an interview with İş'te Teknoloji Magazine

Our General Manager, Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç, attended an interview with İş'te Teknoloji Magazine


Standing out with the essential projects he leads and his management approach that adds value to our company, our General Manager, Mr. Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç, gave an expatiating interview to İş'te Teknoloji Magazine. Here's the delightful interview titled "Technology helps write new stories"...

"Technology helps write new stories"

Stating that institutions' awareness has raised as much as customers' with the pandemic, Turkish Technology General Manager, Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç, said: “Everyone has seen and understood now that new customer success stories can be written thanks to technology and technology only.”

Upon earning a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from Boğaziçi University, Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç completed a master's program in the same field in 1999, as a part of which he took specialty courses on artificial intelligence and database systems and wrote a thesis on workflows in software engineering. Mr. Kızıltunç worked at NCR and Microsoft in Denmark between 1999 and 2009. He worked as a project manager, technical architect, and software manager with long-term assignments in England, Canada, and the USA. In the meantime, Kızıltunç obtained six patents that were registered by the US Patent Office. In 2009, he was appointed as the Vice President of Commercial Solutions at Turkish Airlines and was promoted to the Head of Information Technologies after a while.

For 7 years, Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç and his colleagues realized dozens of projects to modernize the organization and infrastructure of Turkish Airlines Information Technologies to help Turkish Airlines become a world-renowned passenger and cargo carrier, and in 2017, he joined Turkcell as Enterprise IT Director. During his tenure at Turkcell, he was in charge of the company's enterprise IT applications portfolio and R&D activities. Kızıltunç and his team built a workflow platform named Ultia to productize internal applications. In 2019, he received a Ph.D. from Istanbul Bilgi University with his thesis titled "Agile innovation across firm boundaries".

Also a member of the Executive Board of TÜBİTAK Frontier R&D Labs (1515), Kızıltunç currently serves as a board member at Turkish Technology and Turkish Technic, as well as the Deputy General Manager of Turkish Technology and Turkish Airlines Corporate Development & Information Technologies. Kızıltunç also lectures in various universities' MBA programs in areas such as digital transformation and platform economies.

In this special interview, Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç first addressed the increasing importance of the role of CIO, and next, touched upon many subjects such as mobile, web-based, and autonomous services in the aviation sector, solutions produced and exported by Turkish Technology, sustainability, and much more...

"CIOs are now entrusted with increasingly strategic responsibilities"

Stating that CIOs now have a more significant role in designing and managing digital transformation efforts that aim to help address changing customer behaviors and expectations, Kızıltunç emphasized that for leaders to be successful, their organizations should be supportive of them:

"I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that the importance of the role of CIO is growing in parallel with technology and its prominence in our lives. We're talking about a role that has always been important. Still, today, the duties and responsibilities of CIOs have multiplied due to digitalization, which picked up momentum with the increasing prevalence of Internet technologies in the last decade. I'd like to elaborate on this with a focus on the pandemic...

The global impacts of the pandemic are still palpable and will remain so for a long time. The pandemic, which penetrated all spheres of life, triggered radical transformations that changed our lifestyle, our expectations from life, and our consumption habits. It became possible to meet our needs, contact the people we miss, and reach important information by just tapping our screens. Those who had never placed an online supermarket order have now made it into a routine. Individuals who would not have video calls started to celebrate their family members' birthdays using chat applications. Of course, these technologies were always out there, but it was during the pandemic that their use became widespread. The pandemic has also accelerated the emergence of numerous technologies that were ready and waiting for their turn, improving individuals' digital experiences. For example, the digital banking regulation, which had been on the back burner for years, was introduced swiftly during the pandemic. Customers no longer need to go to the bank to open an account. The mobile services that used to be regarded as premium benefits have now become indispensable for users, a permanent expectation. This is the same in all customer segments; they all want the same. With these changes, the companies' awareness has increased as much as their customer bases. Everyone has seen and understood now that new customer success stories can be written thanks to technology and technology only. Maybe the dynamics shifted by the pandemic will settle in time, but I think the real takeaway will be technology awareness.

After the digital experiences they've had, people now believe that anything is possible. We see this a lot, especially in Turkish Airlines. Customers now want instant service from all communication channels, regardless of time and location. Here, the CIO's role, apart from managing the development of the company's technological infrastructure, is to design and drive digital transformation efforts to offer customers the perfect experience, perfect being subject to change with changing customer behaviors and expectations. Also, we see that today, CIOs are entrusted with increasingly strategic responsibilities. I am confident that when supported by the CEO and the board, visionary CIOs and their companies will achieve success, just as we did. The responsibilities we have today will be of equal importance and value in the future. Although the usual aim is to keep up with the times, companies like Turkish Airlines, with a strong vision, seek to go one step further. We focus on setting trends by coming up with work admired by the industry."

“People's travel experiences are more about than just plane rides"

Referring to travel as an experience, Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç said that this experience can be perfected using mobile, web-based, and autonomous services:

“The aviation industry is actually one of the most mobile industries. Every year, we transport tens of millions of passengers from one end of the world to another. Billions of people travel. People's travel experiences are not just about plane rides, of course. It's more than going from point A to point B; people expect other services as well. For example, they expect a 4.5G Internet connection on board, or they want to be able to make changes to their travel using the mobile application. They want to be able to order food before boarding or choose a seat. So, in line with these expectations, the rapid development of mobile, web-based, and autonomous services is underway.

Accordingly, we at Turkish Technology have realized important customer experience design projects and continue to work on new development projects aiming for greater excellence. At Turkish Airlines, we address our passengers' experiences and feedback with great attention. Our approach is based on utilizing innovative applications to provide a customer experience that meets global standards."

“15 robots commissioned in line with our RPA policy”

Emphasizing the importance of issues such as cyber security and RPA for airlines, Kızıltunç also elaborated on the steps taken by Turkish Airlines in these areas:

"Activities in these areas remain to be priority agenda items for airlines. Bilal Ekşi, our General Manager, is primarily invested in developments in these areas, especially in robotic process automation (RPA). We meet 3-4 times a year. In these meetings, he shares with the entire management team the opportunities he and respective IT teams observed regarding RPA and how they seized them.

In line with our RPA policy, we have commissioned 15 robots to automate our institution's manual and repetitive work. Our robots, designed to imitate the human mimics performed on the computer, were named after the aviation alphabet, Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie.

We aim to robotize over 70 processes, making operations easier for all units within our institution. For example, the software robots Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, India, and Juliet, which we commissioned to be used in Turkish Cargo's business processes, have increased employee productivity and working speed and helped to save time, while reducing the error rate and costs. Currently, Turkish Cargo has a total of 8 robots, of which 1 is an orchestrator robot.

Also, by robotizing the process of assigning the cargo in the belly of the plane or the warehouse to the most suitable flights, we saved effort that equals the combined effort of 6 personnel. The task that needed to be done manually by human staff in 3 shifts can now be successfully carried out by robots on weekends, weekdays, holidays, and working days.

Another example is that by robotizing the process of monitoring and accounting for the expenses of operations such as apron and ground services, passenger services, accommodation, bellow services, lighting, and counter services in over 200 stations, we saved effort equal to the combined effort of over five personnel.

As for cyber security... Cyberattacks targeting users, companies, and government institutions can deal significant damage. As Turkish Airlines is one of the best-known companies in the world, it sometimes ends up in the crosshairs of some very malignant people. Therefore, we have gathered a capable team of cyber security experts supported by advanced risk management and comprehensive security strategies to cope with any attack. Accordingly, with the Cyber Take Off program, which we organized for the second time this year, we selected 100 applicants through exams and interviews. The 30 people who were shortlisted after a series of training sessions and examinations were taken to a 15-day camp. The 10 top achievers of that group were offered a position and for the remaining 20, we recommended them to other large companies in the sector. With this program, which one can also call a social responsibility project, we proudly serve as an educational institution for young people and help them with their careers by being a part of their resumes."

“Turkish Technology has the most prominent and talented R&D experts in Turkey”

Elaborating on the solutions and services produced and exported by Turkish Technology, Kızıltunç emphasized the importance of a strong R&D structure for the global success they want to achieve:

“Digital transformation is the future when you think about it. Accordingly, our primary goal is to utilize the best technologies for our airline and then expand our operations toward general consumer technology. Afterward, through more robust cooperation with domestic and foreign start-ups, we want to maintain our competitive edge in the travel sector and establish win-win relationships with other companies by contributing to their development. All these goals are only achievable if we have a strong R&D organization.

Turkish Technology currently has the most prominent and talented R&D experts in Türkiye. Until today, we have developed various software that seems unique to Turkish Airlines but will serve as a reference point for the whole aviation industry. These technologies, performed outstandingly to meet the needs of a global juggernaut like Turkish Airlines and are offered to Turkish Airlines customers, will soon be made available by Turkish Technology for the whole aviation industry's use. We are hoping to give you an update about this in the future."

Europe's first carbon-negative integrated biorefinery is underway

It is no secret that sustainability is one of the top agenda points for airline companies. Kızıltunç discussed the contributions of the IT department to Turkish Airlines' sustainability efforts:

"We operate in a busy industry powered by a wide variety of sources. Accordingly, we carry out projects on many facets of sustainability. For example, we perform all estimations, be it planning flight routes in the most fuel-efficient way, the impact of the temperature in the destination in the amount of fuel to be used, or something else, using our state-of-the-art optimization and planning software. Also, thanks to the tablets we provide to our cabin managers and other applications on board, we enable our staff to access the documents they need digitally, thus significantly reducing the use of paper in the aircraft.

As you know, in line with its principle of "continuous improvement", Turkish Airlines strives at full steam to realize its sustainability goals. Accordingly, in order to achieve the goal of reducing carbon emissions as a part of the fight against climate change, in partnership with Boğaziçi University, Turkey's and Europe's first carbon-negative integrated biorefinery was commissioned within the scope of the 'Microalgae Based Sustainable BioJet Fuel (MICRO-JET) project supported by TÜBİTAK. At Turkish Technology, we aim to enable our passengers and employees to offset the emissions from their flights. So, we are planning to materialize the Voluntary Carbon Offset Project soon. With this feature to be rolled out on our website, our passengers will be able to make donations to various environmental foundations, thus offsetting their carbon footprints."

“We want to make data the main reference point for all teams' decision-makers.”

Our last topic of discussion with Dr. Kerem Kızıltunç was the future plans of Turkish Airlines on the issue of technology. Emphasizing their goal of using data in the most efficient way possible, Kızıltunç said:

“First of all, we want to further improve our customer-oriented services. Accordingly, to be able to produce technologies that will enable us to offer a personalized customer experience, we are planning to use artificial intelligence to further improve our customer analysis systems, campaign systems, and loyalty management systems. We aim to enable customers to utilize all our services digitally, wherever or whenever they want.

We are a busy airline company. We have thousands of pilots, cabin crew, maintenance technicians, and ground service personnel. We are planning to make data easily accessible to our personnel through digital applications, as well as analyze data and use it in various spheres of work, from resource planning to improving employee experience, making improvements that will help our personnel get jobs done. In addition, we are planning to accept numerous increasingly popular fintech payment methods in all our destinations.

Also, with the support of our General Manager, we launched the 'Data-Oriented Transformation Program', which aims to utilize data most effectively in all decision mechanisms throughout our institution. To this end, we will offer a fast-track certification program for those willing to handle data that are of great importance to the IT department and other units, thus developing the much-needed artificial intelligence projects using in-house expertise. Thus, we aim to make data the central reference point for all team decision-makers.

We have commissioned many machine learning-based projects and we continue to develop new ones. We used the data of over 70 million customers to develop models that predict trends in customer value perceptions and behaviors, next-best flight destination forecasting, lost customer forecasting, Business Upgrades, and the tendency to purchase an additional seat and additional baggage. In the name of environmental sustainability, we work to estimate the amount of food and water to be consumed on our flights to prevent food waste, and also by emplaning the optimum amount of water, we aim to save fuel as well. As for revenue management, we estimate the occupancy rates of our future flights and adopt dynamic pricing according to the season.

For effective workforce planning, we are currently carrying out important projects where we are working on forecasting our cabin and cockpit crew needs for the next five years and the required number of on-duty personnel at the airport.

As we increase our market share in the cargo sector, we will commission the first version of our AI- and optimization-based Cargo Revenue Management Application in the coming months, which will allow for much more effective pricing. With the Apron AI project we developed using state-of-the-art image processing technologies, we will detect the time elapses between the planes approaching the bellow and departing, thus improving the cycle times and eliminating the errors and other negative consequences caused by manual work."

"Turkcell is one of our most important communication partners"

Turkcell is one of our most important communication partners. We are happy with Turkcell's smooth services, offered for the connections between our domestic data centers and the data lines we use to transfer data from our planes abroad. In addition, we are in talks to use other services and applications Turkcell developed within Turkish Airlines. We always regard Turkcell as a valued business partner.



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