AirAsia and Google to launch Asia’s first ‘tech academy’

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s AirAsia Group says it will co-found a -training facility with Silicon Valley giant Google, as Southeast Asia’s biggest budget carrier by fleet continues its push to become a technology-led company.

AirAsia Group President Aireen Omar told the Nikkei Asian Review that fresh tech talent would play a vital role in developing new businesses within the group and help fulfill plans by Group CEO Tony Fernandes to remake AirAsia into a digital era disrupter.

“Because we have a long-term partnership with them, we said to Google why not collaborate with us to set up a tech academy, and they agreed,” Airren said in an interview with Nikkei.

Tim Synan, Google Cloud’s Southeast Asia regional director, said the AirAsia-Google Cloud is a collaboration between AirAsia’s RedBeat Ventures and Google Cloud.

“Together we’re working to upskill AirAsia AllStars with relevant expertise in Google Cloud technologies and build deep technical knowledge and Cloud expertise including Kubernetes, smart analytics, Cloud AI and more,” Synan told Nikkei.

“Google Cloud and our authorized training partners also offer Cloud training and enablement to AirAsia AllStars through self-paced labs, on-demand courses via Coursera, classroom training and advanced solutions labs with Google Cloud Certifications.”

Last year AirAsia, which already offers limited travel plans on its website, announced plans to expand its online service to include booking flights with rival airlines and e-commerce in a step toward becoming a full-service travel booking company.

As profits tumble in the face of rising fuel costs and intensifying competition, Fernandes is seeking alternative sources of revenue.

Last year he told Nikkei that he intended to invest 100 million Malaysian ringgit ($24.6 million) a year and use the data amassed from the 100 million passengers he transports to create an “Amazon of travel.”

AirAsia’s digital arm Redbeat Ventures acquired nine non-airline digital businesses from AirAsia in June 2018, for a dedicated focus on growing the aviation group’s noncore businesses which are envisioned to overtake the profit contribution of the airline operations.

The nine companies included AirAsia BIG Loyalty, e-money service provider BigPay, in-flight magazine travel360, in-flight Wi-Fi operator ROKKI, duty-free platform Ourshop, cargo and parcel businesses RedCargo Logistics and RedBox Logistics, as well as travel platform Vidi and online ticketing platform RedTix.

Last month Fernandes announced that Redbeat Ventures would open five restaurants and franchise 100 cafes over the next three-to-five years overseas, including in London and New York, as well as cities in China and Australia.

“We can’t be a lifestyle brand without food,” said Fernandes following the launch of the company’s first fast-food restaurant. “Our airline food has been successful. [We are] the first airline ever to commercialize food.”

Most of the group’s non-airline units are in the red, except logistics arm Teleport which recorded a small operating profit of 62.12 million ringgit. All in all, those businesses also accounted for less than 6% of AirAsia’s total revenue during the quarter ended September.

AirAsia’s tech academy venture comes amid tumbling profits and rising fuel costs as carriers grapple with fierce competition at a time of overcapacity in the market and soft passenger demand.

That has partly forced AirAsia to rein in regional expansion, sell some of its holdings, and shift into an asset-light model in the longer run.

The first venture of its kind for AirAsia, as well Google, Aireen said the training facility would be open to public students by the end of this year.

“For a start, the academy will be open to internal AirAsia employees next month who want to be reskilled to suit our current and future business operations,” Aireen said.

The training facility would also serve as a kind of “tech talent pipeline” to help to retrain AirAsia staff for other roles within the group as more processes become automated.

“More jobs might become redundant in the next three years, so we are giving our employees the opportunities to reskill to suit the digital economy,” said Aireen.

Among courses to be offered include digital marketing, digital product management, software engineering and courses on building and designing tech infrastructure.

Aireen said the academy would have its own dedicated campus, with all courses offered to be accredited by Google.

The Silicon Valley tech giant and AirAsia have a long-term partnership which began in October 2018 when AirAsia joined hands with Google Cloud to integrate Google Cloud’s machine learning and artificial intelligence into its business processes and accelerate its transformation into a digital airline.

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