Virgin Atlantic drives agile wins for its mobile workforce with the Power Platform
“PowerApps help us help our business” – Manuela Pichler, Business Systems Development Manager, IT Lite team
In this post we’ll take a deep dive look at the successful adoption of the Microsoft Power Platform at Virgin Atlantic. We’ll start with a Safety and Compliance App, followed by Virgin Atlantic’s centralized administration approach to view and manage apps across the organization, and finally highlight a few additional PowerApps solutions deployed across Virgin Atlantic.
Manuela Pichler manages a quick-win development team called “IT Lite” at Virgin Atlantic. Her team consists of SharePoint and Dynamics experts along with full stack .NET developers. They work closely with internal stakeholders and departments enabling them on their journey to digital transformation. Manuela was passionate about Office 365 and is now using the Power Platform in conjunction with Office 365 and Dynamics 365 to provide new ways of working for various business departments.
Safety and Compliance App
In 2017, Virgin Atlantic embarked on a “Connected Engineer” project where all aircraft engineers were equipped with iPads to ensure they could access the systems and tools they needed at the time they needed them. Following on from this, Manuela’s team began analyzing many of the legacy paper-based process with the goal of creating mobile friendly solutions that will make their engineers more productive and efficient. Their goal is to help them spend their time and energy focusing on the task they are carrying out, rather than on paperwork.
One of these paper-based processes was: Safety and Compliance Audits. As part of Engineering’s continuous improvement strategy, there is a corporate requirement to provide more accountability of the individual departments within Engineering. The role of Virgin Atlantic engineering within this mandate is: “To implement a self-monitoring process using available technology and identify areas of focus and trends (non-compliance) in real time.”
The Engineering Compliance team needed a way to review audit findings, take action immediately, view trends and identify improvements based on the findings. The engineers, with their new iPads, needed an audit process that was simple and quick and not take them away from their working environment.
Before Power Platform: business process, challenge and opportunity
The previous process that Virgin Atlantic engineers used to complete those audits was very manual. Part of the audits were completed on paper, and part in a legacy SharePoint 2007 list environment.
Paper form used prior to PowerApps:
There were several challenges with this process:
- There was no automation, and no dashboard to visualize the findings. As a result, engineers couldn’t take appropriate action on the most critical items.
- The engineers were spending time away from their working environment to complete audits on paper.
They needed the process to be simple and quick. To fulfill this need, the Engineering Maintenance department looked at purchasing licenses for audit tools, some with a cost of £25,000 per year. However, following analysis of these tools neither of them could quite meet the very specific requirements of the Engineering department. They were unable to find a suitable stable and supported solution that met their exact needs.
Choosing the Power Platform
Barry Young, Technology Business Engagement Manager for Engineering, had learned about PowerApps and Microsoft Flow through his Office 365 subscription and Microsoft blogs. He had an idea of what these technologies could offer and approached Manuela. Together they felt they could create a solution in a short amount of time that was completely custom to their Engineers’ requirements.
They decided a hackathon would be a great way of seeing if the Power Platform could be a fit for this purpose. They organized a hackathon in August 2018 with two SMEs from the Engineering team and built a working PowerApps application and Power BI dashboard in a day. This transformed the way the aircraft engineers thought about IT development. It allowed them to re-engage with this area and have an app ready for testing by the end of the day.
During the following weeks, further improvements were implemented. The application was rolled out as a trial with the Gatwick Engineers. In September 2018, the findings were presented to the monthly Engineering Safety and Security board, who were particularly impressed with the Power BI capabilities. In October 2018, the solution was deployed in production to further departments and stations.
Power Platform solution: Safety and Compliance Audit App
PowerApps: Engineers use a PowerApp on their corporate iPads to perform ad-hoc and scheduled audits. They can view what audits are scheduled for them, and review audit questions. On completing an audit, positive expected answers are highlighted in green to provide visual aid. Negative answers are highlighted in red and followed up with a pop-up to allow the Engineer to record a finding and assign a follow-up task to a manager.
Screenshots of Safety and Compliance Audit – tablet app
Engineering Compliance Managers use a PowerApp integrated within a SharePoint list to review completed audits and view all audit findings. They can also generate HTML and PDF audit summaries from the app if an auditor or executive requires further information.
Engineering Compliance Managers use PowerApps embedded in SharePoint
Microsoft Flow: Flows are triggered on a recurring schedule to email daily findings and actions to the Engineering Compliance Managers, and to email engineers at the beginning of the day if they have an audit assigned to them.
Flows are triggered from the SharePoint list and directly from the PowerApps to generate audit summary emails and HTML / PDF audit summary files.
List of supporting flows
Power BI: Power BI dashboards connected to the SharePoint Online lists provide statistics on the number of completed and scheduled audits. They’re used to visualize audit findings for monthly meetings and briefings, and to highlight areas of improvement.
Power BI dashboard for visualizing audit findings
Key benefits from using the Power Platform
- Increased buy-in from Engineers to complete the audits, as the app can be accessed on their corporate iPads
- Increased visibility of audit findings and areas of improvement with the Power BI dashboard
- Increased automation of audit scheduling and notifications with Flow
- Engineering are in full control of the audits and can change questions or introduce new audits without the need for IT involvement.
In addition to the benefits from the solution, the “App in a Day” workshop created a lot of interest, further highlighting the power of the platform.
To summarize, the application uses SharePoint Online lists to store information about the audits, a SharePoint site for admins to manage the audit schedule and findings, Microsoft Flow to send out notifications and Power BI to visualize the audit findings for the management level. PowerApps connects directly to the SharePoint Online lists.
Customized administration experience – a PowerApp to manage PowerApps
As the number of apps being developed at Virgin Atlantic grew, Manuela needed a solution to govern and manage these solutions. Moreover, she wanted to know who were the other PowerApps developers spread across the company. She wanted to partner with them, support them and start to form a community. Manuela read the PowerApps admin connectors blog post, which describes how you can use a PowerApp to manage PowerApps. She downloaded the sample admin app included with the blog post and within 30 minutes had a customized admin experience up and running. This gave her visibility into all the environments and apps in the organization – she could see who was creating these apps, how many people had access to each app, what connectors they used and more. Since this itself was a PowerApp, she could quickly customize it to add features that she cared about, such as filters to show only shared apps or newly created apps.
This centralized admin experience enabled Manuela to learn about business users outside of IT that were building apps. One such person was Ada from the Fuel Efficiency team. Ada had a background in SharePoint, Excel and Analytics, but no app development expertise. Ada was building an app to capture instances where ad-hoc and long term fuel decisions differed from standard policies. Manuela reached out to Ada to help her take this app into production.
She knows there are several others like Ada, that understand the business needs and have organically discovered PowerApps through their Office 365 license. Manuela is putting a system in place to proactively reach out to these individuals, offer trainings, connect them with each other and build a community of Power Platform champions within Virgin Atlantic.
Manuela is also working with the IT Operations teams (InfoSec, Change Management) to define a holistic support and governance model for PowerApps – this is currently in planning and development, with this admin app being a first version of the customized admin experience.
Additional Power Platform solutions
There are several additional solutions at Virgin Atlantic that are either in production or under development. Some of them are built by Manuela’s team, while others are built by various business units.
Cargo Gateway Information
An app that allows users to compare Cargo shipping variations across airports. The PowerApp has significantly improved usability – users are able to select what they want to display on an initial ‘input’ screen; results are then returned and organized across separate tabs. It’s transformed a large and complicated excel matrix into something that looks great and is simple to follow. The users love it because they can compare the variables for two airports, side by side. Perfect for when they have customers on the phone asking what services are available at origin and destination.
Clubhouse Spa App
A tablet app that is in use by Clubhouse Spas in Heathrow, Gatwick and JFK. This app allows therapists and hosts to search for customers and check if they have recently completed the mandatory Health Questionnaire. If they haven’t, the app allows the therapist to complete the questionnaire then and there with the customer. This is replacing a tedious paper process. The app connects directly to customer data in Dynamics 365. Microsoft Flow is used to create a daily report of passengers that have paid for their spa treatments with miles.
Crew iPad Rollout – Asset Management App
Virgin Atlantic needed to hand out iPads to 3000 cabin crew members. A PowerApp was created by the IT Asset Management team to scan the barcode of the iPad and assign it to each crew member. All information was stored in SharePoint Online and later imported into their Asset Management system. Within six weeks, 90% of the iPads were handed out with the help of this app, significantly cutting down the time that would have otherwise been spent manually writing down serial numbers and crew payroll numbers. On some days volunteers were handing out as many as 250 iPads per day.
Crew Leave Request App (in pilot)
A mobile app that allows Cabin Crew to request late notice leave from any device globally against a quota assigned per flight. This was implemented following a Union requirement to allow Cabin Crew more flexibility on short notice leave. Improves employee engagement and satisfaction. The process would be unmanageable without electronic forms and processes, due to the 4500 remote employees using it.
Fuel Decision Log (in development)
Fuel is Virgin Atlantic’s most expensive resource. Any ad-hoc or long term decision affecting fuel usage that differs from standard policies has to be logged. For example, the centralised operations team might choose to add additional holding fuel to account for Air Traffic Control delays at the destination airfield. Currently these decisions are recorded in meeting notes, handover documents, spreadsheets and emails. Ada, a citizen developer from the Fuel Efficiency team, has started to develop a simple PowerApp to log these decisions and the reasons for the decision. This will enable better monitoring of their fuel usage.
Credit Card Application (in development)
A desktop app for employees to request a corporate credit card. Once this request has been submitted by the employee, it goes to the relevant manager to approve. This process is currently managed via paper forms, which are printed out and handed to the Procurement team. It is now being digitized using PowerApps.
To close, this story highlights several aspects of Virgin Atlantic’s adoption of the Microsoft Power Platform:
- A growing portfolio of production apps built against multiple backend systems – SharePoint Online, Common Data Service, Custom APIs
- Full spectrum usage of the Power Platform – PowerApps, Microsoft Flow and Power BI
- A combination of IT-led and citizen developer led solutions
- A customized admin experience to manage apps and flows across the organization, and the beginning of a governance strategy to empower citizen development within business units
We hope you enjoyed this story. You can learn about additional PowerApps customer stories at https://aka.ms/PowerAppsStories and read about the work being done by other PowerApps Champs like Manuela at https://aka.ms/PowerAppsChamps.