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Eswee Vorster

Eswee Vorster: The CIO Whose Journey Took Flight with FlySafair

Transforming Digital Landscape and Enriching the Customer Experience!

Life is a magnificent adventure, and its beauty lies in the unpredictable moments that shape our destinies. Just like a winding river, our journey is filled with unexpected twists and turns that lead us to places we never imagined. These surprises are the essence of life, making it a thrilling and fulfilling ride.

For Eswee, the world of aviation chose him, and his career took a turn toward the skies. With a passion for adventure and a deep-rooted fascination for flight, his aviation journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Eswee Vorster, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of FlySafair, whose serendipitous journey from e-commerce to aviation technology has transformed the airline’s digital landscape and enriched the customer experience.

Eswee’s career path took a fascinating turn towards aviation when FlySafair recognised his exceptional e-commerce and product development expertise. Before joining the airline, he had explored various industries, from ERP and telecommunications to e-commerce, which, in the early 2000s was still in its infancy. It was during this time that he discovered his passion for technology and innovation, particularly in the realm of product development and e-commerce.

In 2015, FlySafair sought Eswee’s talents to enhance their e-commerce platforms and create a robust website that would set the stage for the airline’s growth. As it was still in its early stages, Eswee found an ideal environment to work his magic and make a lasting impact. His journey with the airline began with a focus on building its digital presence, and over the past nine years, his role has evolved, leading him to his current position as the innovative CIO of FlySafair.

Throughout his career, Eswee’s affinity for technology and innovation has been the driving force behind his success. His expertise has played a pivotal role in transforming FlySafair’s digital landscape, curating a seamless and enjoyable customer experience. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, he has helped to position the airline as a leading player in the aviation industry, setting new standards for innovation and customer engagement.

Let us delve deeper into his magnificent journey!

FlySafair’s Journey: Redefining Aviation Excellence

FlySafair embarked on its journey in October 2014, like any small start-up, with a focus on laying a strong foundation. Although the airline has experienced tremendous growth since its inception, its core principles remain unwavering. Eswee and the team emphasise data availability as a crucial element in building the airline, using it as a guide to ensure they make informed decisions.

From the very beginning, FlySafair distinguished itself through its focus on on-time performance and hassle-free customer service, principles that have remained central to the airline’s ethos. Eswee attributes the disciplined approach instilled early on as a significant factor in achieving this level of consistency over the years. The company’s dedication to innovation has also been apparent from day one, pushing the boundaries and redefining the norms of general airline operations.

Beyond its focus on excellence and innovation, FlySafair has cultivated a vibrant and dynamic work environment. The team consists of young, intelligent, and energetic individuals who have been instrumental in building the organisation and fostering its growth. A shared sense of responsibility and a willingness to roll up their sleeves have been key components to the team’s ethos, which has endured even as FlySafair has expanded.

Pioneering Consumer Airline Business with Technological Integration

FlySafair, a division of the esteemed Safair, has undergone a strategic shift towards focusing on its consumer airline business. While Safair has a rich history primarily centred around cargo and leasing, FlySafair has emerged as a vibrant force in the consumer airline market. Since its inception, the brand has experienced remarkable growth, even in the face of challenging circumstances.

One of the key factors contributing to FlySafair’s success is its low-cost model, which has resonated with customers seeking affordable and efficient air travel. Additionally, the airline places a strong emphasis on integrating technology into its offerings to enhance the customer experience. By leveraging technology, FlySafair ensures that its passengers have access to seamless and user-friendly services, setting it apart in the competitive aviation landscape.

Bridging Gaps and Spreading the Love for Flying

With a legacy dating back to 1965, Safair has long been a prominent player in the cargo and leasing sector. The wealth of knowledge and expertise held by the Safair team played a pivotal role in propelling FlySafair to success. Over the past nine years the low-cost passenger part of the business has all but eclipsed the Safair business of yesteryear.

What sets it apart is the passion for flying that the brand has infused into the aviation space, in addition to its pioneering low-cost model, which is still relatively new and misunderstood in South Africa. Being the first to introduce this customisable ticket concept to the South African market, FlySafair has made air travel more accessible and affordable for a new audience.

The airline’s dedication to achieving accessibility and affordability has been realised through initiatives like its renowned birthday sales, which have garnered nationwide attention. These efforts have touched the lives of customers who had never experienced flying before, now excited to share in FlySafair’s love for aviation.

Moreover, FlySafair has risen to the challenge presented by the Covid pandemic, endeavouring to close the market gap left by industry closures. By increasing flight frequencies and expanding destinations, the airline has made significant strides in making air travel more feasible and convenient for travellers, even extending its reach to neighbouring countries.

Delivering Excellence to Customers

As the CIO at FlySafair, Eswee oversees two critical components that are instrumental in driving the airline’s success.

The IT team focuses on internal operations, managing essential IT services such as network infrastructure, hosting, and desktop support. They ensure the smooth running of the business’s internal systems, allowing the organisation to function efficiently.

On the other hand, the Innovation team holds a significant emphasis within the company. This team is responsible for every touchpoint where systems, applications, or processes are linked to the airline. From ticket booking to boarding systems at airports, technical maintenance systems, flight operations, and pilot-facing applications—the Innovation team plays a crucial role in managing and optimising these processes. Moreover, they analyse and leverage data to inform major business decisions, influencing the airline’s strategic direction.

Eswee and his team’s diverse portfolio includes improving internal processes and systems, aiming for enhanced organisational efficiency. Their focus extends to designing technology and systems that cater to both internal and external customers, ensuring the best possible experience for passengers and internal stakeholders alike.

Safety and Simplicity

At FlySafair, safety is paramount, and it governs every decision made within the airline. Adhering to the rules set out by the Civil Aviation Authority ensures that safety standards are consistently met, both for customers and within the organisation. Safety is an element that is never compromised, reflecting the airline’s unwavering commitment to the well-being of all stakeholders.

FlySafair distinguishes itself in Africa through its emphasis on simplicity. With a clear focus on five key pillars—managing costs, customer satisfaction, hassle-free travel, on-time performance, and prioritising its people—every decision aligns with at least one of these pillars. This disciplined approach ensures that the airline stays true to its mission and values while maintaining a customer-centric approach.

Regarding technology, FlySafair embraces disruptive innovation. This means that every technological initiative is designed to delight customers and surprise competitors, keeping the airline one step ahead in the industry. The speed and urgency of technology delivery are critical elements of FlySafair’s success, allowing the company to seize exciting opportunities and stay agile in a rapidly evolving market.

He further states, “Beyond that, our strategy is quite clear, no frills, no fuss, just great products which we always look to improve on. Our focus on future technology is of equal importance; with the current buzz around AI and Machine learning, we are keen to see how we can explore those principles to even further better the airline. My goal is to be a world-class technology company that just happens to fly!”

Technological Innovations Elevating FlySafair’s Success

FlySafair has garnered numerous awards, and from a technological perspective, one of its most significant recent achievements is the successful implementation of the WhatsApp feature—a first for any airline globally. This addition has significantly improved the hassle-free travel pillar, especially considering the extensive usage of WhatsApp among the digital population in South Africa.

The WhatsApp channel’s seamless integration automatically identifies customers based on their cell phone numbers, retrieving their booking information without the need for repetitive data entry. Furthermore, the recent update allowing customers to purchase bags via the platform is another global first. The channel has proven to be an engaging and comfortable way for customers to interact with the airline.

Additionally, FlySafair’s mobile application and website have been major successes from an e-commerce standpoint. The airline has made continuous improvements to these platforms, setting a commendable internal KPI of 52 website releases per year and pushing for ongoing optimisation. Notably, FlySafair’s fraud department has achieved remarkable results, maintaining impressively low fraud numbers despite offering a wide range of payment methods.

Embracing a culture of constant improvement, FlySafair’s change agents remain focused on exploring new avenues and staying hungry for progress. They prioritise growth and innovation to elevate their services continuously.

Finally, FlySafair’s renowned birthday sales, which garnered enormous attention in the market, have been a testament to the airline’s technological prowess. Successfully managing the high traffic and ensuring smooth operations during these events has been a commendable feat, showcasing FlySafair’s ability to handle significant challenges with efficiency and excellence.

Key Insights for Success

While advising aspiring entrepreneurs, Eswee said, “Understand the complexity of an airline operation, manage your cost and understand the factors you need but are reliant on external parties. Start small and simple. Frills are simply distractions that detract from customer experience. The basics are very important; focus on those. From a technology perspective, do not overextend yourself, especially in the beginning. Look at the absolute essentials and scale up as you grow. Once you have invested in some of the bigger technologies, it is extremely hard to get out of them.”

According to Eswee, the key to success in the technology space lies in building a strong team comprising of like-minded and passionate individuals who fully align with the company’s strategy and goals. Empowering these team members to excel, encouraging them to take risks and learn from failures, and embarking on the journey together are essential elements for success.

Eswee strongly believes that the people component in the technology industry is often underestimated. Having a team of dedicated and enthusiastic individuals who wholeheartedly buy into the company’s vision can drive innovation and propel the organisation to new heights.

In the challenging aviation industry, where margins are notoriously low, precise decision-making becomes paramount. Eswee emphasises the importance of being critical of the resources and investments needed, ensuring that every decision made is strategically aligned with the company’s objectives.