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How a 100-year-old airline is scaling and transforming to bring innovation to aviation

Amid rapid growth and industry changes, Air France-KLM leveraged Atlassian Data Center to maintain their top-notch service while seamlessly scaling to 10,000-plus users.

The road to aviation wasn't paved by the Wright brothers alone. In the early 1900s, when blimps were all the rage, KLM left the helium behind to reach new heights (and distances) with one of the first non-airship airlines. Over 100 years later, the company, which has since merged with Air France to become Air France-KLM, is the world’s oldest airline still operating under their original name, and a leader in the highly competitive, fast-changing aviation industry.

Air France-KLM’s team prides themselves on providing the best service in the industry for each of their three core enterprises: passenger travel, cargo, and engineering and maintenance. They deliver on that promise thanks to their focus on customer loyalty and their culture of innovation. Over the years, Air France-KLM has been among the first to implement countless aviation advancements, from the latest sustainable biofuels and aircrafts like the Dreamliner to cutting-edge operational tools and in-flight entertainment like personal virtual reality headsets. 

To maintain their position as an industry leader and continue offering their customers world-class experiences, Air France-KLM needed to grow their internal team and adopt more modern practices behind the scenes, including agile and DevOps. These types of transformations are difficult for any company, let alone for a scaling, international enterprise. 

As Air France-KLM expanded their Atlassian user base by 50 percent in seven years to support these goals, the IT department faced new challenges. It was becoming more and more difficult to manage so many users in a variety of tools, maintain stability, and deliver updates and improvements quickly. To overcome these obstacles, Air France-KLM chose to standardize onto one Atlassian platform. With the help of Solutions Partner Avisi, the airline implemented an end-to-end system that has helped them embrace a more agile model. Now, they can rapidly innovate without worrying about downtime, manage thousands of projects and users with only a handful of team members, and continue leading the airline industry for the next 100 years.

Atlassian has changed the way [our] teams work and evolve. The products have especially helped the teams that are still growing their technical maturity. Departments that were struggling with technology and continuous improvement don’t now.”

Corné den Hollander
Product Owner

Centralizing workers and workflows

Air France-KLM’s investment in collaborative, efficient technology for their IT team began in the late 90s and early 2000s. After implementing Jira for faster, easier bug tracking, they added Confluence to store and share project knowledge outside of their code base, enabling IT to share information with non-technical colleagues who couldn’t access or understand code. 

Over time, Air France-KLM sped up coding and service management with the help of Bitbucket, Bamboo, and Jira Service Management. Now, IT has one end-to-end development and information system for managing their own projects and assisting co-workers in other departments. After all, better internal service trickles down into better customer service.

“We eat our own dog food,” Architect and Team Lead Joel Tomasoa explains. “We use Jira agile boards for tracking, Bitbucket and Bamboo for committing and maintaining code, and Confluence to put all our knowledge. Plus, all of them are integrated, so we can reference Confluence pages in Jira or vice versa.” 

As the technology team bridged siloes to engage more with non-technical departments, IT leveraged their new practices and technology to better serve their colleagues. To streamline service request management, Air France-KLM integrated the Scriptrunner Marketplace app with Jira Service Management and Jira. Now, whenever a new request is submitted through the service desk, Scriptrunner attempts to automatically resolve it first. For cases that require a human touch, the app opens a Jira ticket so an employee can work on the request. 

Non-technical teams that collaborated with IT or invoked service from them noticed opportunities to take a page from their book. “Other teams often come to us asking to upgrade [to Atlassian] because they see how it could improve their life and deliver a better experience for the end user.” Now, groups like HR and Marketing use Confluence to organize and document their work, and the Digital Content team uses Jira to track copy requests for the company blog.

While Atlassian has impacted different teams in different ways, there is universal appreciation for having one integrated system that will help Air France-KLM mature as an organization. “Atlassian has changed the way teams work and evolve,” Product Owner Corné den Hollander describes. “It has especially helped the teams that are still growing their technical maturity.” 

With a modern, integrated solution, teams of all types and experience levels are better equipped to streamline their daily work, collaborate with each other, and elevate their service even further – all while growing Air France-KLM at breakneck speed.

The migration to Data Center was so smooth […] Before, we had to tell our users in advance the system would be down. Now we do most of our changes on production, without any downtime.”

Joel Tomasoa
Architect and Team Lead

Data Center and self-service enable scaling with minimal administration

Atlassian’s spread throughout Air France-KLM surfaced new challenges, including balancing freedom with governance and maintaining system stability. 

As employees came to IT for help creating and managing projects in Atlassian, IT wanted to maintain ownership over the platform without becoming a middleman. To find that happy medium, the team used Atlassian to build My Devnet, a self-service app for all Atlassian users within Air France-KLM. “This app gives users the power to create their own Jira and Bitbucket projects, Confluence spaces, or Bamboo build plans and deployment projects, and do their own user management within a separate app,” Corné says. “We manage over 10,000 customers and 3,000 projects, so [the app] saves us days every month and weeks every year.”

With less time and energy required for administration, IT freed themselves up to focus on improvements, service, and new initiatives that will continue moving the company forward. One such initiative was migrating to Data Center, Atlassian’s self-managed enterprise edition, to maintain and continue improving Air France-KLM’s industry-leading service as they scale.

The airline worked with their Solutions Partner, Avisi, to troubleshoot underlying technology challenges and prepare for this shift. “The migration to Data Center was so smooth. We love that it was so easy to set up and that we can make changes without downtime,” Joel says. “Before, we had to tell our users in advance the system would be down. Now we do most of our changes on production, without any downtime.”

Avisi’s Operational Manager, Yanne Veronneau, adds that the Data Center upgrade is crucial for Air France-KLM’s growth. “We doubled the number of requests and users they can handle without crashing or slowing down the system,” he says. “Air France-KLM is happy because [Data Center] is more predictable and scalable.” 

Beyond these results, Air France-KLM appreciated having an experienced partner they could turn to as a sounding board. “We had the knowledge and capabilities [to manage the upgrade],” Corné says. “But having someone to fall back on and check your plans – someone who knows enterprise-scale customers, the transition from a single server to Data Center, and performance testing – was valuable to me as a Product Owner. It provided us with security.”

Data Center gave us performance and stability improvements. We’re now able to provide a toolstack for over 10,000 customers with only 5-7 administrators.”

Corné den Hollander
Product Owner

10,000 users and zero downtime

By upgrading to Data Center, Air France-KLM can continue enjoying the productivity, collaboration, and service improvements they experienced by standardizing onto Atlassian, while increasing stability and scalability. “Data Center gave us performance and stability improvements. We’re now able to provide a toolstack for over 10,000 customers with only 5-7 administrators,” Corné says.

The migration process also uncovered future opportunities to clean up the system for even better performance, more streamlined workflows, and new features that will power Air France-KLM’s innovation through the next chapter in business. Corné reflects: “I look back, and I’m very proud of what our Devnet team has accomplished. We’re ambitious, though, so we’re still exploring ways to enable our team even more.”

Air France-KLM’s commitment to customer service has been steadfast for over 100 years. And while in 2020 times are tough for business everywhere – especially those in the travel industry – Corné points out that “we’ve seen crises before and come out of them stronger, and we believe the same will be true of this crisis when we look back 100 years from now.” 

Thus, equipped with newer, better practices and technology, this established leader looks forward to not only maintaining their stellar reputation, but also growing it as they continue to weather storms, scale, and evolve throughout their next century in aviation history.

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