In 2021, ACI World and Thinkr—an independently run initiative by McGill MBA students—embarked on a partnership to optimize the new ACI Intelligence Hub. Thinkr’s areas of focus are Strategy, Finance, Marketing, and Technology. All participants are volunteers that offer free consulting services, focusing primarily on nonprofit organizations.
ACI Insights sat down with Janik Gagné, ACI World’s Senior Director, Economic Analysis and Statistical Services, and Carlos Charpenel, Jason Bertam, and Fabio Gatti, from Thinkr to discuss their collaboration.
I have always been passionate about geography and international relations, so aviation was a great fit for me since the beginning. Aviation is constantly evolving, so there are new challenges every day that make you learn and grow, that is why I enjoy working in this industry so much.
With a Master’s degree in the Biomedical Engineering field, I joined the aviation industry as a temporary measure actually—to gain work experience! But once I was in, I was here to stay. The innovation taking place in this industry is eye-opening. Considering all the red tape and safety regulations, it is truly amazing how much aviation has evolved. This industry connects the world and being here, I am on the front lines of important change.
Early on in my academics, I had a passion for aviation and was always fascinated to build a career in the industry. It was this passion that made me pursue my Aerospace Engineering Master’s degree and join a world class leading engine manufacturer. With the recent technological advancements and push for sustainable aviation, my excitement about the future of aviation and the impact it has on the world has never been greater.
The ACI Economics team has highly qualified data analysts, data scientists, product owners with computer sciences backgrounds or experience launching digital transformation projects at major airports. We have a “dream team” that was able to develop a solid foundation for the ACI Intelligence Hub, but we knew that we needed to add more commercial insights to the project. This is where the Thinkr team came into play. In addition to their business and commercial knowledge acquired during their MBA, the three member team had extensive aviation industry experience. It was like winning the lottery.
There were three main topics that required Thinkr’s expertise: a thorough competitive landscape analysis, help identifying best practices for the launch phase, and the identification of sustainability initiatives that could support the project.
To be honest, coming from an aircraft manufacturing background, you don’t really consider what happens to the plane once it is made! This project opened my eyes to an exceptionally intricate world: the detail that goes into quantifying, analyzing, and organizing the transport of millions of passengers every day. It’s quite the feat and opens the door to so many opportunities and levels of innovation.
It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit that despite being in the aviation industry for so many years, that I did not realize the amount of data analytics currently being done on the air traffic side. Having had the opportunity to work with ACI over the course of several months, it was a tremendous learning experience as to an entire aspect of the industry I was previously completely blind to and realize how important this work is to improve travelling and airport operations.
My previous experience in the airport industry gave me a better understanding of the needs of potential clients and the opportunities in unexplored segments of the market. Even though ACI’s offer is unique, there are shared challenges that products in this sector face. Having worked with the main solutions in the industry, it was easier for me to propose ways of tackling the challenges and create a differentiation strategy for the Intelligence Hub.
The aviation data services industry is highly competitive, there are a lot of companies offering huge variety of products for a niche base of clients. As such, it was very challenging to find the right commercial strategy for ACI’s new solution to stand out from the rest and be sustainable over the long-term.
From the beginning, it was very apparent that ACI’s team really cared about the product and were invested in its success. However, it is challenging to identify areas of improvement to such passionate individuals. As a result, when analyzing the market positioning of ACI’s Intelligence Hub, it was difficult to point out competitive products that may be slightly better positioned in the market. Again, this speaks volumes of the commitment of ACI employees to their work, which we really appreciated.
While the ACI team was very supportive and accommodating in sharing the vision of the ACI Intelligence hub with the Thinkr team over the course of the project, being more involved in the development of the platform would have resulted in more integrated recommendations. As a team, we collectively discussed the potential for this platform as a fully integrated tool for ACI’s users beyond data dissemination and believe there is many areas of expansion to unlock its full value.
Fabio, Carlos, and I met a week before the project begun, but we were aligned right from the start. We shared a common purpose: execute the mandate to the best of our abilities. ACI’s passion for this project was evident from the beginning and we were determined to help in any way we could. Since we were all working full time and studying, having Zoom calls was beneficial for our schedules. The support from the ACI team was great: attending every call, joining after hours, being readily available with advice and feedback – we couldn’t have done it without them.
ACI should continue to use its vast amount of high-quality data to provide solutions for the many problems faced by people and companies within the aviation industry. We believe that ACI is taking steps in the right direction by having embarked on a digital transformation journey. The task is not easy, but by finding the right partnerships and leveraging inside talent, ACI could become a stronger organization, with innovation at the forefront of all their activities. On the other hand, the new ACI Intelligence Hub should always take advantage of its unique features that no other competitor has, such as the completeness and quality of the data, as this will help it become an indispensable tool for top airports, consulting firms, and industry decision-makers.
Finally, academic partnerships, such as the one established between ACI and McGill, should continue in the future as they produce synergies that help both students and the organization to achieve their goals.
The ACI Intelligence Hub is one of ACI’s key new initiatives to democratize and better leverage the traffic and economic data that ACI collects. It also aims at improving the value for airport members and World Business Partners (WBP). The great work done by the Thinkr group helped the team to validate some early assumptions about the competitive landscape and allow us to better understand our market positioning compared to other organizations. This market positioning was a key element in the development of the pricing strategy and will be used as an input in the development of the marketing strategy. The work of Thinkr also highlighted crucial success elements. For example, investing to develop a great product is not enough to ensure that it will bear fruit; the whole organization needs to come together to commercialize it. Finally, ACI will implements many of their recommendations.
The overall experience with the Thinkr team was fantastic and I would without hesitation recommend it to any other nonprofit organizations. Despite having a pro bono mandate, the team was extremely dedicated to the project and very knowledgeable. We really enjoyed the more personal approach to the project from the team; dealing with big consulting companies often means that your project is one of many and you may not get the attention you would expect or at least hope for. Thinkr was perfect fit for the mandate and resources required for the project.
It was an amazing opportunity for me to extend my network within the aviation industry. I was able to apply many of the concepts I learned during my MBA, and to put my previous experience to the test. Not only did I learn new things, but I was comfortable enough to propose ideas and navigate the project from a personal experience standpoint
As a manager, you need to be comfortable making decisions without an intimate knowledge of the subject matter. This involves three things: (i) outlining a clear and attainable goal, (ii) trusting your team, and (iii) identifying the necessary inputs to make a targeted and informed decision. This experience was an application of what we have been taught and reassured me that I was on the right path.
While the concepts and subjects reviewed during the MBA have been interesting, the real value is in being able to apply them effectively and collectively. With each industry and business has their own unique aspects, there does not exist a standard solution. The most successful solutions are those that consider multiple perspectives to define customized approaches towards problem solving.
Carlos Charpenel (McGill 2021 MBA) is a professional of the aviation industry with more than 8 years of experience in the airport marketing and air service development fields. Carlos has recently been hired as ACI World’s Director of Economic Policy. He previously worked as a consultant at Flare Aviation Consulting, a firm specialized in strategy and transformation in the aviation sector.
Jason Bertram (McGill 2023 MBA) has over 8 years’ experience in the aerospace industry across several functions: airworthiness, engineering, program and project management. He has worked for industry leaders such as Air Canada, Embraer and Collins Aerospace. Currently, he is a Senior Management Consultant at Accenture, working as a Procurement Project Manager at Airbus Canada.
Fabio Gatti (McGill 2022 MBA) has over 8 years of experience in the aerospace industry, specifically at Pratt & Whitney Canada. Having held various roles in supply chain, operations, engineering and most recently as an Aftermarket Campaign Manager, Fabio has been heavily implicated in the development, certification and production of various aircraft engine programs.
Janik joined ACI World in April 2020 and is now the Senior Director, Economic Analysis and Statistical Services. Janik heads the Economic and Statistics team within the ACI World’s Economic Department. The team’s primary responsibilities include statistical and economic analysis of air transport and forecasting future air travel demand. He came to ACI from Air Canada, where he worked in the airport development, revenue management, and cargo department for over ten years. Janik has Doctoral research work in Epidemiology as well as an MBA in Aviation Management.