InterMiles Digitally Transforms Itself to Boost Engagement

Learn about the importance of customer experience even during a pandemic

Rym Badri: So, hello and welcome to our webinar, How One Travel Company Digitally Re-designed to Boost Engagement, in this case InterMiles, and the Importance of Customer Experience. My name is Rym Badri and I will be your host today. So, today’s presenters for your webinar are Ashok Karania, VP of global alliances and strategic accounts at InfoStretch. And Ketan Phanse, VP and head of information and digital technology at InterMiles. Ashok is an entrepreneurial leader with more than 15 years of senior management experience in strategy, sales, alliances, and client relations. He is a growth-oriented professional with a proven track record in actualizing new digital ideas. As VP and head of information and digital technology of InterMiles, Ketan has been instrumental in developing JetPrivilege as an independent loyalty company and then transforming it to InterMiles as a new brand. He has experience managing a vast array of technologies, including web, mobile, marketing automation, and cloud.

Rym Badri: And before we begin here, let me just review some housekeeping items. First, this webinar is being recorded and will be distributed to you via emails, allowing you to share it with your internal teams or watch it again later. Second, your line is currently muted. Third, please feel free to submit any questions during the call by utilizing the chat function or the Q and A function at the bottom of your screen. We will make sure to answer all your questions towards the end of the presentation. We will do our best to keep this webinar to the 45 time allotment. And at this time, I’d like to turn over the presentation to Ashok.

Ashok Karania: Hey, thanks Rym for the kind introduction. Good morning, good afternoon friends wherever you’re joining from. Today we are going to talk about how one company transformed itself digitally to evolve into a next evolution stage. Of course, we’ll start with a quick introduction of what we are going to cover, what’s the main topic on the agenda. More on to the real case study, and we have none other than Ketan who’s going to give us an inside view of how he was involved in the whole transformation process. What are the technology building blocks and how we use the COVID response time to that. Digital transformation, a very overused and abused term these days. We see that every business aims to become a digital organization. Often, we have seen people applying digital lipstick and calling them a digital organization. But even when there’s a real digital transformation, it’s a very elaborate process. What do we see? CEOs announcing digital transformation initiatives, they creating a big task force, appointing a big consulting firm, giving the project a very cool and a sexy name, having new life around it, and everybody’s on board. This is all great when you have luxury of time.

Ashok Karania: But what if the storm hits you unawares? Taleb said about the black swan event, right. So if you come across a major change and you have no time to respond, you have no time to react and you’re forced to transform yourself, what really happens then? It’s like imagine you flying in the middle of the air and you have to fix a plane. And not only fix a plane, paint it red, keep the passengers happy. And how many passengers do you have? More than 10 million passengers. Yes, that’s the scale of what InterMiles has been. And I think it’s befitting for us to hear about this humongous task from a very charismatic, but at the same time a productive, resilient, and very resourceful person who used all his tenacity and vision to hold the folks together and transform this process. So Ketan, without a further ado, I request you to take us to the journey from your own eyes and from your own experience.

Ketan Phanse: Thanks Ashok for a very overwhelming introduction and thank you for having me here with InfoStretch. It’s my pleasure to share some of the experiences that we had in a eventful last 12 months or so. And I must say that the exciting journey continues with more and more events, especially with COVID situation out here. And I hope all the audience out here are safe and wish we all a very safe environment for you and your family. So for those who are not familiar with InterMiles, let me just briefly give a glimpse of who we are, what we do, which can just help you understand the organization-

Video Voiceover: Welcome to InterMiles, a one of its kind and the most rewarding travel and lifestyle program. InterMiles enables invaluable experiences for our rapidly growing community of members by offering them completely free vacations, amazing experiences, as well as daily use products in exchange for their InterMiles. Earning InterMiles is extremely easy and simple. Earn InterMiles when you book a flight or a hotel stay. No matter where you’re going, just head to intermiles.com. Also earn InterMiles when you shop, eat out, fill up fuel, or purchase from any of our partners. You can also multiply your InterMiles earnings by using our co-brand card for your daily spends. See your InterMiles add up every day, no matter what you do. Yes, it’s that simple. Earning InterMiles across all our partners also enables you to move up our membership tiers faster. With every tier upgrade, the benefits get better, opening up a world of privileges like lounge access, excess baggage allowance, complimentary seat select, in-flight meals, and much more. So if you believe, like we do, that every experience must count towards an enriching and rewarding life, come join our community of members. Become an InterMiler today. Sign up now.

Ketan Phanse: Let me just move to the next slide. Okay. So, as you could understand, we are one of the largest loyalty programs in India. We started off as JetPrivilege way back in 1994. So technically, we are more than 24 years old. We started with being a frequent flyer program to one of the largest airlines in India at that time, called Jet Airways. And the journey for the initial two decades was largely to build up a frequent flyer audience in India. You know, benchmark ourselves to some of the global players like the Miles & More or AAdvantage. And then way back in 2014, JetPrivilege was carved out as a separate entity with a very specific focus on growing loyalty as a every day brand in India. Ensuring that we focused much more beyond just airline travel and bring in a much more wholistic way of partnerships, rewards, and recognition to our members. And last five to six years have been one of tremendous growth. We grew from about 2.5 million members in 2014 to about 10 million last year.

Ketan Phanse: However, in this journey, towards middle of 2019, we had an unexpected turn of events and I will be sharing some of my experiences about that today. We were heavily dependent on Jet Airways as an airline host. And during middle of May of 2019, an unfortunate turn of events led to Jet Airways filing for insolvency. And that meant that we had to completely reinvent ourselves, reposition ourselves to our members such that their trust in us, and the currency that they had earned, and the relationship that they shared with us over the decades is not broken. Think of it this way for those who are in United States. How do we run AAdvantage without an American Airlines? How do we run TrueBlue without JetBlue? Or how do we run SkyMiles without Delta being there? That was the kind of challenge thrown to us and that’s where the entire journey from JetPrivilege to InterMiles, we started off.

Ashok Karania: So Ketan, would this be the history of an loyalty program rebranding itself, changing itself without a mother airline in existence?

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. A lot of people have rebranded their loyalty programs over the period of time, but the one to do it, I guess, without the host airline would, I guess, to my knowledge, we would be the first ones. It has been quite a decade, quite a year, specifically last 2019, globally for all the airlines. COVID has just added to the wounds, but it has been a challenging year. And to see that through, happy to be part of that journey and some of these learnings out here. So as I mentioned, we’ve been more than 10 million plus members. We have about 150-odd partners across different verticals. You would have seen in the video, ranging from our partners in the credit card side with some of the leading banks in India to fuel partnerships, airline partnerships, dining. We work with the likes of Amazon from our affiliate partnerships on the e-commerce side. And in the process, we kind of ended up issuing more than 33 billion miles last year.

Ketan Phanse: And the challenge for us was how do we traverse this journey from JetPrivilege to InterMiles as a new brand. We wanted to ensure that the trust in the brand and the organization remains consistent, but at the same time a customer does not have the baggage at the back of his head that here’s the lovely airline-based loyalty program who’s airline does not exist anymore. And that does add to a lot of questions around what do I do with the millions of miles that I’ve accumulated and lying there in my account. I am a platinum member, how does that continue to be treated and what privileges will I get? So those were some of the question that lied in front of us. We started with a ambitious purpose, which was to fulfill the aspirations of our members by creating memorable and rewarding experiences. That purpose and that mission for us continue to be true even if our brand was going to change. The core value proposition that we took to our customers of free experience, a free holiday, giving you something that you would always aspire to and fulfilling those aspirations with experiences is something that we always stood true to deliver.

Ketan Phanse: However, we wanted to use this opportunity to make a change in the market. Typically, it was cluttered with a lot of deal hunters, with a lot of cashbacks in the market within the travel and the commerce play and we wanted to keep ourselves pretty different. We therefore decided to focus the entire conversation and change it from being a very loyalty and currency-centric brand to more of a customer-driven brand. We wanted to move away from just talking about things to end-to-end being able to deliver the experience. Rather than being dependent on an airline or a partner, we wanted to kind of own the experience, be accountable to deliver it. We wanted to change the narrative from talking about just simply benefits, like in excess baggage, or certain deals, or lounge access, to being able to create truly memorable memories and experiences for our customers.

Ketan Phanse: With that in mind and about a month or so deliberation on what should be our name, what should be our visual identity, what should we stand for, we ended up calling ourselves InterMiles. It not only resonated miles as a currency, miles as a medium of travel, but also the entire ecosystem of interchangeability, travel, as we felt that this kind of resonated well with our ecosystem. And at the same time also ensured that we are making a very clean cut from our previous history of being JetPrivilege. It would have been easy for us to call ourselves JetMiles, or PrivilegeMiles, or something like that, but we wanted to actually break the clutter and come out with a clean slate to our members. So that was half the challenge. The full challenge remained how do we ensure that InterMiles as a brand is delivered with the same level of expectation and then it’s engaging with the customers going forward truly.

Ketan Phanse: We started completely changing the way we talked to our customers. Visually, what we stood for as InterMiles as a new brand, the tonality, the colors, the way we used our value proposition to elevate some of the key points. Very different from what we used to be doing in the JetPrivilege era. We decided to focus on three key pillars, travel, lifestyle and loyalty, and payments. And that’s something that we continue to be building upon in 2020 as well. I’ll spend some time maybe talking to you to what does it mean to do the digital transformation. From a technology perspective, what did it need to actually be able to deliver this new brand, this new avatar, so to say. We had about two months of timeline to completely transform ourselves and give this brand up on the table.

Ketan Phanse: So one of the first challenges that we faced, and this was way back in May of 2019, our core engine software ecosystem, which was the infrastructure hosted in the data center, some of the servers that were hosted on the data center were completely inaccessible. That was a sudden turnout where we were sharing some of our assets within the data center of Jet Airways, they were no longer accessible. We had to invoke a complete disaster recovery to ensure that there is no downtime for the members who are accessing and were anxious already because of all the news in the media. We wanted to ensure that JetPrivilege is still up and running and you’re able to access it. It meant that within a week’s time, we set up a complete new data center, move physically all our servers and racks, take them outside from the Jet Airways cage, plug the wiring back in and get back the ecosystem up and running. That was the first thing that hit us, even before we actually started our brand transformation journey. Luckily at that point of time, except few of our critical assets, most of them were also hosted on cloud and didn’t get affected as much.

Ketan Phanse: The second challenge was to ensure we keep the plane flying, which means that the platforms, the value proposition, the access to the ecosystem is up and running despite the suspension of Jet Airways as the host airline. We had to ensure that as a customer you are continuing to be able to book a free flight, book any flight, being able to use your miles for an air ticket, which was our core value proposition. And by the way, this entire platform was only available by Jet Airways. And which meant in the period of a couple of months, we had to build our own travel booking engine which would connect with multiple airlines, provide the customers to login, book a free flight within India, internationally, and being able to ensure that that trust with the currency continues. We started with a very strong campaign called as JPMiles More Powerful Than Ever. Because at that point of time we were still JetPrivilege Miles, we had not changed to InterMiles and it was more about keeping the trust going with our customers. The next thing-

Ashok Karania: What I found interesting, Ketan, was the entire… Jet would have big mega systems and you switched over them to a completely new redesigned system within weeks. So that was phenomenal, I would say.

Ketan Phanse: Yeah, it was phenomenal, it was one week of sleepless nights and I’ll leave it at that.

Ashok Karania: And lots of coffee, I’m sure.

Ketan Phanse: And that, and lots of coffee, and then lots of more coffee. Yep. And then came the actual journey of rebranding JetPrivilege to InterMiles. That’s where in September of 2019 we coined the term and we had a hard date to deliver by 15th of November. Which means in the span of two months, we had to change all the platforms that we would be operating, whether it’s a dining platform, it’s a hotels platform, whether it is our flights platforms, our main websites, applications, everything had to change. It was about, and I’ll throw some more lights out there, and launch a completely new brand in a period of two and a half months. A lot of teamwork and I’ll just in a couple of minutes throw more light on what did it mean from a technology perspective to deliver a rebranding kind of an experience.

Ketan Phanse: Lastly, we had to ensure that we are keeping our passengers smiling. Our members were always at the core of whatever we did. We had the trust and the backing of 10 million plus members who had worked with us for last 20, 25 years and wanted this brand to be really engaging and continue that relationship with us. With this, we also launched a new tier program. A lot of benefits that earlier a platinum member or gold member used to enjoy was provided by the host airline. And without that we had to ensure that we come up with a completely new benefits tiers program that resonates well with our members. We ensured that equivalent or better benefits are being provided so that the hard work tier that you have owned as a platinum member, as a gold member, the value of that does not depreciate.

Ketan Phanse: As I mentioned, launching a new brand from a technology perspective meant changing the complete UI/UX. Changing the content across all the pages. Launching new features and new platforms which didn’t exist at all. Ensuring all our marketing channels touchpoints are completely transformed with InterMiles. Ensuring our core IT infrastructure, the DNS, the routings, the domains, the SSL certificates are also changed. And doing a lot of data migration. We had a set of seven to eight core platforms. Each and every URL on that site had to be changed. Features, we had to bring up a new tier program. We had to introduce new capabilities that, you know what, here is the lounge for you. If you’re booking your flight can I redeem that lounge while booking your flight using the points that I have? And these kinds of features and products, we never had in our Jet Airways times.

Ketan Phanse: We then move to changing the complete UI. The CSS, the logos, the verbiage, proofreading every page, ensuring all the policies, the terms and conditions, the FAQs are updated with the right set of new brand guidelines. A lot of heavy lifting work on the technologies and from the marketing campaign management platforms. We didn’t want to just do a superficial change of changing the logo. We wanted to ensure every touchpoint that our customer interacts with is now talking InterMiles, which included our core email campaign management projects. Meant taking up new IPs. The warming of the domain to sure they are able to deliver 10 million plus emails to all our customers, et cetera.

Ketan Phanse: I talked about the IT infrastructure, a lot of heavy lifting had to be done on data organization where we had to ensure a complete re-tiering of all our members. So this is a new calculation model. Earlier used to become a gold to platinum, this is the number of flights you took on Jet Airways and that didn’t hold true. So how do I retune the entire engine to being able to recognize you by the basis that our data lives on and ensure your tiers are, from a data perspective, are calibrated accordingly. So the branding actually touched base on most all the aspects of technology that one could witness. That was the real challenge of this activity. That was now some of the transformation. You can see every flight that you book, there was a InterMiles proposition. A hotel that you book had an InterMiles proposition. Even the jacket that you would buy from our commerce play had an InterMiles proposition.

Ketan Phanse: We then looked at other verticals, our credit card partners. Fueling up, you could go to any nearby fuel pump, back up your car, and earn miles on it. You could reserve a table for dining and earn InterMiles on it. So we wanted to be on as many touchpoints and as many daily engagement packages of our customers. And ensure that we’re not just an airline-centric program anymore, but truly a everyday rewards and a lifestyle program. So that been a exciting journey for us over the last few months. We then had to actually take a break to say, you know what, we’ve delivered InterMiles, let us take the transformation to the next level. Let us up the game. Let’s have more engagement with our members. And that’s when we partnered with InfoStretch and began the second phase of our transformation about taking it to the next level. I’ll like if maybe Ashok to share some of his journey as a partner working with us on the entire transformation.

Ashok Karania: Sure. Thanks, thanks Ketan. And I have been a JetPrivileges member for quite some time. And I-

Ketan Phanse: InterMiles

Ashok Karania: No. Yeah. But I’m just saying, so the JetPrivileges. And then within a few weeks of this I received my new membership, new things within a few weeks of transformation. And now I’m of course a InterMiles member. So I have also experienced the speed of the execution at the ground level. And of course been very happy to be part of this journey. So let me tell you how we as InfoStretch to work with Ketan and it was a great experience for InfoStretch teams also to work on this. So, the whole transformation which Ketan spoke about is visible in this screen, right. So this is the result of the collaboration which we did with InterMiles to build this app. This is a app which is very clean, neat, with a world-class user experience in mind. The real estate is very important and you can see three distinctive things, right. Welcoming of course the InterMiles member. Telling about him where does he stand, what are the points he has. And specifically going into how he could earn more miles, how he can redeem his existing miles, and what are the current promotions going on. So within one screen, give the user what he or she is really looking for.

Ashok Karania: The beautiful, simple things there on the front end, they tend to require a lot of complexity at the back end to make it beautiful. And for that, we fall back upon our traditional InfoStretch way of looking at things, right. As I said, a lot of organizations look it as a digital transformation journey. Whereas we take pride in being a engineering partner for the whole digital evolution. We see that the digital journey is a series of different steps. And the first step is of course to go digital. How could you quickly enable the customer achieve their vision in a very short span of time? Develop something quick, quick POCs, and projects, and make it live. And in case of InterMiles, it was more important than ever that the brand presence was made visible. Second is, then go about being digital. Building the right infrastructure, building the foundation steps which are required, which is digital engineering, putting DevOps, other technological infrastructure in place. And here we heavily rely upon the automation and the various tools which are available.

Ashok Karania: Last, but not the least part is evolving into a complete digital organization. And today, as we see, InterMiles is a complete digital organization. You work upon leveraging the data, building a lot of data analytics tools, and using those feedback to constantly better the value proposition for the customers. If we take a little more double click into each of these approaches, right. The going digital part was about quickly experimenting things, doing things as we learned, and whatever we learned, to redo them, right. And I think here our modular development approach came very, very handy for us to build those quick pilots and take it to the market. I think I and Ketan will be specifically speaking about some of the engagements we planned for the COVID times. We also fell back upon using a hybrid of using both web as well as native components for ensuring quick go-to-market, depending on the business situation. As you know, the flights started to get decommissioned and the planes were grounded. So we put the flights component on a deprioritization mode and we fell back upon more of the web use, right. Some of the web components like customer engagement were highly prioritized. We used a lot of reusable components, libraries to ensure that the product is out there.

Ashok Karania: Then of course started also working on creating the robust and scalable back end, right. And I think one thing, and I will give full credit to Ketan and his team, that while we were working on this project there was tremendous pressure with regard to timing, but we did not compromise any of the critical infrastructures. Whether it was creating a single pipeline for security, continuous testing, building the automation piece to ensure that the regulations are taken care of. We were following a two-weekly release cycle, but at the same time ensuring the right things were done. We also invested on creating a very, very strong microservices and a scalable back end. This was a technology piece, execution was equally important and we fell back upon the scale agile approach, right. Where we, as I said, created multiple development tracks, created multiple teams to work on the micro apps and then bring all of them together. A strong analytics framework was also put into picture to ensure that the feedback was taken into account, the users’ behavior was constantly monitored. All this while we acted as an extended arm for InterMiles.

Ashok Karania: I think during the entire process, the culture piece also stood out equally well. And our alignment with not only Ketan, Manish, but their entire teams at every level was clearly visible, we were culturally together. I think Ketan mentioned about celebrations. So there were of course a lot of celebrations, there were events, there were also crisises where everybody was awake the whole night. But all of this created a one and a connected team. I distinctly remember there were a lot of anxiety for both InterMiles members as well as our team members when event after events were unfolding. I think Ketan took it upon himself to impress those concerns with everyone and I think the results showed. Everyone rolled up their sleeves, everyone extended their hours and ensured that, again, fixing the plane, painting it red, and keeping it running, and keeping everyone smiling.

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. And Ashok, I guess it was a complete team effort where there was one challenge after another. We completed the rebranding activity and then there was launch the InterMiles mobile application in two months’ timeline. And truly your team was there, everyone just went beyond the cause no matter if he or she was from Infostretch or InterMiles. Just worked together as one team to deliver one milestone after another.

Ashok Karania: Yeah. And I sneaked into some of the scrum meetings or your daily kick off calls in the morning, the daily stand-up calls, and I would see Ketan saying, “Okay. This team go and check this. You look into this, you look into that.” So all the war room situations were very, very exciting. Coming back to the architecture, I’m not going to go into deep technology discussion here. But essentially the clean UI we looked at, it was actually multiple micro apps into one, right. And that’s where the different parallel teams, the micro app structure came into picture. So if you look at the core components the flights, hotels, fuels, diner, multiple apps built into one. The right hand side of the screen is a very simplistic depiction of what we did. For a brand like InterMiles and the digital lifestyle business they are into, the MarTech becomes a very, very important component. So there was of course Urban Airship for notification. We used branch.io. We used Adobe Analytics. All of them were very, very important to see the enrollment behavior, et cetera and make corresponding changes.

Ashok Karania: The mobile SDK, the whole SDK with regard to theming, the idea was very simple, how we could rebrand it for different brands at different points of time and build everything into the SDK. So we could do a quick theming, we could do a quick customization and give it to other partners when we may enroll into a partnership at a later stage. The back end, of course, was very, very important. And I think for a brand like InterMiles which has multiple partners, integrations become very important. Whether you are partnering with a shopping organization, whether you are partnering with a fuel organization, hotels, or other bill payment systems, we designed this in a very, very seamless… There’s of course API managers which were in play and I think the micro architecture really came in handy. The microservices structure, this is another simplistic representation of what we’re building to. So, of course there’s Amazon EC2 right there. But the core here is the API gateway which acted as a gateway for all the other back end services which were taking the request, passing it to the right back end service, checking the response, is the response right, if required to do messaging response, see if there’s any downtime, all of this was done.

Ashok Karania: As I mentioned, we used the AWS as a cloud partner in this engagement. And all of this really ensured that the building blocks were truly digital and when we were able to add or modify something that was a very, very quick thing. And you know what? I think this really helped us when the pandemic struck and we had to, again, face another black swan event. And I think that’s what we are going to talk about in the next set of our discussion. So we said COVID hit us, flights stopped flying, the hotels, many of them closed down. So how do we really engage the users, right? The whole proposition of InterMiles was also fly, check into hotels, collect more points, spend those points and have better engagement. But without the flights and without the hotels, how do we keep the customer engaged? And also for a brand that has recently been branded and offering a new value proposition. So how do we give new value proposition to our existing customers? So I think Ketan and his business team came with different ideas and I think some of them are represented on the screens, right. So we-

Ketan Phanse: It was a exciting time, although a challenging one. Like you mentioned, travel continues to be down. Therefore we decided largely to shift our focus to engagement, to lifestyle activities. One of the, just to give an example, interesting things that we did, towards the right hand side of your screen is stay home and get rewarded. We said everyone is in a lockdown mode, no one is allowed to step out, what can I do to ensure that my members are still engaged with me? We launched a campaign, stay at home for 24 hours, we used the native location upon the mobile app, we created a radius of about 100 meters from his point and then worked upon a data model to check has he been, in the last 24 hours, gone beyond a 100 meter radius. And if he has not gone and he’s actually stayed within the 100 meter radius, we credited him 100 miles. That kind of resonated well with members, saw a significant new downloads of the app. Similarly way back on your left hand side, we brought in games. That games in the application, not only just to play games but be ensured that every point, every score that you would get from the games, we are downloading it into InterMiles and rewarding you.

Ketan Phanse: So some of these ideas truly… A lot of this was experimentation also, we didn’t know what will work, what will not. And we continue to do some of this as we go ahead.

Ashok Karania: Absolutely. And I think the digital building blocks, the micro app structure parallel teams helped in this. And this is another concept and I think this is going to… Ketan, this is going to go live in out next release, right?

Ashok Karania: Yeah.

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. So this was another concept which was, again, about collecting Step2Miles, right. So keep yourself healthy, collect the miles by walking, doing other activities, daily calls, exercising. And you see the left hand screen was a rough screen, really using some of the accelerators and the other tools. And then we build on actual screens and you can the see the progression of the feature. Within a few weeks, this is ready to go live. And again a testimony to building the right infrastructure and digital foundation, which enables you to do quick rewards, quick prioritization, deprioritization, and ensure that you’re always responding to the analytics, you’re always responding to the user behavior, you’re always responding to the environment then. So I think-

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. The key going forward, to be able to experiment, to have that appetite for experimenting. Being able to do quick POCs and having the right set of partners, engineering talent who is hungry to bring up the ideas to the table as well. I remember we doing the hackathon as well in the organization. I think we were able to collect a lot of ideas from the group. How do we keep the engagement up? And some of these outcomes that you see on the screen were actually ideas that came from the employees within and were then brought to life within a couple of weeks duration.

Ashok Karania: Yes, absolutely. And you brought a very important point there regarding hackathon. So that also re-energized everyone and some of the best ideas emerged from bottom-up approach. So, yes. So that was some of the interesting things which we did. And I think in summary, if we look at, right… We definitely talked about how a planned digital transformation happens, but InterMiles is a classic case of a forced digital transformation which resulted in making a truly digital organization. A organization which uses all the digital components to build a business and service, and also deliver it completely digital. So whereas in a typical planned digital transformation, it’s about growth, profit maximization. Here the initial driver or the igniter was survival. There were no fancy charts, there were no fancy things, it was all about getting into real time vision alignment, getting everybody on the boat. And I think Ketan, you must share sometime what happened in those boardroom and the war room meetings. Instead of creating a big roadmap, having big consultancy organizations helping you, yet it was about what is the next best step which I take.

Ketan Phanse: One thing that we decided very early on is we will not set up a PMO for this transformation. We will not take any external help for program managing the delivery because we believe that it is our own responsibility and no one but us will be able to deliver the change that we wanted in that short duration of two months. And we wanted to bring every employee to be part of this transformation, not just from outside but actually hands-on with one common goal, delivering the new brand on a particular date, on a particular time. And that did help for this motivate and engage the entire audience.

Ashok Karania: Absolutely. And I think we are proud to be associated with this engagement and this was really a hell of a experience, but a experience which is going to stay green in our memories for quite a few years to come. I think this transformation of a organization being forced to react to black swan events and come out with flying colors is definitely unprecedented. I think we already talked about organization existing without a mother ship or a flight organization and still the loyalty program redefining itself. I think this created a opportunity to emerge as a truly lifestyle brand, a truly digital organization. And I think that’s a experience for everyone to emulate and cash upon. Thanks Ketan for taking us through this journey. Back to you Rym.

Rym Badri: Thank you. Thank you both for the valuable insights. It seems like our audience especially likes the stay at home and get rewarded concept, so that’s a testament to your work. And at this time we’d like to get some of your questions answered. As a reminder, you can always use the chat feature or the Q and A feature to ask any questions at any time. And there seems to be here one question for Ashok that we will address. It says, “How much time did it take to bring the COVID-19 ideas to market?”

Ashok Karania: Okay. I think this was about all the different ideas which you saw on the screen, were about four to six weeks. And Ketan, you can chime in as well. They were about four to six weeks and I think that was made possible, A again, thanks to the digital foundation, the parallel teams in work, the micro services architecture, and also using some of the accelerators and some of the best practices which were in play. And yes, four to six weeks.

Rym Badri: Thank you

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. And we approached the same agile and prototype framework there. We started with a basic nuts and bolts around engagement. Taking whatever were the low-hanging fruits and easy quick fixes. And now as speak, next week onwards we would be actually launching a big campaign termed Coins with InterMiles Every Day, which kind of puts all of this idea together in an overarching larger framework. Giving the members to earn up to almost 500 miles every day simply by doing any one or more of these engagement activities. So really exciting to awaiting to look at this release that we are doing just next week.

Rym Badri: Thank you. Really excited to see what that looks like as well. We seem to have another question here which I think is addressed to Ketan, but feel free to chime in as you see fit. It says, “You have shown great approach towards customer engagements in pandemics by adding games, quizzes, and step rewards which definitely results into increased customer engagement. But then how did you manage to earn and maintain the revenue?”

Ketan Phanse: Sorry. Can you repeat, Rym, the last part for me?

Rym Badri: It says, “How did you manage to earn and maintain the revenue?”

Ketan Phanse: Oh, yes. So at this point of time, we went with a partnership model. We worked with a lot of partners within the existing ecosystem. Yes, there was some type of sponsorship that came in from internally, which was the miles that we sponsored for engagement. And that is what we took as an activity from our side. But then because we worked with a lot of ecosystem of partners, so to give an example, we started working a very digital out here in India which rewarded… Where we started giving free doctor consultation if you let us spin the wheel and won anything. So those kind of things. We started doing partnered with TEDx, that showed us a lot of good traction. Where you could join TEDx webinars and earn miles. So, a lot of this partnership ecosystem came in handy to deliver the revenue lines as well for us.

Rym Badri: Definetly, thank you. And I believe we have one more here. Maybe Ashok, you can take this one. It says, “What were the security practices implemented?”

Ashok Karania: Okay. A good question, right. I think thanks to a lot of activities happening in the Indian subcontinent and overall rise of the digital welfare, right. Security has been more important than ever, right. I think we followed some of the common best practices and also something very specific to this project, right. I think before the each commit, pull request, there was a pull review, right, which was implemented. There was a periodic code walkthrough and review with all the team members. I think the environment for storing all the information was a very secure, innovative… Your API keys, et cetera. For the back end, you had the OS best practices. For the front end, you had the mobile integrations with the CI/CD. So some of those were in place. I think all the APIs were through a secure token. There was logging, auditing of everything, right. API throttling, all of those things were put in place. I think, as I said, Ketan and team were very clear from the day one that no compromises on the security or the best practices. So the infrastructure services were not publicly accessible. There was many cloud security tools also which we had deployed, right, for seeing the DDoS and other things were in place. I think the access to infrastructure was through VPN, these things. Ketan, would you like to add anything to this?

Ketan Phanse: No. I think you covered a lot of these points, Ashok. One thing we said in our DevOps pipeline, we will have DevSecOps from day one. That kind of set the benchmark for the security. And we continue to learn on it, we continue to adopt to it. We did the regular stuff, the VAPPs on regular intervals some hackathons, et cetera. But, yeah. Especially in the COVID situation, our focus towards security is now much more than regular.

Rym Badri: Absolutely. And I think we have time for one last question. And this one says, “How did you measure the success of the rebranding?”

Ketan Phanse: I’ll take that one, Rym. Rebranding was something that we never planned for. Like Ashok mentioned, it was a forced transformation for us. But most rebranding, we had two critical KPIs that we looked out for. One was, what is our new website, the intermiles.com, how is the SEO ranking for that? Am I still being in the top 10 pages from the Google perspective? How many people are organic searching JetPrivilege and migrating to InterMiles? Or how many of them have actually started searching for the word InterMiles itself and coming directly to the site? So those were a couple of e-metrics. We closely listen to our call centers, that kind of gave us a vibe of what people are talking about. What kind of questions are people asking when they are calling up regarding their accounts, regarding their program? And how much I am able to turnaround these queries in a particular SLA window without much hold. These were the two KPIs, customer satisfaction on the contact center and our SEO rankings on our websites were something that we actually tracked quite closely after the rebranding.

Rym Badri: Thank you. Very, very insightful. So I believe these are all the questions we are able to answer at this time. Don’t worry if there are any questions remaining in the Q and A section, we’ll make sure to answer those via email right after this webinar. Also, be sure to check out and subscribe to DTV, our digital transformation channel that brings in industry experts for thought leadership videos. Many, many thanks to our speakers, Ketan, Ashok, and thank you everyone for joining us today. You will receive an email in the next 24 hours with this slide presentation and a link to the webcast replay. And if you have any questions again, please contact us at info@infostretch.com or feel free to reach out to our speakers directly. Thank you all and enjoy the rest of your day.

Learn about the importance of customer experience even during a pandemic

Rym Badri: So, hello and welcome to our webinar, How One Travel Company Digitally Re-designed to Boost Engagement, in this case InterMiles, and the Importance of Customer Experience. My name is Rym Badri and I will be your host today. So, today’s presenters for your webinar are Ashok Karania, VP of global alliances and strategic accounts at InfoStretch. And Ketan Phanse, VP and head of information and digital technology at InterMiles. Ashok is an entrepreneurial leader with more than 15 years of senior management experience in strategy, sales, alliances, and client relations. He is a growth-oriented professional with a proven track record in actualizing new digital ideas. As VP and head of information and digital technology of InterMiles, Ketan has been instrumental in developing JetPrivilege as an independent loyalty company and then transforming it to InterMiles as a new brand. He has experience managing a vast array of technologies, including web, mobile, marketing automation, and cloud.

Rym Badri: And before we begin here, let me just review some housekeeping items. First, this webinar is being recorded and will be distributed to you via emails, allowing you to share it with your internal teams or watch it again later. Second, your line is currently muted. Third, please feel free to submit any questions during the call by utilizing the chat function or the Q and A function at the bottom of your screen. We will make sure to answer all your questions towards the end of the presentation. We will do our best to keep this webinar to the 45 time allotment. And at this time, I’d like to turn over the presentation to Ashok.

Ashok Karania: Hey, thanks Rym for the kind introduction. Good morning, good afternoon friends wherever you’re joining from. Today we are going to talk about how one company transformed itself digitally to evolve into a next evolution stage. Of course, we’ll start with a quick introduction of what we are going to cover, what’s the main topic on the agenda. More on to the real case study, and we have none other than Ketan who’s going to give us an inside view of how he was involved in the whole transformation process. What are the technology building blocks and how we use the COVID response time to that. Digital transformation, a very overused and abused term these days. We see that every business aims to become a digital organization. Often, we have seen people applying digital lipstick and calling them a digital organization. But even when there’s a real digital transformation, it’s a very elaborate process. What do we see? CEOs announcing digital transformation initiatives, they creating a big task force, appointing a big consulting firm, giving the project a very cool and a sexy name, having new life around it, and everybody’s on board. This is all great when you have luxury of time.

Ashok Karania: But what if the storm hits you unawares? Taleb said about the black swan event, right. So if you come across a major change and you have no time to respond, you have no time to react and you’re forced to transform yourself, what really happens then? It’s like imagine you flying in the middle of the air and you have to fix a plane. And not only fix a plane, paint it red, keep the passengers happy. And how many passengers do you have? More than 10 million passengers. Yes, that’s the scale of what InterMiles has been. And I think it’s befitting for us to hear about this humongous task from a very charismatic, but at the same time a productive, resilient, and very resourceful person who used all his tenacity and vision to hold the folks together and transform this process. So Ketan, without a further ado, I request you to take us to the journey from your own eyes and from your own experience.

Ketan Phanse: Thanks Ashok for a very overwhelming introduction and thank you for having me here with InfoStretch. It’s my pleasure to share some of the experiences that we had in a eventful last 12 months or so. And I must say that the exciting journey continues with more and more events, especially with COVID situation out here. And I hope all the audience out here are safe and wish we all a very safe environment for you and your family. So for those who are not familiar with InterMiles, let me just briefly give a glimpse of who we are, what we do, which can just help you understand the organization-

Video Voiceover: Welcome to InterMiles, a one of its kind and the most rewarding travel and lifestyle program. InterMiles enables invaluable experiences for our rapidly growing community of members by offering them completely free vacations, amazing experiences, as well as daily use products in exchange for their InterMiles. Earning InterMiles is extremely easy and simple. Earn InterMiles when you book a flight or a hotel stay. No matter where you’re going, just head to intermiles.com. Also earn InterMiles when you shop, eat out, fill up fuel, or purchase from any of our partners. You can also multiply your InterMiles earnings by using our co-brand card for your daily spends. See your InterMiles add up every day, no matter what you do. Yes, it’s that simple. Earning InterMiles across all our partners also enables you to move up our membership tiers faster. With every tier upgrade, the benefits get better, opening up a world of privileges like lounge access, excess baggage allowance, complimentary seat select, in-flight meals, and much more. So if you believe, like we do, that every experience must count towards an enriching and rewarding life, come join our community of members. Become an InterMiler today. Sign up now.

Ketan Phanse: Let me just move to the next slide. Okay. So, as you could understand, we are one of the largest loyalty programs in India. We started off as JetPrivilege way back in 1994. So technically, we are more than 24 years old. We started with being a frequent flyer program to one of the largest airlines in India at that time, called Jet Airways. And the journey for the initial two decades was largely to build up a frequent flyer audience in India. You know, benchmark ourselves to some of the global players like the Miles & More or AAdvantage. And then way back in 2014, JetPrivilege was carved out as a separate entity with a very specific focus on growing loyalty as a every day brand in India. Ensuring that we focused much more beyond just airline travel and bring in a much more wholistic way of partnerships, rewards, and recognition to our members. And last five to six years have been one of tremendous growth. We grew from about 2.5 million members in 2014 to about 10 million last year.

Ketan Phanse: However, in this journey, towards middle of 2019, we had an unexpected turn of events and I will be sharing some of my experiences about that today. We were heavily dependent on Jet Airways as an airline host. And during middle of May of 2019, an unfortunate turn of events led to Jet Airways filing for insolvency. And that meant that we had to completely reinvent ourselves, reposition ourselves to our members such that their trust in us, and the currency that they had earned, and the relationship that they shared with us over the decades is not broken. Think of it this way for those who are in United States. How do we run AAdvantage without an American Airlines? How do we run TrueBlue without JetBlue? Or how do we run SkyMiles without Delta being there? That was the kind of challenge thrown to us and that’s where the entire journey from JetPrivilege to InterMiles, we started off.

Ashok Karania: So Ketan, would this be the history of an loyalty program rebranding itself, changing itself without a mother airline in existence?

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. A lot of people have rebranded their loyalty programs over the period of time, but the one to do it, I guess, without the host airline would, I guess, to my knowledge, we would be the first ones. It has been quite a decade, quite a year, specifically last 2019, globally for all the airlines. COVID has just added to the wounds, but it has been a challenging year. And to see that through, happy to be part of that journey and some of these learnings out here. So as I mentioned, we’ve been more than 10 million plus members. We have about 150-odd partners across different verticals. You would have seen in the video, ranging from our partners in the credit card side with some of the leading banks in India to fuel partnerships, airline partnerships, dining. We work with the likes of Amazon from our affiliate partnerships on the e-commerce side. And in the process, we kind of ended up issuing more than 33 billion miles last year.

Ketan Phanse: And the challenge for us was how do we traverse this journey from JetPrivilege to InterMiles as a new brand. We wanted to ensure that the trust in the brand and the organization remains consistent, but at the same time a customer does not have the baggage at the back of his head that here’s the lovely airline-based loyalty program who’s airline does not exist anymore. And that does add to a lot of questions around what do I do with the millions of miles that I’ve accumulated and lying there in my account. I am a platinum member, how does that continue to be treated and what privileges will I get? So those were some of the question that lied in front of us. We started with a ambitious purpose, which was to fulfill the aspirations of our members by creating memorable and rewarding experiences. That purpose and that mission for us continue to be true even if our brand was going to change. The core value proposition that we took to our customers of free experience, a free holiday, giving you something that you would always aspire to and fulfilling those aspirations with experiences is something that we always stood true to deliver.

Ketan Phanse: However, we wanted to use this opportunity to make a change in the market. Typically, it was cluttered with a lot of deal hunters, with a lot of cashbacks in the market within the travel and the commerce play and we wanted to keep ourselves pretty different. We therefore decided to focus the entire conversation and change it from being a very loyalty and currency-centric brand to more of a customer-driven brand. We wanted to move away from just talking about things to end-to-end being able to deliver the experience. Rather than being dependent on an airline or a partner, we wanted to kind of own the experience, be accountable to deliver it. We wanted to change the narrative from talking about just simply benefits, like in excess baggage, or certain deals, or lounge access, to being able to create truly memorable memories and experiences for our customers.

Ketan Phanse: With that in mind and about a month or so deliberation on what should be our name, what should be our visual identity, what should we stand for, we ended up calling ourselves InterMiles. It not only resonated miles as a currency, miles as a medium of travel, but also the entire ecosystem of interchangeability, travel, as we felt that this kind of resonated well with our ecosystem. And at the same time also ensured that we are making a very clean cut from our previous history of being JetPrivilege. It would have been easy for us to call ourselves JetMiles, or PrivilegeMiles, or something like that, but we wanted to actually break the clutter and come out with a clean slate to our members. So that was half the challenge. The full challenge remained how do we ensure that InterMiles as a brand is delivered with the same level of expectation and then it’s engaging with the customers going forward truly.

Ketan Phanse: We started completely changing the way we talked to our customers. Visually, what we stood for as InterMiles as a new brand, the tonality, the colors, the way we used our value proposition to elevate some of the key points. Very different from what we used to be doing in the JetPrivilege era. We decided to focus on three key pillars, travel, lifestyle and loyalty, and payments. And that’s something that we continue to be building upon in 2020 as well. I’ll spend some time maybe talking to you to what does it mean to do the digital transformation. From a technology perspective, what did it need to actually be able to deliver this new brand, this new avatar, so to say. We had about two months of timeline to completely transform ourselves and give this brand up on the table.

Ketan Phanse: So one of the first challenges that we faced, and this was way back in May of 2019, our core engine software ecosystem, which was the infrastructure hosted in the data center, some of the servers that were hosted on the data center were completely inaccessible. That was a sudden turnout where we were sharing some of our assets within the data center of Jet Airways, they were no longer accessible. We had to invoke a complete disaster recovery to ensure that there is no downtime for the members who are accessing and were anxious already because of all the news in the media. We wanted to ensure that JetPrivilege is still up and running and you’re able to access it. It meant that within a week’s time, we set up a complete new data center, move physically all our servers and racks, take them outside from the Jet Airways cage, plug the wiring back in and get back the ecosystem up and running. That was the first thing that hit us, even before we actually started our brand transformation journey. Luckily at that point of time, except few of our critical assets, most of them were also hosted on cloud and didn’t get affected as much.

Ketan Phanse: The second challenge was to ensure we keep the plane flying, which means that the platforms, the value proposition, the access to the ecosystem is up and running despite the suspension of Jet Airways as the host airline. We had to ensure that as a customer you are continuing to be able to book a free flight, book any flight, being able to use your miles for an air ticket, which was our core value proposition. And by the way, this entire platform was only available by Jet Airways. And which meant in the period of a couple of months, we had to build our own travel booking engine which would connect with multiple airlines, provide the customers to login, book a free flight within India, internationally, and being able to ensure that that trust with the currency continues. We started with a very strong campaign called as JPMiles More Powerful Than Ever. Because at that point of time we were still JetPrivilege Miles, we had not changed to InterMiles and it was more about keeping the trust going with our customers. The next thing-

Ashok Karania: What I found interesting, Ketan, was the entire… Jet would have big mega systems and you switched over them to a completely new redesigned system within weeks. So that was phenomenal, I would say.

Ketan Phanse: Yeah, it was phenomenal, it was one week of sleepless nights and I’ll leave it at that.

Ashok Karania: And lots of coffee, I’m sure.

Ketan Phanse: And that, and lots of coffee, and then lots of more coffee. Yep. And then came the actual journey of rebranding JetPrivilege to InterMiles. That’s where in September of 2019 we coined the term and we had a hard date to deliver by 15th of November. Which means in the span of two months, we had to change all the platforms that we would be operating, whether it’s a dining platform, it’s a hotels platform, whether it is our flights platforms, our main websites, applications, everything had to change. It was about, and I’ll throw some more lights out there, and launch a completely new brand in a period of two and a half months. A lot of teamwork and I’ll just in a couple of minutes throw more light on what did it mean from a technology perspective to deliver a rebranding kind of an experience.

Ketan Phanse: Lastly, we had to ensure that we are keeping our passengers smiling. Our members were always at the core of whatever we did. We had the trust and the backing of 10 million plus members who had worked with us for last 20, 25 years and wanted this brand to be really engaging and continue that relationship with us. With this, we also launched a new tier program. A lot of benefits that earlier a platinum member or gold member used to enjoy was provided by the host airline. And without that we had to ensure that we come up with a completely new benefits tiers program that resonates well with our members. We ensured that equivalent or better benefits are being provided so that the hard work tier that you have owned as a platinum member, as a gold member, the value of that does not depreciate.

Ketan Phanse: As I mentioned, launching a new brand from a technology perspective meant changing the complete UI/UX. Changing the content across all the pages. Launching new features and new platforms which didn’t exist at all. Ensuring all our marketing channels touchpoints are completely transformed with InterMiles. Ensuring our core IT infrastructure, the DNS, the routings, the domains, the SSL certificates are also changed. And doing a lot of data migration. We had a set of seven to eight core platforms. Each and every URL on that site had to be changed. Features, we had to bring up a new tier program. We had to introduce new capabilities that, you know what, here is the lounge for you. If you’re booking your flight can I redeem that lounge while booking your flight using the points that I have? And these kinds of features and products, we never had in our Jet Airways times.

Ketan Phanse: We then move to changing the complete UI. The CSS, the logos, the verbiage, proofreading every page, ensuring all the policies, the terms and conditions, the FAQs are updated with the right set of new brand guidelines. A lot of heavy lifting work on the technologies and from the marketing campaign management platforms. We didn’t want to just do a superficial change of changing the logo. We wanted to ensure every touchpoint that our customer interacts with is now talking InterMiles, which included our core email campaign management projects. Meant taking up new IPs. The warming of the domain to sure they are able to deliver 10 million plus emails to all our customers, et cetera.

Ketan Phanse: I talked about the IT infrastructure, a lot of heavy lifting had to be done on data organization where we had to ensure a complete re-tiering of all our members. So this is a new calculation model. Earlier used to become a gold to platinum, this is the number of flights you took on Jet Airways and that didn’t hold true. So how do I retune the entire engine to being able to recognize you by the basis that our data lives on and ensure your tiers are, from a data perspective, are calibrated accordingly. So the branding actually touched base on most all the aspects of technology that one could witness. That was the real challenge of this activity. That was now some of the transformation. You can see every flight that you book, there was a InterMiles proposition. A hotel that you book had an InterMiles proposition. Even the jacket that you would buy from our commerce play had an InterMiles proposition.

Ketan Phanse: We then looked at other verticals, our credit card partners. Fueling up, you could go to any nearby fuel pump, back up your car, and earn miles on it. You could reserve a table for dining and earn InterMiles on it. So we wanted to be on as many touchpoints and as many daily engagement packages of our customers. And ensure that we’re not just an airline-centric program anymore, but truly a everyday rewards and a lifestyle program. So that been a exciting journey for us over the last few months. We then had to actually take a break to say, you know what, we’ve delivered InterMiles, let us take the transformation to the next level. Let us up the game. Let’s have more engagement with our members. And that’s when we partnered with InfoStretch and began the second phase of our transformation about taking it to the next level. I’ll like if maybe Ashok to share some of his journey as a partner working with us on the entire transformation.

Ashok Karania: Sure. Thanks, thanks Ketan. And I have been a JetPrivileges member for quite some time. And I-

Ketan Phanse: InterMiles

Ashok Karania: No. Yeah. But I’m just saying, so the JetPrivileges. And then within a few weeks of this I received my new membership, new things within a few weeks of transformation. And now I’m of course a InterMiles member. So I have also experienced the speed of the execution at the ground level. And of course been very happy to be part of this journey. So let me tell you how we as InfoStretch to work with Ketan and it was a great experience for InfoStretch teams also to work on this. So, the whole transformation which Ketan spoke about is visible in this screen, right. So this is the result of the collaboration which we did with InterMiles to build this app. This is a app which is very clean, neat, with a world-class user experience in mind. The real estate is very important and you can see three distinctive things, right. Welcoming of course the InterMiles member. Telling about him where does he stand, what are the points he has. And specifically going into how he could earn more miles, how he can redeem his existing miles, and what are the current promotions going on. So within one screen, give the user what he or she is really looking for.

Ashok Karania: The beautiful, simple things there on the front end, they tend to require a lot of complexity at the back end to make it beautiful. And for that, we fall back upon our traditional InfoStretch way of looking at things, right. As I said, a lot of organizations look it as a digital transformation journey. Whereas we take pride in being a engineering partner for the whole digital evolution. We see that the digital journey is a series of different steps. And the first step is of course to go digital. How could you quickly enable the customer achieve their vision in a very short span of time? Develop something quick, quick POCs, and projects, and make it live. And in case of InterMiles, it was more important than ever that the brand presence was made visible. Second is, then go about being digital. Building the right infrastructure, building the foundation steps which are required, which is digital engineering, putting DevOps, other technological infrastructure in place. And here we heavily rely upon the automation and the various tools which are available.

Ashok Karania: Last, but not the least part is evolving into a complete digital organization. And today, as we see, InterMiles is a complete digital organization. You work upon leveraging the data, building a lot of data analytics tools, and using those feedback to constantly better the value proposition for the customers. If we take a little more double click into each of these approaches, right. The going digital part was about quickly experimenting things, doing things as we learned, and whatever we learned, to redo them, right. And I think here our modular development approach came very, very handy for us to build those quick pilots and take it to the market. I think I and Ketan will be specifically speaking about some of the engagements we planned for the COVID times. We also fell back upon using a hybrid of using both web as well as native components for ensuring quick go-to-market, depending on the business situation. As you know, the flights started to get decommissioned and the planes were grounded. So we put the flights component on a deprioritization mode and we fell back upon more of the web use, right. Some of the web components like customer engagement were highly prioritized. We used a lot of reusable components, libraries to ensure that the product is out there.

Ashok Karania: Then of course started also working on creating the robust and scalable back end, right. And I think one thing, and I will give full credit to Ketan and his team, that while we were working on this project there was tremendous pressure with regard to timing, but we did not compromise any of the critical infrastructures. Whether it was creating a single pipeline for security, continuous testing, building the automation piece to ensure that the regulations are taken care of. We were following a two-weekly release cycle, but at the same time ensuring the right things were done. We also invested on creating a very, very strong microservices and a scalable back end. This was a technology piece, execution was equally important and we fell back upon the scale agile approach, right. Where we, as I said, created multiple development tracks, created multiple teams to work on the micro apps and then bring all of them together. A strong analytics framework was also put into picture to ensure that the feedback was taken into account, the users’ behavior was constantly monitored. All this while we acted as an extended arm for InterMiles.

Ashok Karania: I think during the entire process, the culture piece also stood out equally well. And our alignment with not only Ketan, Manish, but their entire teams at every level was clearly visible, we were culturally together. I think Ketan mentioned about celebrations. So there were of course a lot of celebrations, there were events, there were also crisises where everybody was awake the whole night. But all of this created a one and a connected team. I distinctly remember there were a lot of anxiety for both InterMiles members as well as our team members when event after events were unfolding. I think Ketan took it upon himself to impress those concerns with everyone and I think the results showed. Everyone rolled up their sleeves, everyone extended their hours and ensured that, again, fixing the plane, painting it red, and keeping it running, and keeping everyone smiling.

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. And Ashok, I guess it was a complete team effort where there was one challenge after another. We completed the rebranding activity and then there was launch the InterMiles mobile application in two months’ timeline. And truly your team was there, everyone just went beyond the cause no matter if he or she was from Infostretch or InterMiles. Just worked together as one team to deliver one milestone after another.

Ashok Karania: Yeah. And I sneaked into some of the scrum meetings or your daily kick off calls in the morning, the daily stand-up calls, and I would see Ketan saying, “Okay. This team go and check this. You look into this, you look into that.” So all the war room situations were very, very exciting. Coming back to the architecture, I’m not going to go into deep technology discussion here. But essentially the clean UI we looked at, it was actually multiple micro apps into one, right. And that’s where the different parallel teams, the micro app structure came into picture. So if you look at the core components the flights, hotels, fuels, diner, multiple apps built into one. The right hand side of the screen is a very simplistic depiction of what we did. For a brand like InterMiles and the digital lifestyle business they are into, the MarTech becomes a very, very important component. So there was of course Urban Airship for notification. We used branch.io. We used Adobe Analytics. All of them were very, very important to see the enrollment behavior, et cetera and make corresponding changes.

Ashok Karania: The mobile SDK, the whole SDK with regard to theming, the idea was very simple, how we could rebrand it for different brands at different points of time and build everything into the SDK. So we could do a quick theming, we could do a quick customization and give it to other partners when we may enroll into a partnership at a later stage. The back end, of course, was very, very important. And I think for a brand like InterMiles which has multiple partners, integrations become very important. Whether you are partnering with a shopping organization, whether you are partnering with a fuel organization, hotels, or other bill payment systems, we designed this in a very, very seamless… There’s of course API managers which were in play and I think the micro architecture really came in handy. The microservices structure, this is another simplistic representation of what we’re building to. So, of course there’s Amazon EC2 right there. But the core here is the API gateway which acted as a gateway for all the other back end services which were taking the request, passing it to the right back end service, checking the response, is the response right, if required to do messaging response, see if there’s any downtime, all of this was done.

Ashok Karania: As I mentioned, we used the AWS as a cloud partner in this engagement. And all of this really ensured that the building blocks were truly digital and when we were able to add or modify something that was a very, very quick thing. And you know what? I think this really helped us when the pandemic struck and we had to, again, face another black swan event. And I think that’s what we are going to talk about in the next set of our discussion. So we said COVID hit us, flights stopped flying, the hotels, many of them closed down. So how do we really engage the users, right? The whole proposition of InterMiles was also fly, check into hotels, collect more points, spend those points and have better engagement. But without the flights and without the hotels, how do we keep the customer engaged? And also for a brand that has recently been branded and offering a new value proposition. So how do we give new value proposition to our existing customers? So I think Ketan and his business team came with different ideas and I think some of them are represented on the screens, right. So we-

Ketan Phanse: It was a exciting time, although a challenging one. Like you mentioned, travel continues to be down. Therefore we decided largely to shift our focus to engagement, to lifestyle activities. One of the, just to give an example, interesting things that we did, towards the right hand side of your screen is stay home and get rewarded. We said everyone is in a lockdown mode, no one is allowed to step out, what can I do to ensure that my members are still engaged with me? We launched a campaign, stay at home for 24 hours, we used the native location upon the mobile app, we created a radius of about 100 meters from his point and then worked upon a data model to check has he been, in the last 24 hours, gone beyond a 100 meter radius. And if he has not gone and he’s actually stayed within the 100 meter radius, we credited him 100 miles. That kind of resonated well with members, saw a significant new downloads of the app. Similarly way back on your left hand side, we brought in games. That games in the application, not only just to play games but be ensured that every point, every score that you would get from the games, we are downloading it into InterMiles and rewarding you.

Ketan Phanse: So some of these ideas truly… A lot of this was experimentation also, we didn’t know what will work, what will not. And we continue to do some of this as we go ahead.

Ashok Karania: Absolutely. And I think the digital building blocks, the micro app structure parallel teams helped in this. And this is another concept and I think this is going to… Ketan, this is going to go live in out next release, right?

Ashok Karania: Yeah.

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. So this was another concept which was, again, about collecting Step2Miles, right. So keep yourself healthy, collect the miles by walking, doing other activities, daily calls, exercising. And you see the left hand screen was a rough screen, really using some of the accelerators and the other tools. And then we build on actual screens and you can the see the progression of the feature. Within a few weeks, this is ready to go live. And again a testimony to building the right infrastructure and digital foundation, which enables you to do quick rewards, quick prioritization, deprioritization, and ensure that you’re always responding to the analytics, you’re always responding to the user behavior, you’re always responding to the environment then. So I think-

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. The key going forward, to be able to experiment, to have that appetite for experimenting. Being able to do quick POCs and having the right set of partners, engineering talent who is hungry to bring up the ideas to the table as well. I remember we doing the hackathon as well in the organization. I think we were able to collect a lot of ideas from the group. How do we keep the engagement up? And some of these outcomes that you see on the screen were actually ideas that came from the employees within and were then brought to life within a couple of weeks duration.

Ashok Karania: Yes, absolutely. And you brought a very important point there regarding hackathon. So that also re-energized everyone and some of the best ideas emerged from bottom-up approach. So, yes. So that was some of the interesting things which we did. And I think in summary, if we look at, right… We definitely talked about how a planned digital transformation happens, but InterMiles is a classic case of a forced digital transformation which resulted in making a truly digital organization. A organization which uses all the digital components to build a business and service, and also deliver it completely digital. So whereas in a typical planned digital transformation, it’s about growth, profit maximization. Here the initial driver or the igniter was survival. There were no fancy charts, there were no fancy things, it was all about getting into real time vision alignment, getting everybody on the boat. And I think Ketan, you must share sometime what happened in those boardroom and the war room meetings. Instead of creating a big roadmap, having big consultancy organizations helping you, yet it was about what is the next best step which I take.

Ketan Phanse: One thing that we decided very early on is we will not set up a PMO for this transformation. We will not take any external help for program managing the delivery because we believe that it is our own responsibility and no one but us will be able to deliver the change that we wanted in that short duration of two months. And we wanted to bring every employee to be part of this transformation, not just from outside but actually hands-on with one common goal, delivering the new brand on a particular date, on a particular time. And that did help for this motivate and engage the entire audience.

Ashok Karania: Absolutely. And I think we are proud to be associated with this engagement and this was really a hell of a experience, but a experience which is going to stay green in our memories for quite a few years to come. I think this transformation of a organization being forced to react to black swan events and come out with flying colors is definitely unprecedented. I think we already talked about organization existing without a mother ship or a flight organization and still the loyalty program redefining itself. I think this created a opportunity to emerge as a truly lifestyle brand, a truly digital organization. And I think that’s a experience for everyone to emulate and cash upon. Thanks Ketan for taking us through this journey. Back to you Rym.

Rym Badri: Thank you. Thank you both for the valuable insights. It seems like our audience especially likes the stay at home and get rewarded concept, so that’s a testament to your work. And at this time we’d like to get some of your questions answered. As a reminder, you can always use the chat feature or the Q and A feature to ask any questions at any time. And there seems to be here one question for Ashok that we will address. It says, “How much time did it take to bring the COVID-19 ideas to market?”

Ashok Karania: Okay. I think this was about all the different ideas which you saw on the screen, were about four to six weeks. And Ketan, you can chime in as well. They were about four to six weeks and I think that was made possible, A again, thanks to the digital foundation, the parallel teams in work, the micro services architecture, and also using some of the accelerators and some of the best practices which were in play. And yes, four to six weeks.

Rym Badri: Thank you

Ketan Phanse: Yeah. And we approached the same agile and prototype framework there. We started with a basic nuts and bolts around engagement. Taking whatever were the low-hanging fruits and easy quick fixes. And now as speak, next week onwards we would be actually launching a big campaign termed Coins with InterMiles Every Day, which kind of puts all of this idea together in an overarching larger framework. Giving the members to earn up to almost 500 miles every day simply by doing any one or more of these engagement activities. So really exciting to awaiting to look at this release that we are doing just next week.

Rym Badri: Thank you. Really excited to see what that looks like as well. We seem to have another question here which I think is addressed to Ketan, but feel free to chime in as you see fit. It says, “You have shown great approach towards customer engagements in pandemics by adding games, quizzes, and step rewards which definitely results into increased customer engagement. But then how did you manage to earn and maintain the revenue?”

Ketan Phanse: Sorry. Can you repeat, Rym, the last part for me?

Rym Badri: It says, “How did you manage to earn and maintain the revenue?”

Ketan Phanse: Oh, yes. So at this point of time, we went with a partnership model. We worked with a lot of partners within the existing ecosystem. Yes, there was some type of sponsorship that came in from internally, which was the miles that we sponsored for engagement. And that is what we took as an activity from our side. But then because we worked with a lot of ecosystem of partners, so to give an example, we started working a very digital out here in India which rewarded… Where we started giving free doctor consultation if you let us spin the wheel and won anything. So those kind of things. We started doing partnered with TEDx, that showed us a lot of good traction. Where you could join TEDx webinars and earn miles. So, a lot of this partnership ecosystem came in handy to deliver the revenue lines as well for us.

Rym Badri: Definetly, thank you. And I believe we have one more here. Maybe Ashok, you can take this one. It says, “What were the security practices implemented?”

Ashok Karania: Okay. A good question, right. I think thanks to a lot of activities happening in the Indian subcontinent and overall rise of the digital welfare, right. Security has been more important than ever, right. I think we followed some of the common best practices and also something very specific to this project, right. I think before the each commit, pull request, there was a pull review, right, which was implemented. There was a periodic code walkthrough and review with all the team members. I think the environment for storing all the information was a very secure, innovative… Your API keys, et cetera. For the back end, you had the OS best practices. For the front end, you had the mobile integrations with the CI/CD. So some of those were in place. I think all the APIs were through a secure token. There was logging, auditing of everything, right. API throttling, all of those things were put in place. I think, as I said, Ketan and team were very clear from the day one that no compromises on the security or the best practices. So the infrastructure services were not publicly accessible. There was many cloud security tools also which we had deployed, right, for seeing the DDoS and other things were in place. I think the access to infrastructure was through VPN, these things. Ketan, would you like to add anything to this?

Ketan Phanse: No. I think you covered a lot of these points, Ashok. One thing we said in our DevOps pipeline, we will have DevSecOps from day one. That kind of set the benchmark for the security. And we continue to learn on it, we continue to adopt to it. We did the regular stuff, the VAPPs on regular intervals some hackathons, et cetera. But, yeah. Especially in the COVID situation, our focus towards security is now much more than regular.

Rym Badri: Absolutely. And I think we have time for one last question. And this one says, “How did you measure the success of the rebranding?”

Ketan Phanse: I’ll take that one, Rym. Rebranding was something that we never planned for. Like Ashok mentioned, it was a forced transformation for us. But most rebranding, we had two critical KPIs that we looked out for. One was, what is our new website, the intermiles.com, how is the SEO ranking for that? Am I still being in the top 10 pages from the Google perspective? How many people are organic searching JetPrivilege and migrating to InterMiles? Or how many of them have actually started searching for the word InterMiles itself and coming directly to the site? So those were a couple of e-metrics. We closely listen to our call centers, that kind of gave us a vibe of what people are talking about. What kind of questions are people asking when they are calling up regarding their accounts, regarding their program? And how much I am able to turnaround these queries in a particular SLA window without much hold. These were the two KPIs, customer satisfaction on the contact center and our SEO rankings on our websites were something that we actually tracked quite closely after the rebranding.

Rym Badri: Thank you. Very, very insightful. So I believe these are all the questions we are able to answer at this time. Don’t worry if there are any questions remaining in the Q and A section, we’ll make sure to answer those via email right after this webinar. Also, be sure to check out and subscribe to DTV, our digital transformation channel that brings in industry experts for thought leadership videos. Many, many thanks to our speakers, Ketan, Ashok, and thank you everyone for joining us today. You will receive an email in the next 24 hours with this slide presentation and a link to the webcast replay. And if you have any questions again, please contact us at info@infostretch.com or feel free to reach out to our speakers directly. Thank you all and enjoy the rest of your day.