Comair Limited, a South African airline established in 1946 and a British Airways franchisee, has its main base at OR Tambo International Airport. Kulula.com, a popular domestic airline, is Comair Limited’s low-cost carrier brand.
Airlines count on passengers for income, and because nobody could travel during 2020’s first lockdown, Comair Limited was grounded. As a result, the organisation entered voluntary business rescue in May 2020, barely two months after the first lockdown began.
To accommodate the changed environment, and to weather the storm, Comair Limited’s staffing resources were downscaled, and IT moved into a maintenance role. The focus became “keeping the lights on” rather than proactive maintenance and improvement of existing IT systems.
The relaxing of lockdown restrictions and a successful business rescue meant that Comair was able to resume operations in December 2020. The problem was, their IT resources were not up to the task, and as they switched their systems back on, many technical issues cropped up.
“The biggest issue we faced as we came back to work was definitely the network,” says Comair’s Head of IT Operations, Ryan Porter. “We discovered that it just couldn’t handle the amount of network traffic needed to support our new reality. Online meetings were particularly painful, as staff often struggled to connect, and audio and video issues abounded even though not all of our people were back in the office. It wasn’t fun at all,” Porter adds.
“Security and email hygiene was another big challenge,” Porter continues, “and we realised we needed a strategic IT partner to help us do what needed to be done in an intelligent, affordable, and timely manner. We were also looking for a long-term partner that we could rely on to take much of the overall IT workload off our shoulders.”
The chosen partner was Velocity Group, a Hybrid IT service provider with more than 15 years of experience in the local ICT sector. Jonathan Kropf, CEO of Velocity Group, leveraged his company’s expertise in networking technology, cloud and hybrid cloud, and Microsoft solutions to help Comair Limited address their IT challenges.
“We listened carefully to what Comair needed, and got to work,” says Kropf. “The state of the company’s network and security was definitely not great, but we knew we could bring things back to a state of smooth operation without any drastic measures or major costs, so that’s what we set out to do.”
For the network, Velocity Group’s expert team helped Comair to do firmware updates on network hardware where necessary, ensured all cabling was correctly installed, and replaced several obsolete/damaged switches on the network.
The next step was to closely examine the configuration of each switch, hub, and router on the network. Changes were made to settings that prioritised the most important network traffic, Wi-Fi hotspots were secured with tighter security measures, and overall performance was increased.
Fixing the network did not require a rip-and-replace approach. Velocity Group listened to Comair Limited’s requirements and worked with what was already there, only updating hardware that absolutely needed replacing in the process.
“Today, our network runs incredibly well,” says Porter. “Thanks to massively-improved network performance, online meetings are a pleasure now – audio and video are both smooth as silk, and we can get down to business much quicker than we could before Velocity Group stepped in. Exco meetings in particular are no longer the painful ordeal they once were.
“As a business, we’re much happier with our people having the freedom to focus on their strengths and letting Velocity Group handle everything else. It’s a partnership that has worked out very well so far and we’re extremely pleased with the results,” adds Porter.
“Our familiarity with the power of Microsoft’s Office 365 offering, and our experience with Microsoft devices, led us to suggest several additional changes Comair could make to further improve productivity and staff satisfaction,” says Kropf.
These suggestions included adopting various Power BI modules for process and workflow automation, and a deeper embracing of Microsoft Teams for collaborative purposes, as well as a move to Surface Go 2 devices for pilots’ electronic flight bags. .
Comair was convinced to use Teams for things like file sharing and collaboration among their internal teams. As the adoption took hold, they also saw the benefits of using Teams for live events, company-wide addresses, and more. Today, Comair Limited is one of Microsoft’s most prolific users of Teams in South Africa.
Planned future improvements include a move to SharePoint online. This was initially planned for earlier in 2021, but the COVID pandemic pushed the end date out into late 2021/early 2022.
Surface Go 2
Velocity Group suggested Microsoft’s Surface Go 2 devices to replace pilots’ 6-year-old Dell devices in their electronic flight bags. “Comair Limited has always favoured Microsoft technologies, so it was an easy decision,” says Porter.
The Surface Go 2 ticked all essential boxes: it is a highly responsive Windows 10 Professional tablet with an all-day battery, it’s rugged enough for the environment it would be operating in, and it charges quickly. Purchased with an extended warranty, the Surface Go 2 will be in use inside Comair Limited for at least the next three years.
The device also drew considerable praise from pilots, with one Captain remarking that “It is by far the best small form factor Windows tablet I have used in 12 years.”
“COVID-19 definitely accelerated our digitisation efforts inside the business,” says Porter. “Without the pressure of having to adapt to the new normal, we might not have pushed so hard to make the changes we did. Today, our goal is to be a hybrid multi-cloud organisation, and our efforts are producing great results thanks to Jonathan and his team at Velocity Group.
“COVID has really brought home just how important relationships are to overall business success. Having an IT partner we can trust and who demonstrates every day that they have our best interests at heart is invaluable in such times. We are grateful to know that Velocity Group has our back, and that we can call on them for anything IT-related,” Porter adds.
A Partner You Can Trust
“It’s gratifying to see our clients reaping the benefits of the projects we’re able to help them with,” says Kropf. “Our aim as an organisation is to be the partner clients can trust to get the job done, and we pride ourselves on our ability to listen and deliver solutions that meet all requirements. Our relationship with Comair Limited has produced fantastic results so far, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings,” Kropf concludes.