European Business: First of all, what does the name zeroG stand for?
Peter Ahnert: The name was deliberately chosen and signifies weightlessness. When things go digital they become weightless. Take, for example, boarding cards. These used to be paper-based but are now presented digitally via smartphone. They have broken free of gravity to take on another form, one that holds out many different possibilities in many other areas. We chose our visuals and corporate colours to reflect this change and break from the traditional.
European Business: zeroG was created out of the restructuring process of Lufthansa Systems AG. What were the challenges you faced in the initial period?
Peter Ahnert: We had to create completely new internal structures and also recruit new staff. Here, we deliberately chose to cast our net worldwide to attract the best people possible, those with a passion for digital solutions and a desire to build something from the ground up. This recruitment policy has proven its worth over the past two years. The second major milestone came in October 2015 when we officially started trading out of our own offices in the Frankfurt Airport Centre. Since then, the company has grown continually.
European Business: How has the service portfolio changed since then?
Peter Ahnert: In addition to data services we now offer consultancy and, since the beginning of 2017, our own products. We are developing independent analysis products in close cooperation with our parent company Lufthansa Systems GmbH & Co. KG. The latest milestone of which we are very proud was the Lufthansa Group Innovator Award in the category “Special Prize of the Jury” for our reinforcement learning software. The computer plays its role better than any human possibly could.
European Business: How open is the airline industry to the opportunities offered by digital transformation?
Peter Ahnert: Very. For us digital transformation is all about understanding the customer and passenger needs. If you understand the end-user´s needs well, their readiness to adapt is high. But we are also fortunate to be the right company offering the right products at the right time. Lufthansa Systems has already been grappling with the challenges and opportunities of new data technologies and was known as a leader in this field. We have been able to build on this work. Services based on data analysis are going to be with us for a long time and we are fortunate to be one of the first to be active in this dynamic field.
European Business: Does this new approach also require a new management style?
Peter Ahnert: It certainly requires an entirely new outlook when compared with classic corporate structures. We need digital natives or people who identify with digital issues. They don’t approach things from a traditional perspective but are constantly looking to develop their knowledge in new directions. People like that do not fit into traditional structures and hierarchies. On the other hand, the flipside of freedom is responsibility. We must be completely transparent.
European Business: There is much talk about how difficult it is to find qualified staff in the IT field. How did you find the right people to push forward your company goals?
Peter Ahnert: We were surprised by how easy it was to find data sciences experts, however, filling vacancies in data architecture solutions was more difficult. We used search companies from the beginning and now have a very international team with people from India, Nepal and China as well as Europe. This enriches our corporate culture and helps us see things from different perspectives. This diversity is our strength. Our goal is to create simple solutions to complex problems and it helps to look at the problem from different angles. In return we offer the opportunity to pursue a geographically varied career with projects worldwide.
European Business: Is it accurate to say that you are not just working on the technologies of the future but also the workplace of the future?
Peter Ahnert: Very much so. For us, this is not a bandwagon to be jumped on but the best possible way for us to do our work.