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Break content speed limits: How Icelandair uses tech to compete with giants

November 13, 2022 / 17:24 / E9

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That's right, the Icelandair content team doesn't just write content. They are guardians of their headless content management stack, working upstream with developers to make the system - and its output (digital products) - better for employees and customers alike. And they feel strongly that this should be the case in more companies out there. Learn from their example in today's episode, and you might be tempted to call your content team into your sprint planning too.


02:08 What the pandemic was like for Icelandair, and how their technology strategy changed as a result
03:31 Why composable / headless technology was an advantage during the past few years
06:24 The unique way the content team at Icelandair works with the content technology
07:42 Creating independence for distributed global content teams
09:32 How is Icelandair's strategy helping them to compete with other, larger airlines?
12:33 Icelandair's API-based content translation process
15:15 How composable and headless technology maximizes freedom for creative and developer teams

[00:01:16] Edvardas: My name Edvardas. I'm responsible for coordinating online content translation and localization process, as well as the daily website management, and mainly that is UX copywriting.

[00:01:28] Oskar:

Hi, my name is Oscar. I've been working for Iceland there for almost exactly the same time as active for about four years now. I work on the general maintenance of the cms. My specialty, I suppose, is Icelandic copywriting and Transla. And I also do a lot of collaborating with web developers for developing new features.

[00:01:52] Hallur: my name is Hallur. I'm currently working as a digital product manager,handling the app development.

I started at Iceland there six years ago as a content editor. So my background is pretty much in content and content creation.

[00:02:08] Jasmin: It seems like it has been a few very difficult years for airlines. Can you share how it has been for you? How has your technology strategy evolved under those circumstances?

[00:02:20] Edvardas: Yeah, I think we can all agree that it's been a few really interesting years and at one point, uh, we had, uh, less people to do, in some cases more work.

So that presented an extra challenge. And also, uh, the nature of our tasks shifted. We had to look for solutions and get the most out of our technology to help us to achieve, uh, to deliver more in maybe in a shorter time, on a tighter deadlines and with more demand. And I think we pushed our technology to give us even more value than than it did before.

[00:02:52] Oskar: Yeah. I think we started to think more about speedy delivery as a result of the pandemic and about how the content team could be working more independently. That is to say that we could implement new pages and changes without help from web development, which were often very busy during the pandemic solving other problems.

So I personally, I think I started to think more about the development time that we got as adding sort of new equipment to our arsenal in a way. You started thinking of new features in terms of how can we use this in the future? Thinking more about the broad structure of the web,

[00:03:31] Jasmin: and does that mean that you were basically already in a composable stack and you were more looking towards getting more out of the pieces that you already had?

Or did you actually look at the most important pieces and decide to change something?

[00:03:47] Oskar: Well, when the pandemic hit, we had to obviously use what we had. What we started thinking about was how can we make the greatest improvement possible with the least development possible in a way, and during this whole process, I think the whole headless setup is very useful.

The ability to reuse texts, shuffle them around, easily published to all our different locales at the same time, we quickly realized we couldn't be translating all our pages to all our languages because changes were happening too quickly. So that was a massive help during the Covid period,],

[00:04:25] Edvardas: the pace was so high, and I think so many businesses implemented some sort of self-services, and we were looking for that.

And I think the big realization was at one point that we need FAQs that we did not rely on as much pre covid. So, uh, yeah, it was just creating these comprehensive FAQs and providing answers and updating them very fast. And yeah, this is where our CMS played a key role.

[00:04:48] Hallur: To give a little context, by the time the pandemic hit, we had already gone through, like breaking down the components in the CMS.

So we already had a really eEasily manipulable component to work with. So that gave us a bit of an extra an advantage when it came to making that speed available. And I think that was when the pandemic hit initially, that really, really helped us to respond quickly and make changes. But what they were referring to earlier was we also had to make it more self-sufficient for the content team before we were a little bit too dependent on web development. In order to make minor changes. So what the pandemic effectively has done for us, it has helped us push to work that state.

[00:05:39] Jasmin: Yeah. And maybe just for the audience to, for the listener to understand, if I understand it correctly, everyone on your content team is able and allowed to make minor updates to the webpages.

Is that correct?

[00:05:52] Edvardas: Not even minor. I would say . Well, within the content team, we have quite a bit of power, so sometimes we go, uh, yeah, to do the major changes

[00:06:02] Jasmin: yes. Okay. Awesome. Because I think that's a almost an eternal struggle, right? How much freedom do I allow my team members, because many people are afraid of things breaking.

Can you share a bit of how your experience has been with empowering your people to do not just minor things, but pretty major things?

[00:06:22] Oskar: So in our content team, we don't just use the content management system. We are also involved in creating new features and creating new content types with developers and designers.

So I think we form a part of the sort of core team that creates any product. It's not just development and design as maybe tended to be the case in the past. I think the industry is moving towards involving content people more in this work. I think content should be involved from the beginning because the content creators and proves they're not just working with text, they're also working with the systems where you use the.

Some of our CMS users are not using the CMS very frequently. They might be coming in once a month or so to do very specific tasks, and therefore they're not used to the whole setup and things. Therefore, there's obviously higher risks that things might break, but the direction which we've been developing in is towards having as many features as possible available in a single content type.

Often I don't, I think those of us who work on the web every day. For us, the hatless approach is great that we can have all these little bits and, and put them together, but for somebody who's not working on it all the time, it can be very confusing.

[00:07:42] Edvardas: I think we try to simplify our setup, uh, or have it as simple and, uh, transparent as possible in the CMS of people who maybe don't work on certain tasks on a daily basis, but they can, so they could come in and make those changes without breaking the website and we wanna keep our CMS as clean, as tidy as possible. So with that purpose that if one of us is not available, we have those people who have their daily tasks and they are not stopped and not dependent on us.

[00:08:11] Oskar: Exactly. Yes. And that's why what we're doing now is creating a sort of general template, which includes most of the features we want for promotional pages and where we have a wide variety of options all within the design guidelines of the.

We have a lot of people working in Europe and America, so we don't see them. We in the content team in Iceland don't see them face to face. And obviously we can talk to them through the internet, but helping them out with technology can be quite time consuming. And therefore, I think the key thing is that our CMS setup has to be user friendly and obviously you want a good user experience for your customers, but you also want good user experience for your employees. And I think this is sometimes neglected, and this comes down to things like that might sound quite mundane, like the naming of fields in the CMS, but if this is confusing, then that might create a lot of work for the content team in helping those who are a bit further away in Europe and America to just work out what they should.

So I think it's, it's actually good to involve content from the very beginning, including the coding process because you want them to have an input on the user experience for employees updating pages.

[00:09:26] Jasmin: How was what you all described different from what other airlines are doing?

[00:09:32] Hallur: I have had conversations with other airlines that were heavily impressed with the way we were doing things before I joined as the first content manager, or we had a team called the web team that was basically just a web management team and they weren't specialized in content creation in any way.

Legal would send a text to say, This needs to go to web, and nobody really censored it or even thought about SEO implications for anything. So it was basically the website was at one point in a state where it was not really consistent throughout. So we started working with people to, in order to improve it, prove that, um, that web team became a content team and Oscar and Eddi took over roles that became available on that team. So we kind of changed the focus in that sense. I think in terms of disruption, what Oscar was describing earlier as like going headless, which was a key strategy at the time in order to decouple all the systems that we're working with because there are a lot of legacy systems that we need to connect with in this business.

And I think just making sure that the content management system was able. Like it was easy for us to make these connections quickly when they became available, when legacy systems were updated to and more contemporary versions. So I think our biggest asset is, and will always be that we're a small company, which gives us the ability to move fast, but at the same time, we're working on a, in a really big market, and we need to keep up with the competition.

So we need to do a lot of things really, really fast with a lot of, with a very like small team. So the way we've been using technology is just to get something that really enables us to do that, and the decoupling was part of that. I dunno if this makes sense, but essentially that was the whole idea to give us the freedom to act quickly and just cut out systems that weren't really working in order to introduce new systems.

And we did the same with the content, just instead of having to go through multiple pages to update information that were changing because I like information change rapidly in this world. So we need to be able to go quickly across all of our content and make the changes, preferably in a single publish, but, and that's basically by cutting down the websites.

More of our modules that we would then put together, like bricks, and it allowed us to kind of get that velocity.

[00:12:16] Edvardas: relying on like smaller components that we can sort of puzzle together based on the need and the task at hand, rather than, having like this, this template that needs a lot of effort, like you need an external effort from developers to jump in and help you out

[00:12:34] Jasmin: And can you maybe give us an example of how this works, especially with your translation process?

[00:12:38] Edvardas: At the moment we translate into 11 languages. We primarily write our copy in English and translate in-house to Icelandic. And then we, actually use our CMS to facilitate our translation process. So, all the copy, the entries that are ready to be translated, we send them using an API to our translation agency.

We created this process in-house where we've onboarded our in-house Icelandair employees, and know our products, our tone of voice really well, and are native speakers of the languages we translate to perform client review where they compare the the original source version to the translated one. They have the freedom to make any changes to make sure that as Icelandair we sound the way we want to sound in German Finn Spanish, Italian, French Canadian . Uh, the translation agency finalizes our translations, and then they, get re-submitted to our CMS, where then we as a content team review them, then we test it out on our dev environment, ur language reviewers still have the freedom to give the final approval if that's needed. And then we as a content team publish our localized content to the live website.

[00:13:53] Oskar: I think it's a very crucial stage in this process that we have people who work for the company reviewing the copy and therefore the ability to see the copy in context.

Because I think that's probably most of the time when something goes wrong with copy on the web, when you see something that just seems a bit off, it's because whoever was translating it or writing it just didn't have the full picture at the time they were doing it. So I think internal review is a very important, um, sort of quality check.

[00:14:22] Jasmin: And you have live human review. I think , uh, as a native speaker, you can almost always tell if something was translated by a machine

[00:14:32] Edvardas: right? Oh, for, for sure. This is where, you know, our people come in and, have a key role in, in making sure that that translation makes sense for that market and for, for the speakers of that particular language.

[00:14:46] Jasmin: Absolutely. And the sense I'm getting is it's, you guys are, care a lot about enabling people and sometimes less is more. Right? If the right people have the right options, depending on their role, that actually makes their life easier than if they had all the options available.

Your content management system allows for, so it's a really smart way of also channeling the energy at the time. Because if you're free to do everything, it's easy to get lost, let's face it.

[00:15:18] Hallur: Absolutely. And historically, we have had that issue where with previous vendors or previous CMSs that were heavily dependent on development, like we needed somebody with the ability to code to go in and make some changes when the wrong people gained access or wrong people without that skillset or knowledge, when they gained access to specific parts, they were actually able to bring down the website. So like things like moving to the cloud instead of being hosted on-prem, and then eventually decoupling the CMS from like, so it wasn't like a full suite, but rather we created all the microservices necessary to publish the content, but we used the CMS to kind of keep track of everything and make sure that we were building the right websites and webpages gave the people that were supposed to be thinking about the content and thinking about all aspects of the content, the technical aspects, but also the, the creative aspects and, uh, the audience aspects, they would have the freedom to actually do that. Again, this also is limited by the size of the team and the fact that there's lot to do and they, they are pretty much swamped all day, but at the same time, they do have more freedom than than you would see in some other companies where things are still stuck to the old template version.

[00:16:41] Edvardas: Yeah, and I guess this is what differentiates us from so many other airlines, the size that in Iceland we're, we're considered a big, a big company. One of the biggest actually. But in the international context, and if we compares to the big airlines in the North America, Europe, or Asia. We're not that big.

But I think, and we have to be innovative and find ways how to deliver basically almost at the same pace. So, uh, yeah, I think this is where our technology can give us a key advantage.

[00:17:13] Jasmin: Thanks for listening to people Changing Enterprises. We'll be back next week with a new episode helping you make your mark.

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