Ryanair chief technology officer: ‘I find out about our projects in the papers’

Ryanair CTO on his biggest challenges

Ryanair’s chief technology officer has been the unseen presence behind some of the biggest changes implemented by the budget airline in the past four years, but he’s admitted it’s a tough job as he contends with both the chief marketing officer and the ever-challenging chief exec, Michael O’Leary.

In his four years with the company, John Hurley has overhauled the Ryanair website (which now has over 2.5 million visitors a day), launched the MyRyanair app (now with over 35 million registers users) and most recently developed Ryanair Rooms – the airline’s first price comparison site for accommodation which has been the focus of much of its advertising efforts in recent months.

The brand’s chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs recently told The Drum that the service is “working very well for bookings” and “will expand to other markets” imminently.

However, this planned international roll-out may come as a surprise to Hurley, who admitted that he only found out that Ryanair would be launching a Rooms service after reading the announcement made to the media by chief exec O’Leary.

“Mike [O'Leary] gets an idea, tells journalists, and suddenly we have to come up with it,” he said at Mobile World Congress today, (26 February). “I found out about Ryanair Rooms in the papers.”

Ryanair Rooms was turned around in just three months, but working to such tight deadlines is the reason Hurley belies Ryanair has been able to transform the brand through digital in a relatively short space of time.

During the session at the event – which was titled 'Embracing Digital Transformation: Change or Die' – he said that just 25% of the in-house digital team at Ryanair are working on long-term projects, meanwhile 25% are focused solely on quick-turnaround, test-and-learn projects that will be conceived and launched within two weeks.

“You have to empower teams, step back and let them fail,” he said of his approach. “Employing consultants for six months to tell you what to do? No. Get in, get it done and fix it later.”

Though this strategy is a bone of contention for the marketing department, Hurley admitted, who “want everything pixel perfect” before it’s seen by the public.

“I can’t figure the marketing team out. They dream up ways to torture and think up the impossible,” he said.

“The user-experience marketing dept want everything pixel perfect. [the digital team] don’t. If you’re not embarrassed by your first delivery, you’ve waited too long.”

Hurley and his in-house tech team are currently eyeing the potential of Amazon Alexa, Google Home and other AI-ssistants, saying that while right now they are a “marketing buzzword” they do hold potential in how they might cut out certain processes in the customer journey in future.

Last August, Ryanair launched a ‘skill’ on Amazon Alexa which allowed people to search and book flights and hotels using just voice commands. However, chief marketing officer Jacobs told The Drum the uptake so far has been minimal, with few sales coming through the device.

This month’s issue of The Drum magazine focuses on the mobile sector with insights on the democratisation of photography and interview with US recording artist Ryan Leslie. Buy your copy of this issue and other copies through The Drum website.

Search The Drum Jobs

Explore the best jobs in Marketing and Media industries
View all open jobs