Chief Information and Technology Officer at Unifi
Unifi is the largest ground handling and aviation services company in North America. Well-known and well-respected for its innovative and agile operations, Unifi’s vision is to be the most respected company by providing an exceptional experience getting aircraft and passengers to their destination safely.
With decades of experience in the aviation services industry, Unifi – previously known as Delta Global Services – underwent a significant transition when it was acquired by Argenbright Holdings in late 2018. This transformation coincided with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting a unique challenge in an industry heavily reliant on frontline workers.
As its Chief Information and Technology Officer, Sandeep Angra is responsible for Unifi’s technology operation across the board.
With experience in consulting with KPMG, Bearing Point and PwC across multiple verticals, Angra explains that he was keen to bring his consulting experience to build something from scratch. The opportunity to join Delta Global Services – then a subsidiary of Delta Airlines – was one which proved tempting.
Fast forward to today and, since the transformation, Unifi has experienced a dramatic period of growth. Its headcount has approximately doubled, and today Unifi operates from more than 200 airports around the world.
Faced with the task of building Unifi’s IT organisation from the ground up, forming a strong technology strategy was vital. As Angra explains, this strategy was focused on three pillars: what the organisation needed to do for its customers, for its passengers and for its employees.
When asked what the main challenges were with this task, Angra prefers to consider them as opportunities.
“I had to really understand what our IT needs were, and consider what our strategy would look like, starting from zero,” he says. “That involved exploring what our roadmap would look like over three years, and then I had to set up the entire IT organisation, all within two years.”
With a need to consider budgetary constraints and a need to scale, a clear decision was made to focus on a cloud first strategy. The organisation adopted Microsoft Azure as the cloud-based backbone of its IT infrastructure, ensuring automation, scalability and reliability.
“We made the decision that we would have nothing on-prem,” Angra explains. “We made the decision to use modern architecture: whether it's a database, whether it's enterprise data lake or it is analytics. Whatever that is, we wanted to use the cloud and go with SaaS first.”
Scalability, Angra explains, was a key consideration in this decision, along with implementation time, security and innovation. Under his leadership Unifi’s IT infrastructure has been successfully scaled to support its growth, accommodating an increase in sales revenue from US$500m to over US$1bn. “If we are acquiring a new company, it becomes easy to integrate when you’re using the cloud. It's easy to start up new operations.
“When you do not go with cloud, you're setting up your own product, you're doing custom development, setting up the server. We are in a business where we are onboarding new contracts almost on a weekly basis, or when we are. Cloud first gives us that scalability.
“For example, we recently went live with our first Canadian operations in Calgary,” he illustrates. “If we didn't have modern infrastructure architecture applications, it would have taken at least six to nine months for us to set up the entire IT system there, but as a result of using the cloud we could do that quickly and our operations went live within eight weeks of us winning the contract.”
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