Can deploying a user-friendly enterprise application solve customer service problems? For British Airways, the answer appears to be yes.

In August, the airline conducted a pilot test in which about 100 crew members were given iPads loaded with its new Enhanced Service Platform app. After a successful test, the airline is now distributing 2,000 iPads with the app to senior crew members across its route network.

The iPads and the app are intended to replace long scrolls of paper that list the passengers on board and provide information such as airline club status, ticket class and special dietary requirements, if any. The iPads, updated over a mobile network just before takeoff and after landing, give cabin crews a much more sophisticated tool.

"There's a lot more information about that passenger," says Mike Croucher, head of IT architecture and delivery at British Airways. "For instance, they may see that on a previous journey, the passenger was in first class, but the entertainment center didn't work. The crew member can see any correspondence we've had about that."

The iPad program was inspired by the desire to improve customer service. Over the past few years, relations between the airline and its cabin crews have been fraught with strikes and near-strikes, and the ill feelings were bleeding over into customer service, Croucher explains. To serve customers better, "we wanted to re-establish our engagement first with the cabin crew," he says.

British Airways uses the Agile software development methodology, so IT has been regularly releasing updates, typically once a month, since the app launched. IT solicits feedback from crew members and follows their suggestions for improvements. One such improvement now allows crews to tell if there are several employees from the same company on a flight, even if they aren't sitting together.

"You often get a group of people where the managing director is in first class or business class with colleagues in economy," Croucher notes. In another improvement, seats with passengers who have been downgraded from first or business class due to overbooking are color-coded for quick identification.

"We're doing a lot of tuning around messaging, format and the colors on the screen," he adds. "It's a constant process of prioritization and enhancements. We're always evolving the application in many different directions."