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İbrahim Sünnetçi

Hitit CMO Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: "We have 65 partners from 47 countries across six continents"

Issue 18 - 2023
Hitit CMO Nevra Onursal Karaağaç:

İbrahim Sünnetçi: Hitit, founded in 1994 by two female engineers who retired from Turkish Airlines (THY) with the desire to develop a technology that would be used worldwide, is now positioned as the 3rd largest airline reservation system (PSS) provider in the world. Can we start our interview by obtaining information about Hitit's journey from the past to the present and its footprint in the Aviation Industry today? 

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: Hitit was founded in 1994 by two female executives who believed that they could develop a much more innovative technology by addressing the shortcomings in the industry based on their extensive experience in the aviation industry. At Hitit, we have solidified our belief in the young and visionary minds and the creativity of this land by establishing a productive and growing team. We provide solution-oriented, intelligent, reliable, and creative services and solutions for airline and travel industry players who aim for development and change. We position ourselves as a role model to ensure the sustainability of the aviation and travel sectors with smart technologies, and we are proud to be the world's third-largest PSS provider in this field.

Looking back at the past, the first major milestone that brought us to this point was our Crane FF solution. In 1999, we developed Crane FF (Frequent Flyer), the first loyalty solution dedicated to aviation, and it became the most widely used solution in the world by 2012. As Hitit gained recognition in the industry with Crane FF, we continued to expand our range of Crane solutions, providing next-generation technology and software solutions to companies operating in the airline and travel sectors, primarily airlines. By exporting our service-oriented software model to the global market through the systems we developed, Hitit provides technology solutions and services to airlines of all sizes around the world. We cater to various commercial applications of airlines, such as passenger transportation, reservations, ticketing, and check-in, and continue developing new technology and software solutions for the airline and travel sectors. From the smallest to the largest, Hitit serves technology solutions and services to airlines worldwide.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: How would you define Hitit in its 29th year? In which areas has it made progress? What can you say about the technological achievements you have gained throughout the 29-year journey so far?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç:  First of all, I would like to mention a wonderful coincidence. As of June 6, which happens to be the last day of the IATA AGM, Hitit has completed its 29th year in a fulfilling manner. We are fortunate that what we left behind were not just years, but rather, Hitit has always propelled its industry forward. As a company that courageously takes the necessary technological steps required by the aviation industry, which naturally requires constant development, we take great pride in advancing with the mission and vision we have undertaken.

If Hitit comes to mind when it comes to airline technologies today, if we have been able to create a global brand in this field from our country and open a new high-value export gateway to 47 countries, it means that we have accomplished significant achievements in 29 years. The point we have reached today is the result of a great team and dedication. Like many members of the Hitit family, I am also delighted to have been a part of this family for many years.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: Could you inform us about Hitit's current organizational structure, personnel status, financial figures for 2022, and the company's goals and expectations for the end of 2023?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: I mentioned earlier that Hitit is a company founded on local intellectual power. The majority of our employees, approximately 70% of the total workforce, are computer engineers. As of June 2023, we have over 400 employees in our organization. The majority of them work at our headquarters in ITU Teknokent, while some are based in different locations abroad, predominantly in our offices in Pakistan and the Netherlands. Additionally, through our local representatives on almost every continent, we closely monitor the aviation and travel sectors, considering the demographic conditions and regional dynamics of each area.

As you know, the Covid-19 pandemic deeply impacted the aviation and travel industry. This unprecedented process, which disrupted norms in almost every field worldwide, brought Hitit to a significant threshold. The pandemic years, during which we witnessed the indispensability of technology, once again highlighted the necessity of digital transformation and propelled the growth of Hitit in parallel. There have been significant differences in our numbers before and after the pandemic. Our partner count tripled, and our employee count doubled, and it continues to increase. This upward trend, combined with our initial public offering in March 2022, has taken Hitit to a completely different level.

In 2022, we managed to increase our revenue by 30% to $18.8 million and raise our EBITDA margin to 43%. As for 2023, in the first quarter, we increased our revenues by 67% compared to the same period last year, reaching $6.3 million. Based on this progress, we anticipate closing the year 2023 with high performance surpassing the previous year.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: As Hitit has been listed on Borsa Istanbul (BIST) since March 2022, could you tell us about the current ownership structure of the company? What percentage of the company's shares are publicly traded?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: Approximately 27% of Hitit's shares have been offered to the public and are traded on the stock exchange. The remaining 50% is owned by the initial founding partners, and the remaining 50% is owned by Pegasus Airlines Inc.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: As Hitit is one of the signatories of the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) "25by2025" project, which aims to increase the representation of women in the aviation industry to at least 25% by 2025, could you enlighten our readers about the employee profile at Hitit? Can we obtain information about the company's approach to gender diversity and the gender ratio among its employees?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: Both aviation and technology have traditionally had low female employment rates. Especially considering the year of its founding in 1994, the representation of women in Hitit was initially quite low. However, as a company founded by two female entrepreneurs and now among the world's leading companies, Hitit has maintained gender diversity for 29 years. Within our company, 50% of the Board of Directors, 65% of the senior management, and 37% of the employees are women. Additionally, we have the highest proportion of female executives among the publicly traded software companies in Türkiye. As a firm operating at the intersection of technology and aviation, where male-dominated employment structures are common, we believe we are an exemplary company surpassing general criteria in achieving gender balance. The underlying principles of our human resources practices that contribute to this success can be summarized as follows: At Hitit, we create equal opportunities and do not make gender distinctions for all roles. Furthermore, we do not tolerate any form of gender pay gap, which is often encountered in the real sector for both female and male employees. We implement equal pay for equal work policy. Additionally, our flexible working arrangements on a voluntary basis create significant advantages, particularly for working mothers, allowing them to continue their careers without sacrificing their personal lives.

We acknowledge the gender gap in technology-related careers and are taking concrete steps to bridge this gap. Through our social responsibility projects, we actively work to reduce gender inequalities in information technology and STEM. We encourage women to pursue careers in aviation technology and STEM by providing education, mentorship, and scholarship opportunities and supporting young women in internship programs. Our efforts aim to create a more inclusive and equitable industry that reflects the diversity of the communities we serve.

As a member of the Women in Technology Association (wTech), we actively participate in their initiatives. As part of this collaboration, we have become the Education Sponsor for the "Leading Women in Technology" program. Within the framework of this program, we will provide technology education to young women in various cities across Türkiye until June 2023.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: As the first civil aviation technology company in Türkiye, Hitit currently provides software exports as services to 65 partners in 47 countries across 6 continents. Could you tell us about the main products and services that Hitit offers to its customers (partners)? Can you provide information about your user profile/portfolio worldwide?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: As you mentioned, we currently have 65 partners from 47 countries across six continents. While a significant portion of our partners are airline companies, we also provide our software solutions to various companies in the travel industry. However, our main focus at the moment is aviation, particularly with our core offering being the frequent flyer software that serves the comprehensive needs of an airline. We develop next-generation technology and software solutions primarily in the software-as-a-service (SAAS) model, catering to companies operating in the airline and travel sectors.

With our Crane branded solutions, we offer end-to-end comprehensive airline management technology that covers a wide range of services, including reservation, ticketing, check-in, departure control system crew planning, loyalty management, revenue-cost accounting, schedule planning, operational control, tour operator/allotmen mobile application, and air cargo requirements.

In addition, our software solutions, Agent Portal Plus (Crane APP) and Crane OTA (Online Travel Agencies) are designed specifically for travel agencies and tour operators, offering essential functionalities such as reservation, ticketing, ancillary service sales, and passenger services. Apart from common functions such as selling multiple airlines and travel products (e.g., hotels, transfers, car rentals), we continuously enhance our products to address the shortcomings in indirect sales channels and provide an equivalent range of products and services through direct sales channels. In summary, we also collaborate with travel agencies. Furthermore, our system is adaptable to the needs of the maritime and railway industries. We can also work with sea and rail transport companies with our flexible systems and preliminary work.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: Can you tell us about the scope and significance of the contract you signed with the AnadoluJet on February 23, 2023, for the use of the "Crane PSS" Passenger Service System (PSS)?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: The agreement with AnadoluJet was a significant milestone for Hitit in the first quarter of 2023. Our teams have started working, and a transition period is being planned based on the dynamics of AnadoluJet. After completing the integration process, AnadoluJet will fly with Hitit technology for five years. Working with Turkish Airlines, one of Türkiye's and one of the world's most important airline companies, is a source of great pride for us. The fact that our national flag carrier trusts Hitit technologies is the biggest testament to how well we do our job. The collaboration between domestic brands is also a win-win situation for our country.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: Could you inform us about your software solutions specifically designed for air cargo operations, which have gained importance and seen increased operations, becoming a critical source of revenue for airlines, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: Aviation is now about more than just scheduled flights; we have left those times behind. Especially with the pandemic, cargo has become an important player in the aviation industry and is ready to embrace digital technologies. Since 2019, Hitit has added cargo technologies to our software solutions with the "one-stop shop" approach, offering comprehensive services. With our compatible, modular, and scalable software solutions called Crane CGO (Reservation and Cargo Services) and Crane DOM (Local Cargo Services), Hitit is poised to become one of the strongest global brands in the digital transformation of air cargo.

When we initially launched our solutions, we offered them in addition to the flagship reservation and ticketing systems. In time, they evolved to become marketable and capable of competing independently. A similar journey is taking place for our cargo solution, and the development efforts for cargo solutions have gained momentum after the initial public offering. Developing our cargo solutions in the accounting field has also been completed. Hitit will become more prominent in the cargo sector in the coming period.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: Hitit allocated US$6.4 million for R&D by the end of the fourth quarter of 2022, and the company made an R&D investment of US$2.1 million by the end of the first quarter of 2023. Could you enlighten us about the company's perspective on R&D, the number of engineers involved in R&D activities, and the ongoing major R&D initiatives? In which specific areas does the company invest in R&D?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: We have identified three areas, namely "enhanced customer experience," "operational excellence," and "revenue-enhancing activities," as the focus of our R&D investments. We are directing our efforts accordingly. We are actively working on increasing collaborations with leading cloud infrastructure providers worldwide, and these efforts are progressing rapidly. So far, we have made improvements to our products in terms of optimization algorithms, which our partners have effectively utilized. We are now transferring this experience to the field of artificial intelligence. We are diversifying and continuing our investments in the field of artificial intelligence.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: Could you share your thoughts on Hitit's competitive strength in both domestic and international markets? What are the distinguishing features and advantages of Hitit and its software solutions compared to its competitors in the market?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: Entering and even making a name in the global airline technology market was initially very challenging for a software company emerging from Türkiye. However, as I mentioned earlier, the success of Crane FF becoming the most widely used loyalty program in 2012, followed by a similar achievement in reservation and ticketing systems, also known as airlines' ERP, propelled Hitit to the forefront of competition. In short, the perception of Turkish software companies in global markets has shifted in a positive direction, and Hitit has made significant contributions to this success. The success of our software solutions, combined with our business development and product strategies, has led us to create a comprehensive software solution family that embraces the aviation and travel sectors. Our "Crane" software solutions are diverse and capable of meeting all the needs of an airline from A to Z. We are the only airline technology company in the world that provides this diversity from a single point.

Additionally, during the pandemic, we surpassed our closest and largest international competitors in terms of growth rate. While our biggest competitors grew by an average of around 2-3% in 2020-2021, Hitit achieved growth rates of 50% in 2020 and 36% in 2021.

İbrahim Sünnetçi: As a global player that operates with a sense of social responsibility towards society, could you provide information about the social responsibility and sustainability projects that Hitit has implemented in the last five years and is currently working on?

Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: We are actively working towards a more sustainable future in aviation with our commitment to sustainability, innovation, and social responsibility.

We continue our efforts in line with the set goals to address the environmental impacts of the aviation industry and reduce emissions. In this regard, we have initiated the Fly Net Zero project by IATA, which aims for net-zero carbon emissions for airlines by 2050. At Hitit, we understand the importance of coordinated efforts across the entire aviation industry in achieving these sustainability goals, and therefore, our innovative solutions play a crucial role in supporting these efforts. 

We believe that accurately calculating and monitoring carbon emissions is crucial. In this context, our Cost Accounting (Crane CA) solution includes carbon emissions tracking and optimization functions developed in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines for Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Our partners can accurately predict emissions from their operations through these specified functions and determine optimal fleet/aircraft assignments, route plans, and fares to minimize emissions. This enables airlines to reduce their environmental footprint, contribute to a better environment, and take proactive measures to support the aviation industry's sustainability commitment.

However, our contribution to sustainability in aviation goes beyond just emission tracking. Social sustainability and our corporate responsibility approach are also critical aspects. At Hitit, we conduct our operations to benefit society in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We provide support and implement projects not only in our own country but also in regions where our partners are located worldwide. We generate projects in various areas, such as the environment, sports, education, and gender equality. In 2018, we launched "Rackets Up" Türkiye's first sustainable social responsibility project in table tennis. With a mission to popularize table tennis and introduce young people to a healthy lifestyle and sports, we collaborate with the Turkish Table Tennis Federation. So far, we have provided table tennis coaching to 370 teachers from 355 schools in 5 cities, and 140,000 students have been introduced to table tennis.

With the project, we identified needy schools in the cities, districts, and villages and provided table tennis equipment. The coaches are volunteer teachers who undergo professional training and receive coaching certification from the Turkish Table Tennis Federation. The education process for students begins under the guidance of these certified teachers. One of the most important goals of the project is to discover and support young talents in table tennis and to produce athletes who will represent our country in this field at the global level 

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