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COVID-19 has massively dented travel activity, but Changi Airport Group is still exploring a new suite of digital products and services that will help maintain its world-class status.
As one of the world's busiest airports, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) is not quite used to quiet periods. Yet that is exactly what it faced when bursts of the pandemic brought international travel to a standstill. Instead of panicking, CAG assessed how it could be more productive and ended up launching several new services.
Thanks to a new digital factory called DIVA — an acronym for digital, innovation, ventures and analytics— CAG is developing digital programmes to enhance passenger experiences. These involve artificial intelligence, big data, predictive maintenance and the internet of things. DIVA launched in 2019 but once the pandemic struck, the team quickly “re-prioritised projects" to adapt to the "new normal," explained DIVA Programme Director Jeffrey Loke.
CAG has been voted the world’s best airport for seven straight years and DIVA’s new ventures are likely to keep it that way. As Loke explained, digital innovation and maintaining business agility are crucial to CAG's success.
The pandemic has made clear that “Singapore must pioneer new ways to enable safe transit, safe business and safe leisure travel and tourism,” Loke said. Tech investments play a major role in that process.
“What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that more than ever, the world is embracing technology and digitalisation at a much faster pace,” Loke stated. “CAG will need to continue with its investments in digital transformation efforts, in order to continue innovating to meet these new challenges.”
So far, it has rolled out a number of contactless solutions such as proximity sensors on automated check-in kiosks that eliminate the need for travellers to touch screens. “We are also trialing contactless technology on lift buttons and on sliding doors,” Loke noted. CAG has also launched a web application called Safe Travel Concierge to safely welcome visitors. The app creates a checklist of pre-entry requirements based on the user’s profile and ensures travellers participate in safe leisure activities during their stay.
With the need to heighten hygiene levels even further, DIVA also worked on a new system for efficient disinfecting. Previously, cleaning supervisors were manually noting down flight timings to determine the best time to clean gate hold rooms but that proved difficult once the pandemic impacted flight schedules, Loke explained. Within two months, the DIVA team came up with a solution that provides real-time information on cleaning status, calculates when a gate is available for cleaning and transmits that data to the cleaning supervisor’s work device.
As digitalisation becomes a crucial means to implementing safe distancing and reduced physical contact, “CAG will continue pushing ahead with our digital transformation efforts to enhance the competitiveness of our services, for when traffic recovers,” Loke continued.
Implement a system for problem-solving
A clear organisational structure was a key factor behind CAG's speedy response to pandemic-related disruptions. As the game-changing consequences of COVID-19 became clear, the DIVA team was already identifying operations to improve. Two DIVA management forums known as the Value Creation Tribe Council and Operations Transformation Tribe Council took the reins at solving issues brought up by the pandemic, Loke explained. Both units have a meticulous system in place for problem solving, which helped facilitate project completion at a time of crisis.
"A tribe is a collection of project teams (or squads) that work in related areas," Loke described. This set-up helps "foster close collaboration within related disciplines," he continued. Tribe Leads are basically "key decision makers" that respond to issues whilst incorporating DIVA's strategic objectives in addition to leading budget and resource requirements, he explained.
Together, these units will "clarify the problem statement and determine the project scope," Loke said. "This includes brainstorming of potential solutions to assess the efforts required. Another unit known as the Project Management Office will then coordinate with DIVA's in-house technical team "to guide the squad in the kick-off process," he continued.
"The squad concept and agile methodology worked well, especially so when we had to deliver a project within a very short timeline, as we could quickly adapt and pivot," Loke noted. "There was also autonomy given to the product owners and squad members, which allowed the team to make decisions quickly and deliver the product successfully."
Ensure your employees stay nimble
The pandemic forced many CAG employees to take on additional tasks and roles outside their usual scope. That wouldn't have been possible without a willingness to learn new duties.
Using the Safe Travel Concierge application as an example, Loke explained how the squad designed and rolled out the technology to meet the needs of external stakeholders in a tight timeline. "As the situation remains fluid and volatile, DIVA had to be flexible and learn to be nimble to respond to changes," he described. "At the same time, we learnt to be creative and innovative as a team."
That spirit is reflected in CAG's retail offerings. Not long after the pandemic struck, its e-commerce platform iShopChangi.com implemented tax-free prices for more than 5,000 products and launched a complimentary concierge service as a means of incentivising local consumers to shop from home.
Always plan ahead
Even with all of its accomplishments, DIVA is not sitting still.
“The impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry has been without precedent and is the toughest challenge we have ever faced,” Loke noted. That is why in addition to new services, Loke also highlighted the need to develop new customer segments, engagement channels and new revenue streams. It is also important to remain connected with the ecosystem to support one another, he added, referring to CAG's engagement efforts with industry partners, airport tenants and contractors.
“We believe the key is to do more with less, always stay nimble and be able to pivot in the face of crisis situations,” he stated.
Special thanks to Changi Airport Group for their support and contributions to the development of this story.
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