At the recent opening of Singapore Airlines’ new digital innovation lab, known as KrisLab, the carrier’s CEO, Goh Choon Phong, declared that the new facility “encapsulates our ambition to be the leading digital airline in the world”.
This ambition is close to the heart of Jerome Thil, Vice President of Digital Innovation at Singapore Airlines (SIA), who has overseen the development and delivery of the lab. “We have embarked on a transformation journey for the whole of Singapore Airlines Group and digital innovation is a very important part of this,” Thil explains to FTE during a tour of the lab.
What is perhaps most striking about the lab is the way that it empowers all staff members to help drive Group-wide innovation. Thil explains that staff can submit ideas for evaluation by the KrisLab team along with the respective business and IT units. Once an idea has been approved, seed funding along with expertise provided by the digital innovation lab team is provided to help develop the idea into a prototype, before moving to a proof of concept stage, followed by an implementation stage if successful.
In short, every member of the SIA Group family has an opportunity to make a real difference. “The member of staff is the owner of the idea,” Thil explains. “The process is very fulfilling for them. They have the chance to become part of something exciting by embarking on an intrapreneurship journey.”
Every two months, a demo day is held at the digital innovation lab, during which the latest prototypes are presented. This ensures that the SIA management team is kept abreast of the work that is being undertaken at KrisLab.
During our tour, FTE had the opportunity to see some of the prototypes up close. Among them was a virtual reality solution that allows designers to step on board an aircraft and explore and change future cabin design concepts. The others focus on a variety of areas, ranging from customer feedback to crew service.
As part of its innovation drive, the KrisLab team has also forged relationships with A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research), NUS (National University of Singapore), CAAS (Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore) and EDB (Economic Development Board). These partnerships, Thil explains, will help to give SIA a competitive edge in the increasingly competitive airline marketplace.
SIA Group and the startup scene
Engaging with startups is another important aspect of SIA Group’s digital innovation strategy. In 2018, the latest AppChallenge, a large-scale global hackathon, attracted over 1,500 participants from more than 70 countries, with early-stage startup founders and developers well represented.
While the winning teams are awarded with KrisFlyer miles or prize money, plus mentorship and support from SIA’s innovation leaders, for SIA Group it provides another opportunity to solve business unit challenges. By providing the entrants with specific problem statements, each edition of the AppChallenge ultimately delivers tangible takeaways that can be applied to the business.
There are currently more than 10 startups at the KrisLab working on various feasibility studies and the building of prototypes. Selected participants from the recent AppChallenge are also refining their solutions to tackle business challenges faced by SIA.
Creating a mindset of digital innovation
Thil speaks of his “great pride” at seeing the KrisLab come to life and also praises the support of the management team. “Without the business leaders involved this would go nowhere,” he says. “Innovation goes deep down into the fibre of this company. I am proud of the quality of the team and the commitment of the leadership. Ultimately, what we want is for digital innovation to become a mindset. I see innovation as a muscle; you have to train and practice every day.”
Thanks to the new KrisLab, Thil and his colleagues now have the perfect platform not only to undertake this training but to turn innovative ideas into tangible solutions that can deliver real value to Singapore Airlines Group.