Heathrow’s Andrew Isenman on making innovation work in one of the world’s biggest and busiest airports.
Andy Isenman, Head of DevOps at Heathrow Airport
“Start-ups and enterprise have two opposing problems: the start-up needs to scale and an enterprise needs to deal with the challenges that scale brings.”
We are working with Heathrow to develop internal communication apps and it’s been exciting to work with a large organisation that has such an effective methodology for delivering innovation. In Heathrow’s case, ‘delivering innovation’ isn’t a bland management cliché, it’s a tried and tested set of principles that ensure that the best ideas become truly useful services, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Andy Isenman is now Head of DevOps at Heathrow but previously he led the airport’s Mobility Programme, before taking on the role of Head of Innovation, so we talked to him about how they ensure that everyone working at Heathrow gets the technology they need, that natural evolution is harnessed, and how strong processes are essential for strong services.
“The concept of innovation isn’t new – it’s as old as time – progress and evolution are the wheels of innovation. I think innovation is a fundamental part of human nature.”
Enterprise mobile app development, for me, is using mobile technology to drive efficiency and adding value to an organisation. I think innovation is around finding solutions to problems that have a specific challenge that hasn’t previously been addressed, either in our industry or in the wider world, and technology is the primary function for solving that problem.
What is consistent across both innovation and mobility is that it is about looking at solutions that are ultimately compatible with humans. You can create many, many solutions that are just never going to be used, regardless of their value, because they are just not intuitive; they are not desirable to use; they are not taken on board. Regardless if it’s mobility and/or innovation, whatever you deliver has to be thought of, first and foremost, from the human aspect.
“We look at the process in itself as a product, and that helps us learn.”
It’s an industry cliché; ‘Don’t be proud to get rid of some of your earlier work’ but that was true in our case. We built a simple lost property app, but its success proved to be the basis for our operational customer service feedback, so it now does complaint management, damaged goods and deals with all of our customer service interactions. And then we did some work around baggage KPIs, which we thought would be a hotbed for anyone interested in baggage, but there wasn’t the kind of interest we expected, which turned out to be a valuable lesson in making assumptions – even if they are well informed.
Requirements can change, and people can take different directions as we go, which we have seen with the Airport Status Communicator – the product itself quite different than when originally planned, but it is fit for today’s business, which is what is important.
“To make innovation work needs organisational structure and enthusiasm.”
You have two things that are coming together at the same time: the people who want to do something but are not able to execute on it as efficiently as an organisation may like; and the need for the management to be able to put the organisational structure and resources in place to allow them to do that.
I think the challenge within an enterprise is that people want to be able to quantify its boundaries in order to be able to put a value to it. There are more effective ways of innovating than not innovating, so having modelled how our people could innovate was a very important foundation.
We were lucky that our shareholder organisation not only already had a well-defined innovation process, but also believed in the process we were building. We took that process and looked at what worked for us and what didn’t – there is always an element of honing. There is also an element of always making sure you are going back to the purpose of innovation – a business challenge versus an idea versus something that just needs to be done.
“Innovation isn’t just applied technology.”
It must be open and available and not exclusive. That is something we are working on with regards to ‘what does innovation look like’ across an organisation rather than just across a department. Technology innovation is one thing, but there are so many other innovations that could be made in business. Most importantly, it is about proving its worth to the business, getting those first quick wins and making it open enough for people to come and use it.
There are three key things: Firstly, I would say the foundations. If you are trying to move a country from right-hand drive to left-hand drive, you don’t start with trucks. It is about selecting ‘wins’ that you know you can achieve and things that you know are not going to bring your business down.
The second is, that it needs to wash its face. You need to be able to show and prove its value for money, but you also have to be able to articulate why certain parts of the work you do are disposable.
The final thing I would suggest is that it needs to be borne from a good, strong technical understanding of what you are trying to achieve, and to architect your systems accordingly. It’s not just a ‘configuration thing’ to drag and drop existing systems into mobile. You have to spend a bit of time making sure that you’ve got a tool in your underlying structure that is well thought through. You don’t necessarily have to turn it all on at once, but you need to have a plan for that. Ultimately, the quality of your design and your developers is more important than your creativity.
We trust the partners that we work with to bring knowledge to the table that will make intuitive solutions. We pick partners that we have seen have successes in those spaces previously, and then trust them to be able to bring that to the table on our behalf.
Dootrix have been working with Heathrow’s Mobility team as part of their ongoing Innovation Programme, and we look forward to helping them to build more transformational products to unlock new revenue streams, reduce their recurring IT spend, and to bring innovative new solutions to market quickly and efficiently.
If you’re looking for an innovation partner who can help you to deal with the challenges that scale brings, please do get in touch.