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EXCLUSIVE! Harnessing Internal Innovation to Continue Delivering the Best Airport in the World

Changi Airport Group (CAG) has been recognised by OpenGov Asia for its initiative aimed at scaling innovation and delivering customer-centric services. CAG’s Accelerator program fuels employee creativity and accelerates employees’ implementation of ideas, helping to propel the company towards its aspiration of becoming the most innovative company in Singapore.

In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape, organisations need to be agile, responsive, and innovative to stay competitive and successful. Corporate Accelerator Programmes assist businesses in discovering and implementing new ideas, accelerating growth, fostering innovation and developing new business models. These initiatives reflect the current needs and facilitate their ability to keep up with the changing times.

CAG’s establishment of its Accelerator program in June 2021 underscores its commitment to strengthening the company’s culture of internal innovation. The primary purpose of establishing the office was to accelerate innovation across all levels in CAG and fulfil CAG’s talent promise (especially for digital and technology talents) of being an exciting and innovative place where individuals can initiate new projects to transform operations and creating fresh consumer and traveller experiences in Changi.

Employees can also use CAG Accelerator to gain access to an internal network of consultants to help them sharpen problem descriptions and develop solution approaches.

CAG has been awarded the prestigious OpenGov Asia Recognition of Excellence Award, which will be presented at the 8th Annual Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2023.

Changi Airport Group’s role in sparking innovation

In an exclusive interview, Chong Chan Meng, Vice President, Organisation Process Transformation & Digitalisation at Changi Airport Group spoke about CAG’s ambition and plans to be the most innovative company in Singapore.

CAG had already established several Centers of Excellence (CoEs) by 2021, including DIVA for Digital Experimentation, Data Science, Robotics Process Automation, Low Code Development, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

“While a few of the CoEs were more established, having been helping teams for 2-3 years, others were more nascent then,” Chan Meng recalls.

Even though the CoEs promoted their services and solutions internally, CAG realised that it was unrealistic to expect all 1,900 employees then to be familiar with the CoEs and how the CoEs could support them in their work.

“We needed a way to connect staff who had ideas or problem statements with resources, like the CoEs, to help them implement solutions.  We were also in the middle of the COVID pandemic when financial resources were stretched, and it was imperative that we leveraged in-house capability, like the CoEs, as much as possible.  So, the CAG Accelerator was set up as the one-stop internal consulting office, which would bounce ideas with CAG staff or teams, and help them move forward with their idea or problem when they were not so sure how to do so, or which CoEs to approach,” Chan Meng explains.

Audrey Tan, Programme Manager for Accelerator and Low Code CoE and Chong Chan Meng, Vice President, Organisation Process Transformation & Digitalisation

In partnership with the CoEs, CAG’s Innovation Team, and CAG’s People Development & Experience Team, CAG launched the CAG Accelerator, which was sponsored by the former Managing Director of the People Team, Justina Tan (now Executive Vice President for Corporate, People, and Culture), and supported by the CAG leadership.

The current Accelerator Team comprises Chong Chan Meng, Vice President, Organisation Process Transformation & Digitalisation and Audrey Tan, Programme Manager for Accelerator and Low Code CoE. Both underscore their organisation’s commitment to strengthening their internal innovation culture.

They staff the Accelerator with Business Analysts who are adept at cutting through layers of considerations to sharpen hypotheses and problem statements. These analysts have an innate interest in technology and can imagine how to apply technology to solve problems.

They are skilled at asking the five whys, challenging the status quo, and demonstrating empathy for the employee who may not know what solution options are available or how to navigate the organisation to access them.

Even though CAG has a healthy culture of cross-cluster collaboration, some employees may not be used to asking for help outside of their department or division. The CAG team was committed to making sure that the employee’s first contact with the Accelerator would be safe and friendly.

“Asking for help or proposing a new idea is an act of vulnerability because some of us may feel like we’re paid to know how to solve problems or because our ideas may be judged,” Chan Meng says.

CAG, and especially the Accelerator, have made it a norm for people to seek assistance and propose ideas that are not yet fully formed. The Accelerator has a “No Wrong Door” policy and ensures that everyone who consults them understands what the next step is and how to take it.

When a problem or idea is ahead of its time, the CAG Innovation team steps in to help connect the idea owner with CAG’s network of startups and research institutes to explore potential solutions.

“CAG colleagues come to us typically anxious or uncertain about whether their idea can be implemented or whether their problem can be solved.   And most times, they leave the Accelerator consultation seeing possibilities and knowing how to take the next step,” Chan Meng is happy to share.

The work of the Accelerator is to identify solution options, design solution approaches and connects clients with the resources necessary to implement their solutions. Although they do not implement the solutions, they regularly check in with the teams during their solution development journey to see if they can assist in removing obstacles and ensuring progress.

After a client has deployed a solution, the team will check in 3-6 months later to assess the actual impact that the solution has delivered for their customers and CAG.

Speaking about challenges and lessons learned during the programme’s implementation and how they were addressed, Chan Meng recalls. “One of the immediate challenges we faced when we set up the Accelerator was – how do we get CAG colleagues to know about the Accelerator and use our consultation services?”

In June 2021, the team was already operating the Low Code CoE and running Low Code clinics to assist teams in designing and implementing Low Code solutions for their use cases. The Low Code clinics were converted into Accelerator consultation sessions.

Initially, most of the consultations focused on Low Code use cases. As they raised awareness of the Accelerator through email blasts and roadshows to the various divisions, they began to see other types of ideas and problems at the consultations.

“If any company out there wishes to set up a similar consulting outfit like the CAG Accelerator, I recommend pairing it with some delivery capability,” Chan Meng believes.

Chan Meng is emphatic that the Accelerator team should be integrated with a Center of Excellence (CoE) capable of implementing and providing solutions to some of the Accelerator’s clients. Although the same team members may be wearing two different hats, one for the Accelerator and one for the CoE, the ability to deliver tangible solutions via the CoE for some of the Accelerator customers helps the team members build credibility within the organisation, and in turn, builds credibility for the Accelerator.

The Accelerator tracks both input and output indicators of success. They measure input indicators such as the percentage of CAG members who were aware of the Accelerator programme (84% based on annual survey data from January 2023) and the number of use cases they consulted for (74 in the last 12 months).

They also track output or impact indicators such as revenue created, costs avoided or productivity man-days saved because of the implemented ideas or solutions, as well as qualitative impacts such as improved UX, increased accuracy and better compliance. However, these metrics are more difficult to collect, as they rely on the various teams to measure, evaluate and report.

One metric for the CAG Accelerator of which Chan Meng is particularly proud is the perceived value added by the Accelerator and the consulting panel to the teams that consult with them.

“We survey the teams after walking with them through part of the solution design and their implementation, and we consistently score above 70 for our Net Promoter Score,” Chan Meng reveals.

Measuring success is important because the feedback gives them the confidence and conviction that the Accelerator has become a key enabler for new innovators in CAG. Additionally, the input and information allow the team to modify their approach and offerings to stay relevant and useful for CAG teams.

Chan Meng reveals that the Accelerator recently launched a new What iF? Day programme in support of CAG’s innovation drive.  “One of the challenges we identified from ideators and innovators in CAG is that we don’t really have a good way to find sufficiently diverse colleagues to bounce ideas off of; to help disconfirm our own beliefs about our idea; and to find colleagues who want to join us to drive the ideas forward.”

What iF? Day brings together interested colleagues from across the organisation every 2 months, where ideators pitch their ideas, which may not be fully formed, to other attendees who help to develop and enhance the ideas, as well as volunteer to form teams with the ideators to move the ideas forward.

What iF? Day provides CAG colleagues with a safe environment in which to present their ideas, build on them and collaborate with colleagues from different clusters who share a similar passion.

The Accelerator is a lean team.  Other than Chan Meng, the Accelerator is a team of two, that also manages the Low Code CoE program.

“We are grateful to have CAG Management’s support – they help market our offerings by regularly encouraging their teams to tap on the Accelerator.  We are also thankful for the collaborative innovation and digital ecosystem that many in CAG have helped to build, which makes the Accelerator’s work possible,” Chan Meng adds. “This ecosystem consists of the CoEs, the Innovation Team, the People Team, and the Corporate Communications team, all of whom contribute to fostering an innovative culture at CAG.”

Chan Meng agrees that digital transformation goes beyond adopting technology. It requires a customer-obsessed mindset from all parties involved and increasingly focuses on experimentation and progress, rather than perfection.

He acknowledges that in order to realise CAG’s aspiration to become Singapore’s most innovative enterprise, they must blend people and processes with technological advancements. This transformation will not only enable a seamless and exceptional customer experience at the airport but also enhance the capabilities of internal teams. Chan Meng is confident that they will succeed in accomplishing all of their objectives.


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