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San Diego and its Innovation Lab

Left: Rick Belliotti, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority's director for innovation and small business development

How long has the Innovation Lab been going and why was the decision taken to develop it?
The original idea for the Innovation Lab dates back to 2015. We started working on our first idea, concession order and delivery, in the autumn of 2016, and the subsequent addition of the third-party operator was intended to move the Lab into full production.

Established in part of the former commuter terminal, which was decommissioned in June 2015, the Innovation Lab is a 3,500ft2 (325m2) space offering a functional mini terminal area with ticket and gate counters and a bag claim carousel, without passenger or security concerns to work around.

The Lab was created for three reasons; to open the airport and aviation market to the San Diego community; to introduce new and innovative solutions to the industry at large; and to look for ways to generate revenue and/or improve operational efficiency at the airport.

Who makes up the Innovation Lab team?
The team is comprised of airport authority employees and the Detecon Innovation Institute. The Institute will refine and manage the Innovation Lab as a third-party operator. Its parent, Detecon, is the management consulting practice of Deutsche Telekom, which owns T-Mobile. The Institute is based in Silicon Valley and New York, where it develops and deploys expertise across the entire innovation cycle.

How do you generate new ideas? Do you work closely with the local community, businesses, passengers?
Initially, new ideas will be generated internally, looking at what business problems or opportunities we are facing. We work with the local community from the perspective of meeting with the local innovation centers and seeing what they have in their pipeline, as well as with other companies and their ideas.

In addition, we have conducted – and will conduct in the future – surveys and focus groups among our passengers to find out what their needs are. Any idea that goes through the Innovation Lab will fit into one of four focus areas; customer experience enhancement, revenue generation, cost containment, or operational efficiency.

How are these ideas tested? How do you gather passenger feedback on them?
Once an idea has been vetted and tested in the lab, we will work with our innovators to then conduct testing in the airport, and directly with preselected passengers when the idea makes sense to test with them. We collect direct feedback, and then go back to the lab to analyze and make updates based on the feedback.

What role will Detecon Innovation Institute play? What will the Institute bring to the lab?

As the third-party operator, the Institute will help refine and operate the Innovation Lab. Their scope of work includes providing project management, advising on build-out of the Lab, refinement of the website, reviewing proposal submittals and facilitating selection, and overseeing day-to-day operations.

The goals are to reduce barriers to entry for innovators to break into the aviation industry, and to develop new ways of doing business and enhancing the passenger experience. Successful innovations could also be rolled out to other airports and analogous businesses, such as shopping malls, convention centers and other transportation hubs.

What developments have come out of the Lab so far?

The first real innovation coming out of the Lab has been At Your Gate, a mobile concessions order and delivery service. We believe it will be a great service to our passengers. We know they like to stay near their gate, so they can now continue to do so and have food or concessions delivered to them.

The app is currently in a testing phase. This month the system will be in soft launch with people employed at the airport – such as airline employees and the airport authority, for example – and a limited set of preselected passengers. This will allow us to test the service before going live with the public at large.

Initial focus areas are likely to include environmental solutions such as waste management, block chain for streamlining transaction activities, and artificial intelligence for everything from getting people around the airport to managing maintenance.

What areas will you be working on in the near future and how?

We are currently building the list of new ideas, and hope to have our next innovation out for response in spring. This will be the first cohort, or more than one company working in the Innovation Lab at the same time, working to solve the same problem. Beyond that, we will look to publish a list of future innovations.

March 6, 2018



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