Those who know the Delta story understand that industry-leading firsts are in the company’s DNA, like pioneering the use of the hub and spoke system in 1955 and launching the first mobile baggage tracking app in 2011. Over the past 86 years, innovation has driven Delta forward, and the airline’s latest venture with The Georgia Institute of Technology to launch a collaborative research facility is no exception.
The facility, which is slated to open in early 2016, will be a dedicated workspace that brings top-tier talent together to envision, prototype and evaluate business enhancements and innovations.
Recently, Delta News Hub spoke with Matt Muta, Delta’s Vice President – Innovation and Commercial Technology, and other members of his team about the ongoing research they support and the role innovation plays in improving operations and the customer experience across the airline.
Delta News Hub: What is Delta’s Innovation Team and who is a part of it?
Matt Muta (left): Well, let’s define what innovation means to Delta. Innovation is a foundational pillar of our company and it has been driving us to our leadership position in the industry. I think it’s more than just future thinking; it’s all about what we can do in our environment today. And it’s not about a single team but rather the collective Delta team.
Jesse Duke, Business Consultant and Innovation Team member: The innovation team is comprised of a number of people across the enterprise dedicated to research, on everything from process change to development methodology. This team will be fluid, but at its core, it’s Delta people specializing in data science, customer experience and many other areas with the common goal of improving the business. We anticipate this team will influence Delta people across the globe to look at things differently.
DNH: What does Delta’s Innovation Team do?
MM: Our goal is one of discovery. We want to leave no stone unturned in order to run our operation more smoothly, more on-time and ultimately, give our customers a better experience. In other words, it’s not technology for the sake of having technology or being disruptive just to be disruptive; it’s actively seeking opportunities to enhance near-term solutions that drive positive experiences and customer satisfaction.
DNH: What projects has your team supported in the past?
MM: A lot of the projects that we have worked on recently have been focused on looking at the challenges through a different lens and mindset. Through a user-centered and data driven design, the team continues to work with other Delta groups to quickly evaluate the feasibility of new ideas.
Kerel Fryar, Business Consultant and Innovation Team member: To date, we collaborate with the business and IT teams to explore technology trends that could enhance our operations and customer satisfaction.
We are currently working with the Project Mercury team, which is a cross-divisional technology project to improve employee and customer notifications of flight and operational information. Our exploration was focused on keeping the Flight Family (pilots, flight attendants, Airport Customer Service above and below wing teams, etc.) assigned to a specific flight informed of events as they worked toward departing on-time or early. This meant considering the processes in place to ensure that when the Operations and Customer Center (OCC) team needs to communicate to the Flight Family, that message can be directly shared at that time. We quickly tested ways to enhance the process by outfitting customer-facing employees with wearables that disrupt the users and enable instant notification when irregular operations occur, such as severe weather delays.
MM: This is a clear example of what’s possible and how exposing the teams to technology potentials can lead to employee empowerment to improve customer interaction. We’re excited for what the future holds and look forward to spooling up our new collaborative research center at Georgia Tech early next year.
DNH: How long has the Innovation Team been around?
JD: The group as it exists today has been around since September 2014. But that’s the thing, we’re not the first. Innovation has driven Delta forward since we were a crop dusting operation that transitioned into flying passengers.
MM: That’s right. It’s always been here. We’re not driving a new focus on innovation at Delta, our team works collectively with other Delta teams to explore and discover new approaches to existing challenges. Another role for the team is to drive awareness of all the innovative shifts and changes happening across the airline. The things Delta has done from an industry-first perspective are remarkable. And, it is continuing in different parts of our operations across 80,000 employees every day. Our team is here to enable and support Delta in continuing to drive the separation between us and our competitors through innovation.