Heathrow RapidStart: Customer Service Innovation at Speed

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“We’ve had this problem since the airport opened,” said Richard Harding, Head of IT Strategy and Innovation at Heathrow. “What information can you provide to passengers when they arrive?” 


In February 2016 Atkins, Heathrow and innovation partners Fluxx joined forces to help answer this question at a two day Rapid Start event. 

The brief was simple:  “How can we improve the arrival experience from an hour before landing to onward transport?”

Multinational teams in Dubai, India, Hong Kong, Heathrow — and one in a carriage on the Heathrow Express  — worked together for 32 hours, developing ideas, building prototypes, talking to passengers and deploying experiments in the arrivals terminals. 

The teams were multi-skilled, bringing together diverse skills from Atkins and Heathrow including coders, designers, customer-facing service staff, back office technologists, baggage handling experts and members of the Heathrow Express team. 

The event started with insight and inspiration from innovation partners Fluxx, sharing customer experiences from Hong Kong, Singapore and Heathrow, interviews with passengers and operations staff. 

More than 25 ideas were pitched and voted on, with winning ideas including a personalised navigation app, an iPad-based bag tracking system, a personal virtual assistant for arriving passengers and intelligent signage systems. 

Teams were formed around winning ideas, which were prototyped and deployed over the next two days. “The energy in the room was just fantastic,” said Justin Stenner, Head of Technology for Heathrow Express. 

“You guys have looked at these problems through a passenger lens,” said Chris Annetts, Heathrow’s Director of Commercial Passenger Services, “Bringing so many creative ways to solve these problems. Many of these ideas we’ve thought about for a very long time as an airport, but haven’t quite cracked them. This lets us get started with a very small budget, to test things and make progress.” 

“I’ve been absolutely blown away,” said Heathrow Airport CIO Stuart Birrell. “The different thinking, the ideas and innovation, has been fantastic. I’ve been around airports for many years. 

“You think you know your business, you think you know the industry, but you get a team like this together and it really challenges some of your assumptions. The opportunities we have are just fantastic.”  

To learn more about digital engineering or book a visit to the Atkins Digital Incubator, contact Gary Wilson: gary.wilson@atkinsglobal.com

Key facts


United Kingdom


Additional facts: Ÿ 
Delivered intelligent interventions to improve travel experiences 

Develop innovative ways to use this data to improve the lives of commuters






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