The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

A journey from A to what can Be – The Future Factory Programme

Dublin Airport Authority (daa) & Trinity College Dublin future factory programme
An innovation leadership programme, The Future Factory Trinity Innovation Programme, was designed to embed innovation into the operations and people of the Dublin Airport and as a catalyst for people, organisational and even ecosystem transformation.


Founded in 1937, daa Group is a leading airports management and travel retail organisation with operations across 16 countries in areas as diverse as airport management, international airport consulting and travel retail.

With its headquarters in Ireland, the Group manages airports in Cork and Dublin as well as airport operations in Germany, Cyprus and Saudi Arabia. The Group was the first to introduce the concept of duty-free shopping in 1947 and its retail arm, ARI, now manages airport retail operations in 17 airports in 12 countries. The Group’s consulting arm, daa International, works with partners in areas such as growing airport traffic, facilities management, commercial management, stakeholder management and airport operations management.

Ireland is focused on keeping its connections with Europe and the rest of the world open for the flow of capital, business and, most importantly, people. Sometimes described as the “Singapore of Europe”, the country serves as a hub for many multinational organisations in the management of their European operations and is also home to many Irish companies who are “born global” with an extensive international footprint.

As a small open economy on the periphery of Europe, Dublin Airport and its commercial ecosystem is central to the success of the country’s strategy to engage as a global hub for business and people. daa, therefore, has an important role in keeping the airport at peak productivity and efficiency. As an island nation, the airport, quite literally, is a strategic asset for the country’s economic wellbeing and connectivity with the rest of the world.

In order to maintain its role as an essential gateway, Dublin Airport must constantly face into the challenges of the rapidly changing and evolving aviation sector. To this end, the airport identified innovation as a key component in their role of managing and developing the airport of the future.

As the fourteenth busiest airport in Europe, a number of key challenges faced the airport including rapidly increasing passenger numbers, increasing environmental concerns, changes in aviation technology, increased pressure for high levels of customer service and even more efficiency. daa rightly identified the airport not as a facility but rather an ecosystem employing over 20,000 people who work for more than 100 companies. The Group understands that innovation within this ecosystem, not just within daa itself is central to the future success of the airport.

In response to this need, Dublin Airport established a centre for excellence in innovation – the daa Future Factory with responsibility for embedding innovation across the airport ecosystem.

The Future Factory team approached Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin (TBS) to work together in creating a professional development journey for selected people across the airport who would become evangelists for innovation, intrapreneurship and change.
An innovation leadership programme, The Future Factory Trinity Innovation Programme, was designed as a vehicle for embedding innovation into the operations and people of the airport and a catalyst for people, organisational and even ecosystem transformation.

The desired impact of the programme was to support the development of an airport innovation hub through the development of leaders who would drive innovation across the airport ecosystem with a focus on innovation decreasing costs and / or increasing revenue streams. It was crucial that the initiative would result in actual projects that would serve as exemplars for innovation as they were developed and implemented.

The Future Factory and TBS merged into a single team for the purpose of understanding what kind of L&D initiative would best serve the strategic interests of the client in achieving its people and organisational development objectives around innovation leadership and systematisation of innovation within the processes and culture of the organisation.

TBS, in partnership with daa, designed an experiential and action-learning innovation programme with around 20 participants each year. Participants come from functional areas across Dublin Airport, bringing insights from across many diverse areas of the business. Although most have little or no previous experience of innovation they have been selected for the programme because they exude a creative spirit and a passion to learn.

Trinity aims to bring out the best in these novice innovators, immersing them in a professional development environment where they are encouraged to be creative and not to fear failure. Both daa and Trinity recognise that a key tenet of developing a culture of innovation is that an idea can come from anywhere.

We encourage all innovators to be ambassadors for change in their organisation and to encourage others to follow them, enabling Dublin Airport to showcase innovative intent and talent across the organisation.

As a bespoke innovation programme for Dublin Airport it facilitates the combination of learning with experiential and real-world projects that stimulate and support the delivery of new value for Dublin Airport.

The programme is delivered over six two-day modules, with an embedded hackathon that enables innovators to work directly with the Trinity student body at the ideation stage. Each module is designed to leverage the learning of the previous module – allowing innovators to work towards a final presentation where the fruits of their labour are showcased with senior executives from daa.

Dublin and Trinity recognised from the start that any innovation projects developed as part of this programme would need to be managed through a clearly defined gating process – ensuring that the innovation would either drive revenue or reduce cost for Dublin Airport.

Trinity fully supported the Future Factory in developing its innovation process – with each of the Trinity academic team contributing enhancements and revisions to the process as we worked through the programme. In collaboration with daa, Trinity identified the following key programme objectives :

  • To develop innovation ambassadors who have a passion for innovation in the organisation, who share key learnings with others and who support innovation and Future Factory endeavours throughout daa – helping The Future Factory to embed an understanding of innovation across the organisation
  • Supporting the Future Factory team to develop a culture of innovation by empowering participants to develop an “Innovators DNA” – supporting them to create “big bet” projects that reduce cost and/or increase revenue for the business
  • Enabling the Future Factory team to develop and continually refine an innovation framework and strategy using best-in-class tools, techniques and processes
  • Supporting the alignment of people and culture with the needs daa’s competitive strategy
  • Enabling participants to develop norms around team interactions and helping them to understand the part they play in team development
  • Supporting participants to communicate and collaborate with others in the organisation – generating greater flexibility and diversity in style to reach and influence more people
  • Empowering people to seek to develop an entrepreneurial and innovative approach in the business using a design thinking approach to problem-solving
  • Integrating business mentoring to enable participants to take ownership of their innovation projects and drive them forward

The Future Factory Programme combines professional development in areas such as “deation,” financial project analysis, high performing team development, stakeholder management, lean business modelling and presentation skills with practical real-world innovation application of projects that are selectively rolled-out across the organisation.

In the first iteration of the programme, three “Big Bet” projects with a potential combined EBIDTA value of over €1.2m were identified. Programme alumni have become innovation leaders and mentors for the next cohort of participants. Over 40% of programme alumni have gained promotions or new roles within the organisation internationally.

The programme, fuelled by an ambition to identify potential leaders who can act as innovation champions has now been rolled out to include participants from other key organisations within the airport ecosystem, accelerating its potential to act as a catalyst for change and transformation.

Trinity Business School and daa’s Future Factory team are now engaging in an innovative process themselves that will expand the programme’s footprint internationally and bring much needed innovative leadership to airports around the world.

Watch the partnership project video.

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