One of the major goals at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) is to “provide a seamless passenger experience through innovative solutions.” This could be as simple as streamlining security checkpoints, or something even bigger. Brian Cobb, the chief innovation officer at CVG, spoke with AXN’s Allison Lewis and shared his perspective on how CVG is using technology to positively impact customer experiences.

Lewis: Can you explain the program you have in place for connecting local innovators with the airport?

Cobb: We started on this journey probably two and a half or three years ago. The initial take was, “How do we impact the customer in an unforgettably positive way?” Our mission and vision is “an unforgettably positive experience.” We have to get to the front-line consumer. In order to do that, we wanted to take a step back, look at what a typical airport is doing these days as far as the actual travel journey, and [assess] where we are finding the stressor. Where do we expect customers are frustrated at the normal travel experience in and around airports? It really was logically breaking it down into edible bites. I would say the first one that we definitely had to redirect was the security checkpoint. … Really focusing on improving that TSA experience through digitization, data analytics and ultimately working with them on improving their staffing.

The reason we chose the local market in the startup arena is that we’re very fortunate, number one, to have the startups that we do in and around the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. It’s definitely for us, talent and tech. As we sit down and start conversations with our startup community, it’s can they bring both [talent and tech] to our environment? And, how, again, are we ultimately going to positively impact the frontline consumer? What we found within the local startup environment is naturally this innate ability to understand our business; number two, a desire to get into the business and see a market opportunity; and number three, subsequently grow not only the airport’s deliverables but also the region’s deliverables.

We have working MOUs right now with two of our biggest universities in town. [We are] in progress for another three to four, and fully anticipate those being online by the end of the year. Outside of that, with the heavy corporate presence, the Fortune 500 companies we have in town, plus the Fortune 1000, then we truly have a trifecta. We have the local community, the startups, higher education and the big businesses to really continue to bring products to market successfully.

Lewis: Is it important to the airport that these companies be local?

Cobb: The quick answer is, yes, [but] we’re open to outside [the local arena]. The reason that we started locally is to establish a comfort level and recognize that we have an incredible amount of talent pool right in our backyard. So why wouldn’t we try to partner with higher education to figure out what they’re designing? And partner with local startups that we can all rapidly meet, collaborate and develop something that we can take to the marketplace rather fast.

But then on the flip side, how do we make an impact directly to the consumer? I don’t want to lose sight of that because that’s where we have seen our major successes. On the local front, it’s working with local collaborators and startups that really understand our business because we’ve sat down and ideated jointly. Where we have gone outside previously – and [are] very proud of it – is our security solution from the U.K. It’s absolutely designed for retail purposes, but we were the first in the nation to bring it to the security environment, really to monitor cue wait times and subsequently be able to illustrate that to the frontline consumer so they understood what the queue times were and could plan accordingly.

Lewis: Wyzerr, Hipaax and Losant are three local startups currently partnering with CVG. What innovation technology or services are they providing to passengers or airport staff, and how is it affecting CVG?

Cobb: Hipaax has HIPAA in its name. It was actually a watch designed originally for the hospital environment. [We deployed it] in restrooms. Restrooms are extremely important to the airport environment. If you score low on a restroom, chances are good that the overall experience in the airport is not going to be positive. We’re very fortunate with the staff that we have, however their processes were kind of archaic. They were the pen-and-paper type scheduling. We simply put sensors in the restrooms that would track the number of people that went in and out. We established a threshold [and] the data was communicated to a wireless hub. The wireless hub would communicate to the cloud, via algorithms. We would start sending alerts to the nearest housekeeper that says, this restroom hit this threshold at this time, start the countdown. The restroom attendant would go to the restroom, check it out, essentially go through a checklist on their watch to make sure they covered all of their bases, and clear the alert.

That does a couple things. Number one, we’ve gotten away from the traditional pen and paper and we’re doing on-demand. The next tier is, we’re making sure the restrooms are exceptionally clean for all guests, and that it’s not just at the top of the hour or the bottom of the hour. The last component is, we start developing all of this data that says here are the traffic patterns in and out of our restrooms, and how do we adjust staff accordingly.

The next one is Losant. Losant has come in and helped us with IOT [Internet of things]. We have a train system that’s well over 30 years old. It’s hard to integrate because it’s really green-screen technology from the early ‘80s. Unfortunately, our maintenance personnel have zero visibility of what’s happening to the train at any given time. As you’re walking up, and if you’re new to CVG, and you happen to see a train, immediately your perception is probably, wow this place must be huge. Do I walk it? Do I take the train? What do I do? But in the absence of information, you really can’t make an educated decision.

Losant came in, put IOT beacons on the train system, and essentially overnight, we created a heartbeat for the train. We can see where it is at any given point, we know how long the doors are being held open, we can see when the train is taken out of service, put back in service, a plethora of data we’ve never had before. We can … give consumers, guests, an educated decision on [whether they should walk or wait for the train]. If you’ve been to our facility, you would know that if you walk and take the moving walkways, you can beat the train most of the time.

Wyzerr is a new form of survey tool-it’s called smartforms. It’s essentially like playing a game on your mobile device. As you come into the airport, we’re trying to figure out how do we launch Wyzerr so that the majority of our consumers would give us instantaneous feedback via this tool that’s pretty painless. It’s not like taking a normal survey. If you connect to our Wi-Fi, immediately it takes you to Wyzerr. Invariably, you’re completing a nine to 11 question survey in under 30 seconds and then you have immediate access to the high bandwidth Wi-Fi.

Immediately we have these dashboards for each survey that tell us exactly what our consumer is sharing throughout the entire day. We’ve …learned about our music preferences, and in that environment, have been able to change up our music instantaneously instead of waiting for the traditional survey. We’re about to go out with a RFP for deploying additional eateries. What we are able to do via the survey is produce a report for our concessions personnel that says, “If you’re going to market and you’re going to look for eateries, these are national chains that you want to go for, or these are non-national chains…. Here’s a map of the airport and where the greatest amount of responses came from and what those responses shared.” … Not only do we know where it would be successful because that’s where customers were asking for their product, but it also helps us go to those local eateries and say, we know you’re not a national chain, but would you ever consider giving it a shot in the airport? By the way, your customer base is asking you to come.