Students developed Finnair’s digital services for young Japanese consumers

The ITP and IDBM programs implemented the Aalto Explorers program in co-operation with Kyushu University.
Both the students and Finnair's employees got to learn about the customer experience, creation of digital value, agile project working methods, and working in multidisciplinary and multinational teams. Visiting Assistant Professor Miikka J. Lehtonen in the middle.

Aalto Explorers is a two-week joint project of the Information Technology Program (ITP) and International Design Business Management (IDBM) programs, in which new learning platforms were piloted in the international field. The project was customised for Finnair and it was carried out in May in collaboration with the Japanese Kyushu University. The objective of the project was to develop in multidisciplinary teams both completely new and Finnair's existing digital services to better meet the needs and expectations of the airline’s young Japanese consumers. The students gained 3 credit points for the course.

The idea for a potential project was born during Slush Tokyo in the spring of 2017, when Miikka J. Lehtonen, visiting Assistant Professor at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, met with Jaron Millner, who is in charge of digital platforms at Finnair. Due to changes brought on by digitalisation, Finnair had awoken to a need to understand the young Japanese consumers in particular, and to utilise this understanding in the development of new services.

‘Finnair air traffic from Helsinki to Japan has increased constantly in the recent years, and through the means of service design this growth can be built on a sustainable foundation,’ says Laura Sivula, Director of the ITP program at the Aalto University School of Business. Both the ITP program and the IDBM program have been established already in 1995, but the Finnair project was the first ever implemented jointly by the two programs. "Both ITP and IDBM have a long history in multidisciplinary education and business cooperation even at the global level, so these programs are best placed to act as pioneers when building the learning platforms of the future', continues Miikka J. Lehtonen.

The objective of the Aalto Explorers program is to provide partners with customized multidisciplinary and multicultural projects in cooperation with Aalto University's partner universities, where students apply co-design methods to provide partners with vision and new concepts to develop their operation. The university selected as the partner in the pilot project was Kyushu University from Fukuoka, Japan, which, alike Aalto University, brings together students from different fields of science. From Kyushu University Sivula and Lehtonen included Assistant Professor in Design Strategy Tokushu Inamura in the discussions, and with this combination the project quickly became a reality.

Twenty students of different fields from around the world

‘In order to quickly recruit students for this course, Miikka J. Lehtonen conveyed information concerning the project to the students of Aalto University School of Business currently on student exchange in Asia, and Tokushu Inamura contacted potential participants through his own networks at Kyushu University. As a result, we were able to form an extremely international, multidisciplinary and enthusiastic top-level group of students,’ says Laura Sivula.

‘It was absolutely fantastic to work in a multicultural and multidisciplinary team. In Japan, we students are given clear assignments, whereas here it felt like it all started more or less from chaos, which was just great. As a result, I got to study in a completely different style than what I am used to,’ explains Japanese student Taku Inoue.

Akintayo Oyebola, who is a student at the School of Business and currently on exchange in Nagoya, is happy that in this project foreigners really got to work together with the Japanese. During their exchange period, exchange students have traditionally succeeded in networking more among themselves than with the locals, so the course broke this pattern in a spectacular way.

Shared learning experience

The people at Finnair were very satisfied with the end of course presentations that the groups put forward at the company's head office on Friday 8 June. It wasn't just a case of students learning about the customer experience, creation of digital value, agile project working methods, and working in multidisciplinary and multinational teams, but Finnair's employees also got to share this experience. After a positive experience, Finnair has already expressed its willingness to continue the co-operation.

‘We are very happy with both the teams’ end products and the consumer understanding received through the research. During this relatively short project the teams were able to generate information and vision, which directly benefit Finnair’s business operations in the extremely competitive Japanese market. Our experience of co-operating with Aalto University and Kyushu University are very positive, and we encourage also other companies to integrate this learning platform of the future into their own operation’, sums up Finnair Sales Development Manager Anssi Partanen.

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