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Photo: Mattias Bardå

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People of SAS: Massimo Pascotto is always on the run

Imagine being able to check in by waving your implanted hand over the scanner. Or getting a robot to handle your entire trip. It’s the job of Massimo Pascotto, tech lover and marathon runner extraordinaire, to see what can be dreamed up to turn science fiction into science fact.

”I think I have the best job at SAS, at least when it comes to technology,” says Massimo Pascotto, Head of Technology Innovation and Labs at SAS. “I get bored easily. But innovation is about change and speed, so that’s great for me.” 

It’s not hard to understand his enthusiasm. Pascotto runs SAS Labs, which he founded three years ago and which today is one SAS’ most cutting-edge departments. The aim of the lab is to equip SAS with the digital capabilities that will help it reimagine the future of transportation. 
“We have various long and short-term projects to see how the latest emerging technologies can enhance the traveler experience,” says Pascotto.

Turi, SAS’ digital travel assistant that works using AI and helps travelers on their entire journey, was created by SAS Labs. Other projects currently being developed include an electronic bag tag that travelers can permanently attach to their luggage, and which can be updated and will show when baggage has been loaded or offloaded from the plane and a self-service delayed baggage reporting tool that will save travelers from waiting at -arrival service (they can instead easily report delayed bags on their phones).  

The lab is also developing a SAS crew app that will help the staff onboard keep track of rosters and flight information so they can prepare more easily for their trips. Pascotto’s working day involves orchestrating his team of designers and engineers to respond to new business requirements and get prototypes out for consumer testing as fast as possible.
“If we get an idea on a Monday morning, we start work prototyping it immediately,” he says. “We need to dare to fail and make mistakes. Thanks to digitalization, it’s easy for us to build things quickly, try them out and change them, or even abandon them, if they don’t work. For me, if we don’t have failures in our projects, we aren’t innovating enough.” 

And in any case, failures have been few and far between at SAS Labs, which is run in close alignment with the overall strategic and commercial goals of the airline. 

Main aims of the 3-person SAS Labs team

– To create 2-3 practical applications of new technology per year and show how SAS can use it in a two to four-year timespan. Examples include the AI-driven chatbot Turi and robot Roberta that are currently in production.

– To help accelerate other parts of SAS’ digitalization. One example is the SAS Crew app.

– To act as a door opener between SAS and the tech/startup community.

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Working the way they do also means that Pascotto and his team don’t look too far into the future. 
“SAS is very good at three to four-year strategy projections,” he says. “But in the lab, we have a three-month strategy. So if you ask me what we’re going to do in January next year, I have no clue. We’re extremely agile and lean. We know that something is going to happen with emerging technology, we just don’t know what. But we’re able to move fast when it does. You don’t need a big team to test an idea or huge investments, all of our products are executed with one designer, one project manager and up to five engineers maximum. By keeping the team small, we can micro-optimize resources and the workflow to make magic very quickly. 

Pascotto’s job also involves a lot of networking. This is partly because the lab operates in a larger eco-system, which requires collaboration. The electronic bag tag, for example, needs to work across different airlines and airports, and it is being conceptualized together with a startup and a university.

He also needs to keep on top of the latest emerging technology, which, in part, was why Pascotto was part of SAS’ presence at the House of Scandinavia at the SXSW Convention in Austin this year, where there is always a large emerging technology section. 

Since there's such a large emerging technology section featured each year, he’ll also accompany it to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Once there, he’ll be able to indulge his passion for techno-logy alongside another of his loves – running.

When Pascotto’s not running SAS Labs, he’s running marathons. 

“Innovation is about connecting things,” Pascotto says. “And I spend a huge amount of time thinking. Running helps me isolate myself and clear my head in order to think about how to solve some of the problems that our travelers face.”

Pascotto joined SAS in 2000 as Account Manager in Milan. Having always had a passion for technology, he moved to Stockholm in 2005 when an opportunity arose to work on the SAS website. 

“I then became product owner for the SAS App,” he says. “That was an innovation that had a huge impact. One of my proudest moments came recently when I was waiting to board a plane in Helsinki and saw that almost everybody was using the app for boarding. Seeing other travelers using a product that I designed was very satisfying.”

He is also so proud of his current work that he has a small dream for the future. “We have the ambition to make the crew app and all the products we build the best on the market,” he says. “And I believe this so much that I would like to start a small company within SAS that sells this, and our other fantastic digital innovations, to other airlines and organizations, creating new business models for SAS based on innovative digital solutions.”

People often ask me why I stay so long in one company,” Pascotto adds. “But I have done so many things at SAS, with different people and in different roles, that I am always growing. You can change your job, where you live or the people you have around you. Or you can change yourself and start seeing things from a different prospective. This is what SAS has done in the last years, looking at the same thing but from a different -perspective. And so have I. Innovation is about changing perception. And I never get bored here.” 

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