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INFOTECH: Digitalisation – Taking Airports to the Cloud(s)


Recent Western Cape Business News

AIRPORTS are hives of activity, a-buzz twenty-four hours a day with travellers, staff and other patrons. To give an idea of how busy airports get, OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg – on the smaller scale of International airports when compared with the likes of JFK International Airport in New York, or Heathrow International Airport in London – claims to serve around nineteen million passengers per year. That’s an average of more than fifty-two thousand people traversing the airport per day, not counting staff and family or friends of travellers writes John Mokiti.

It’s little wonder that airports face a number of challenges with managing the constant flow of people, and all the services centred around them. The answer to solving many of these challenges lies on digitalisation.

What do airports need?
Airports have evolved to become more than just a meeting place for passengers and airlines and, as they expand and become larger, so do the problems that they face. Key common issues faced include:

• Flight management – the obvious challenge is managing flights and airlines in an ever-growing industry. Ensuring passengers make their flights, aeroplanes arrive and leave on schedule, and maintaining airline satisfaction are all daily considerations for an airport;
• Security – airports are responsible for ensuring that their patrons, staff and tenants are all safe while on their premises. Cameras, monitoring tools, perimeter control and other security measures are of primary concern;
• Baggage loss – a common issue for airports is the loss or theft of luggage, the prevention of which is an ongoing problem at any airport across the globe;
• Asset management and maintenance – airports have an abundance of assets that need to be managed on a daily basis, from conveyer belts, to forklifts, to electric vehicles, computers, phones, handheld scanning devices and much, much more. These need to be effectively tracked, managed and maintained;
• Sheer scale – some airports are so large that many passengers end up lost and miss their flights. These airports are faced with the challenge of ensuring they are well signed and capable of ensuring passengers get to their destinations on time;
• Staff management – with thousands of employees performing various tasks at all hours of the day, airports are constantly faced with the challenge of not only managing their workforce, but controlling and limiting access and security permissions, too;
• Monetisation of services – as airports grow, they are looking for ways to monetise the services they offer to passengers and tenants, such as WiFi, advertising opportunities and more.

Airports are increasingly turning to technology to address these problems, modernising the way they operate and embracing digital transformation.

Digitalising for the airport
Smart, Internet of Things (IoT) devices can help to resolve many of the challenges faced by airports. Asset tracking, location of areas that require repair, and even baggage tagging can all be effectively managed and monitored through Radio Frequency ID (RFID) or other IoT enabled tagging devices. A centralised management platform coupled with automated alerts can streamline this process effectively.

Smart connected security systems and access control can be added to the same system to enable better security for passengers, tenants and personnel, and can ensure that people remain in their authorised areas. Leveraging the likes of biometrics can boost this functionality and automate things like area or system access, equipment handling and more.

Digitalising for the tenants
Airports have long looked for ways to monetise their services while adding value for their tenants - often high end retailers - and customers alike. With most people having a smart device of some sort, and using interactive and strategically placed interactive information hubs coupled with mobile applications, airports can gather masses of data about their customers which can be leveraged by retailers.

Big data, properly analysed, allows airport to provide their retail tenants with a wealth of information on customer buying habits, flight habits, eating preferences and other titbits of valuable information. Retailers can use this information to activate targeted marketing or sales, build customer loyalty programs or incorporate special offers to boost their sales. Airports are able to incorporate this as a billable value add to their customers.

Digitalising for passengers and customers
Digitalisation offers up many benefits to the travellers and customers of airports. Not only are they able to receive targeted information from retailers and airlines based on their spending and flight habits, but their travel process can be simplified and streamlined so much so, that it may only be a matter of time before passengers need only check in half an hour before an international flight.

Applications loaded onto a smart phone or other device can easily inform passengers of their location with in an airport, as well as where they need to be and at what time. The same application can give information on their flight, connections, possible hotel suggestions at their destination or, if a flight is delayed, hotel suggestions near the actual airport. Retailers can offer special deals over the application, and airlines can inform of possible upgrade options.

Loyalty programs are made easier and more effective over an application, and can be managed by the airport itself, and combined across different retailers or airlines to provide better customer service to the end user.

Customer can even log in to WiFi networks and purchase or manage data bundles, all on one platform.

Taking airports to the cloud(s)
Digitalisation is a daunting prospect, albeit an exciting one. It requires careful analysis of an airport’s challenges, both current and potential, and implementing the right solution based on the airport’s size and requirements. Airports need to assess the infrastructure they already have and how best to integrate new solutions with working existing infrastructure. It can also become a costly investment if undertaken without proper planning.

Using cloud based services from an outsource partner that understands the nature of airports, and the pressure they face daily, can ensure that airports benefit from digital solutions without having a massive capital outlay.

Through modernising their infrastructure and adopting a digital mindset, airport can improve their customer experience, increase their revenue and streamline their operational efficiency.

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