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IT’s At The Airport

Last month, I helped coordinate a BCS London seminar about the role of IT in the airport and air travel industry, and as you might imagine it proved a very popular topic, complete with sold out venue and 4 expert IT practitioners from one of the world’s busiest hub airport. Read on for highlights…

In the UK, London’s Heathrow Airport served over 73 million passengers in 2014, which makes it a daily hive of logistical complexity and activity involving multiple parties, inter-linked processes and diverse technologies all of which interface with IT. As a result, Heathrow’s IT Department plays a crucial role in the smooth operation of the airport, and our 4 speakers provided a glimpse into several aspects of this relationship at the airport, for example:
  • Airport Operations – Heathrow operates 98% runway capacity which roughly translates to a take-off or landing event occurring every 45 seconds, thereby making it one of the most efficient 2 runway airports in the world. Speaker, Brent Reed (Airport Ops Lead Designer), described how Heathrow introduced a world’s first Time Based Seperation (TBS) system to further maintain / improve on this efficiency, particularly on windy days – every second counts!
  • The Automated Passenger Journey – Heathrow is actively implementing the IATA Fast Travel Program strategy which aims to provide 80% of global passengers with a complete and relevant self-service suite by 2020. According to Capgemini’s Don Grose (Lead Solution Architect), this program will deliver multiple benefits for: passengers, airlines and airports, and Heathrow has already delivered or trialled several self service capabilities, including: Self Boarding, Automatic Ticket Presentation and Kiosk self service bag tags, Self Service Bag Drop trials, as well as biometric enrolment & verification.
  • Shadow IT at Heathrow – Andrew Isenman (Passenger Experience Design Lead), described how Heathrow employees are starting to engage their colleagues and digitally enabled passengers in different ways, sometimes even bypassing the IT departments. As a result, the latter have proactively started encouraging and shaping how this engagement happens, at the same time they’re addressing the usual questions around: support provision, reduced Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO), increased security and minimal technical debt.
  • Airport Innovation – Heathrow has embraced the drive for innovation with various initiatives, some of which were presented by Richard Harding, (Head of strategy and innovation at Heathrow). They included: the Heathrow innovation Process, Crowd dynamics (detecting / measuring / alerting via CCTV), WiFi digital finger printing, Airfield Asset inspection, Mobile Display units and treasure hunts. Key insights gleaned from Heathrow innovation highlight the need for: open innovation, active promotion, new governance processes, skills enablement and innovative culture / process metrics.
In conclusion, it was a very informative session on how IT enables the daily operation of a major hub airport. Times are changing, and air travellers demand a more personalised experience in their interaction with Heathrow and its many partners which make-up the airport ecosystem.  A huge thanks to the BCS London organisers and the speakers for making it an insightful and worthwhile event about IT at the Airport!
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