February 28th, 2019

Smart Airports: Why a User-Centered Strategy is So Crucial to Driving Value

Making an airport smart is a mind-bending proposition. Travelers, airlines, retailers and security teams come together in a setting that mixes elements of municipalities and shopping malls.

All these players have such disparate perspectives that serving everybody seems all but impossible. But one common thread connects the airport community: They all use mobile technologies that create, collect and transmit data — the currency of the digital era.

Thus, it makes sense to put the mobile user at the center of smart-airport initiatives. Mobile services can ensure that people enjoy their travels or excel on the job, which translates into stronger brand loyalty and more efficient operations throughout the airport.

From a technology perspective, you need to divide your users into individuals and groups.

  • Individuals include business travelers, vacationers, airline pilots, flight attendants, ticketing agents, ramp personnel, security people and emergency first responders.
  • Groups include airlines, retail and concession providers, municipalities, emergency services agencies and the airport’s on-site management and security.

Ideally, you need personalized services for individuals and robust technology solutions for groups.

Individual-centered airport services in action

The ideal personalized mobile service in an airport combines data on the user’s current location, demographic data and previous activities to deliver relevant services when the user wants them. It could be as simple as sending weather data to ramp crews to ensure they know how much deicing they’ll be doing. A few more possibilities:

  • Sensors connected to situational-awareness platforms can flag potential threats for security staff and identify safe places to move people in an emergency.
  • For the traveler, data-analysis tools can track their previous destinations and determine whether they fly twice a year or twice month — and customize their mobile services accordingly. Business travelers want in and out fast and easy access to travel-bonus programs. Mobile services can remind travelers to pack extra layers for cold destinations and sunscreen for the tropics.
  • Airport managers can connect to the systems of local municipalities and law enforcement to get real-time data on traffic tie-ups and public safety risks.

Ideally, mobile services should anticipate people’s real-time challenges and deliver services in ways that generate a sense of delight and gratitude. These emotional bonds can encourage travelers to choose your airport over another one nearby, which helps all the groups in your airport community.

Group-centered airport services in action

To drive value the group level, airports need a diverse technology ecosystem that lets each group share data and connect with each other and to external third parties.

This ecosystem uses APIs and microservices that allow a wide range of partnerships. A few examples:

  • Airlines, car renters and retailers sharing data to provide real-time promotions that are location-specific and customized to suit the needs of individual travelers.
  • Airlines and airport managers using AI and predictive analytics to streamline baggage control and reduce lost-luggage costs.
  • On-site security teams connecting to local, state and federal authorities to stay on top of threats and improve reaction times.
  • Airports and municipalities sharing data to dovetail with smart-city initiatives. Since so many airport travelers start in a city center, this can be an excellent way to optimize a traffic grid and pave the way for autonomous vehicles.

A flexible, scalable airport IT ecosystem is crucial to helping everybody share data and coordinate services. Airports that develop with an eye to their group users’ needs can encourage airlines and retailers to add new services, building value for everyone.

Making an airport smart takes more than technology

It’s far too easy to obsess over the technology enabling a smart airport. There’s no doubt that AI and machine learning will fuel transformative change in airports and the cities they serve. It’s fascinating stuff.

But the greatest challenge is not technology. It’s getting all the groups in your airport community pulling in the same direction. And it’s understanding the motivations and perspectives of the people who pass through your airport every day.

If you start from a foundation of driving value for the groups and individual users you serve, the technology decisions go from maddeningly complex to intuitively straightforward.

–Michael Deittrick, SVP of Strategy, Chief Digital Officer

Tags: airlines airports cities retailers

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