Lessons from Digital Transformation of an Airport

by June 20, 2016 0 comments

An airport brings together and manages multiple stakeholders from airlines, govt. security, retailers, etc. so that they can help make the passengers’ journey more hassle-free. Digital technologies can be used to make internal ops and passenger experience even better. We spoke to Hari Marar, President-Bengaluru International Airport to understand how is the airport of the country’s largest IT hub being digitally transformed to enable this

Digital transformation isn’t only happening in well-known industries like BFSI, manufacturing, IT, and healthcare. We interacted with Hari Marar, President-Bengaluru International Airport (BIAL), to get a perspective on how it’s happening at the airport of the country’s IT capital.

Hari Marar

“By simply connecting the dots of all passenger information, which is already available with various stakeholders at the airport, we can understand them better and start offering better services through a digital platform.”                                      –Hari Marar, President, Bengaluru International Airport

First, Get Your House in Order!

Airports are like a landlord that brings in multiple tenants–ground handlers, aircraft, immigration, security, parking, shop owners, etc. The airport operator’s job is to manage these stakeholders to ensure smooth functioning. According to Hari, “this is easier said than done, because there is rarely any collaboration between them”.

He further added that the first objective is to improve this collaboration, which can be done with digital technologies. “But it requires a huge change in mindset and recognition of the fact that technology can really transform business”, he further added. So BIAL began this journey a few years ago, and started by linking together systems of all stakeholders in one common airport operations database. The database linked with all airlines systems by tapping standard stream of messages they used to communicate with each other. It helped the airport know the exact status of each aircraft for all airlines, and was then able to pass on this information to all the stake holders. The ground staff knew when to provision resources and for the exact parking bay where the aircraft would come. Security and immigration were able to plan their duties better. “Earlier, only airlines had this data, so if 6-7 flights were delayed for instance, security staff didn’t know and would not be available when passengers started pouring in, said Hari.

BIAL could assign baggage belts to airlines well in advance, so that they could announce it to their passengers inside incoming aircrafts. “Because of this, the first bag is always out in seven minutes, and the last bag within 16 minutes. It has become the hallmark of airport efficiency. We’re working at 88 per cent efficiency, which is extremely good”, said Hari.

With the back-end working in harmony, BIAL started working on collecting passenger info, which was already available in bit and pieces everywhere, like passengers leaving behind their digital bread crumbs after using the airport’s WiFi. “By simply connecting the dots of all this information, we can understand passengers better and start offering better services”, said Hari.

Digitally Transforming the Passengers’ Experience

Many things have been planned by BIAL, and one of them is to create a digital platform that can engage with passengers. An element of that is the BIAL mobile app, which for instance, will give passengers choice of breakfast even before they leave their homes. Restaurants will also know when to expect which passengers and keep their orders ready. “We’re confident that this app will provide a lot of value to passengers. It’s only the first phase of the platform. Over the years, we will make it into an engagement platform”, added Hari.

Importance of Tests and PoCs

Bringing in so much transformation is a time-consuming process, and doesn’t happen overnight. It requires consistent experimentation and feedback collection from different stakeholders. To enable all this, an innovation lab has been setup at the Bengaluru airport, which is gets active participation from all stake holders. As a result, getting a buy-in from internal people like finance has become easier. Once they see a concept working, it’s easier to convince them to invest in it.

Thanks to the lab, BIAL has been able to put out trial kiosks at the airport for a variety of things. There’s a kiosk where you flash your bar code and a boarding pass comes out in 17 seconds. Other PoC Kiosks being experimented with are for self-baggage drop, E-boarding, queueing system, proactive queue management system, to name a few.

BIAL’s Future Transformation Journey

Another thing BIAL is working on is to check-in passengers before they even enter the airport. Passengers should have their boarding passes as well as their baggage tags printed before entering the airport, so that they simply dump their bags on the belt and walk toward security. “We’d like to use technology so that passengers don’t have to worry about carrying so many documents and are able to whisk through the airport”, added Hari.

Another thing on their wish list is to avoid queues at the security check-in. “Why should one have to get scanned? Why can’t a passenger simply be verified using technology while walking through a corridor instead?”, said Hari.

By introducing digital technologies, it’s not that people will start using it overnight. Digital diffusion will gradually happen and people will become more tech savvy. Another 3-4 years from now, the number of youngsters in the market will grow and they will know how to use these things.

Related Articles:

Customer Context is Key in the Digital Journey

Digital Transformation: How to Make it Happen?

 

 

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