IT Solutions for Airport Management

16 July 2008 (Last Updated July 16th, 2008 18:30)

The managers of major airports oversee staffing levels that rival the population of small towns. Drew Turney investigates the IT solutions that help them in their cause.

IT Solutions for Airport Management

Queen Elizabeth officially opened London Heathrow's terminal 5 on 27 March this year, for the exclusive use of British Airways. Barely two weeks later, over 500 flights had been cancelled and 28,000 bags had been left behind.

The result was a public relations nightmare for BA, with both the BBC and Sky News claiming they had been banned from filming 'mountains of suitcases stacked up in the terminal after passengers were unable to reclaim them'.

The chaos was blamed on glitches in the new terminal baggage handling system. Citibank analysts estimated only days after the problems began that BA could face costs of up to £25m from the backlog, including the expense of putting travellers up in hotels because of cancelled flights.

Of course, there are bugs to work out in any system. Most businesses can be thankful that initial hiccups do not cost millions and put almost 30,000 customers to such an inconvenience, but airports are among the busiest places in the world. They bring together tens of thousands of staff from different employers, millions of passengers (and their luggage) and deploy services from basic sanitation to first-class retail precincts.

And that is just in the average international airport of today. WTC (World Trade Centre) Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands has taken airport services a step further with its 'AirportCity' concept. The owners (real estate operators Schiphol and KFN) wanted much more than a terminal for take-offs and landings. As its website says 'WTC Schiphol Airport was developed from a clear concept; facilitating international business at a truly international and dynamic location'.

A fully functioning miniature city, WTC Schiphol contains a cluster of international business and support services, retail and entertainment services, conference and business facilities, three brand name hotels, green areas and an 18-hole golf course, all ten minutes by road or rail from Amsterdam. The whole community employs 57,000 people from 540 companies, and services 40 million travellers annually.

THE SOLUTIONS

So what kind of systems do you need to manage such disparate workers across so many areas, disciplines, departments, working conditions and schedules? The operators of Schiphol airport called on IT interoperability specialist Novell.

Airport staff were struggling with disparate manual systems that relied on users to report changes and updates. The answer was to deploy the Oracle HR system to manage current users and automatically clean out redundant or old records.

At Schiphol efficiency is a top priority. With several different sources of user identity information, the airport lacked an accurate source of user data for its 2,500 internal and external users. Manual administration was costly and users were often frustrated by having to call HR and the IT staff to make changes to their information.

The airport wanted to implement a secure identity management solution to manage its current users and clean out old users in its systems. To start, the airport wanted to integrate its Oracle HR system with a corporate directory to create a centralised source of user data.

"Manual administration is costly and users are often frustrated by having to call HR and IT staff."

Onno Hagers, IT system manager for the airport, says in the Novell case study 'We looked at [Microsoft] Active Directory, but found that Novell eDirectory was superior technology. We wanted to synchronise user data among many applications and knew that the Novell solution would give us the most flexibility and scalability.'

Novell's eDirectory allowed the old HR data to be synced with the new records, and IT staff were able to delete up to 1,000 old records while establishing the new, live record for 2,500 existing staff.

Comprising premises up to 30km apart and covering nearly 1,000 different applications, Schiphol Airport IT staff have also saved 25% of the time previously spent travelling to see clients and taking support calls. Using Novell's ZENWorks desktop management the IT staff can oversee workstations all over the airport, distributing applications or updates much quicker.

THE OTHER AIRPORT CUSTOMER

Sometimes robust systems mean more than offering smooth air travel services for holidaymakers and business travellers, they can be make your airport a more commercial proposition for further investment. Letište Praha (Prague Airport) is the largest airport in central Europe and in March this year predicted 30% growth over four years – on top of the 12 million people it currently services annually.

Prague Airport's operators wanted to bring as many as ten financial, logistical and HR systems up to scratch to become a better proposition for investors after privatisation. After a tender process, the airport chose IBM's SAP business suite application family, citing its use in several major airports around the world as an attraction. Senior project manager Martin Šebánek also said that because of a lack of in-house expertise, IBM was chosen because of the four-year support package that was part of the contract.

The first step of the process was to customise the human capital management application for use with the airport's large and complicated existing datasets. The next stages involved implementing a data warehouse and reporting tools, and Prague airport's 2,500 staff can now request holidays and view both payroll and work history information, and as it becomes more popular, the workload and paperwork in the HR department will keep easing.

EASY INTEGRATION

Integration is still the name of the game at the smaller end of the scale. New Zealand's Auckland airport handles 70% of all international visitors into the country – over 30,000 every day.

Communications coordinator Ainslie Stevenson advises that the privately owned operator of Auckland Airport is about to switch to a local product suite called PayGlobal. It is described by the developer as 'the only people management solution available that gives you one integrated system encompassing all aspects of rostering, time and attendance, payroll and human resources.

Besides integration with existing systems, the other big plus in the vendor's favour was the self-service aspect, allowing airport staff to efficiently check their own information.

"The self-service aspect is a big plus, allowing airport staff to efficiently check their own information."

"[PayGlobal] was chosen as it integrates with all our current financial systems and offers a self service component that means that employees can use the system to review their own information such as accrued annual leave, including requesting annual leave," Stevenson commented. "Eventually the system will also fully integrate with our own personal development system. As part of the selection of the new system our people and performance team visited two workplaces that use PayGlobal and saw it in action."

PayGlobal itself agrees that self service is the future, noting on it is website; "HR Self-Service saves your organisation time and resources by automating certain administrative processes, empowering employees and managers to view and maintain their own data. This, in turn, frees up payroll and HR staff from many of their data entry and internal service activities and improves data integrity."