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IT Last modified on December 10, 2018

The digital transformation

John Jarrell, head of Amadeus Airport IT, reflects on the findings of a new report that explores the long-term potential of digital technologies for airports.

With passenger numbers booming, airports everywhere are striving to find new ways to maximise their limited resources, while bidding to attract and retain carriers.

At the same time, passenger expectations are on the rise, which means that airports, though faced with these challenges, also have an opportunity to embrace digital technologies – to improve efficiencies and in turn, to enhance the passenger experience. But what does that opportunity actually look like?

Earlier this year, Amadeus commissioned Arthur D Little to explore the role of technology in helping to reduce airport operational costs, but it became clear throughout the research process that airports view technology – as do we at Amadeus – not just as a tool for cost reduction but crucially, as an enabler of business transformation and value creation.

Of course, every airport has different needs and each is at a different stage of technological implementation so each, therefore, will have different digital investment priorities.

However, what most airports do have in common, especially in the context of increasing demand for air travel, is a need to be more adaptable and efficient; and any technology which enhances passenger processing should help to achieve this, as well as enhancing the traveller experience.

Collaborative smart machines and robots, for example, can enhance the passenger journey and decrease pressures on airport workforces by providing customers with clear and consistent information to facilitate their journey through the airport.

Cloud technology, also, can enhance passenger journeys by removing the need for software installations at check-in desks and gates, while biometrics can reduce waiting times and enhance the efficiency of security and passenger processing.

For airports and for passengers, that particular scenario is win-win because, as the research from Arthur D Little makes clear, there is a direct correlation between passengers’ experience and their propensity to then spend money in the terminal.

How else can digital technology transform the airport business? Consider a passenger’s route through an airport. Fringe technologies like virtual modelling, can help airports to better predict passenger flows and allocate their human resources accordingly, as well as making improvements to flight management. The practical benefits? Fewer delays and better rates of baggage reconciliation.

But of course, adopting new digital technologies is not always straightforward, and it’s easy to see why. For a start, this kind of investment requires leadership, commitment and clarity of purpose, particularly given the lengthy, complicated RFP and procurement processes airports must go through.

In addition, the need to maintain business continuity in airports can foster reticence around investing in digital solutions, especially when they are transitioning from pilot schemes to full-scale implementation. No one wants to risk connectivity issues that can impact negatively on an airport’s image.

And then, of course, there are the costs of implementation. Hub airports, particularly those which are adopting a ‘spend to save’ attitude, are more likely to accept these costs than smaller airports with limited resources.

Crucially, they do so because they recognise the valuable potential of new technology to attract airlines and drive revenues.

Nevertheless, there remain some doubts around how to implement technical solutions, and particularly some uncertainty over which technology airports should prioritise.

Understandably, this lack of clarity can lead to hesitancy and delay. This points to a lack of understanding of digital solutions within the airport microsystem and a correlating hesitancy to ‘transplant’ digital concepts into people’s day-to-day roles.

Nevertheless, these are soft, cultural barriers that airports can, and should overcome in the short term, in order to reap longer-term, tangible benefits. For while the path toward airport digital transformation may not be easy, it does require, and immensely benefit from, effective partnering and collaboration across the airport ecosystem.

It is perhaps not surprising then, that so many airports are already embarking on this path to a more digital future. And we at Amadeus are proud to make that journey with them.

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