Smarter airports need information and the tools to make sense of it – fast. A new era of real-time business intelligence and analytics is beckoning. It demands a new approach to harness and exploit the massive amounts of data at our fingertips.

Digital infrastructure

“Knowledge is power,” said the philosopher Francis Bacon. That’s as true today as it was 400 years ago. For airports, knowledge requires the ability to access and leverage ever-growing mountains of data.

As the Internet of Things dawns – and we face an era brimming with so-called ‘data lakes’ and the power of proximity technologies that capture data from a myriad of devices around the airport – the task of freeing up and using data becomes critical.

But to transform data into actionable information requires the ability to interpret and understand it. Without this crucial step, all the data in the world is useless, especially when it comes to improving the passenger experience and airport operations.

BI agendas

That’s why real-time business intelligence (BI) tops airport agendas worldwide. According to SITA’s latest Airport IT Trends Survey, nine out of 10 airports plan to make BI investments through 2017.

To help improve operations and the passenger experience, airports want to use BI tools to monitor passenger flow, and deploy staff and assets more effectively, including the ability to exploit aircraft movement data.

On top of that, they want BI to support their efforts to increase non-aeronautical revenues. Passenger flow intelligence sits high on the revenue-generation agenda too. An often-cited statistic is that an extra 10 minutes in security reduces an average passenger’s retail spend by 30%. That’s significant when multiplied by thousands of passengers each day.

With proximity sensing devices such as sensors and beacons, and other geo-location technologies, SITA is providing the foundation for personalized experiences that can be tailored based on the user’s physical location.

Digital interaction

This digital interaction at the airport is regarded as a must-have for the future, according to Arthur D. Little’s 2015 report Airports 4.0: Impact of Digital Transformation on Airport Economics.

It reckons that airport expenditure on ‘smartization’ (digital-based solutions) should grow by around 40% in 2020 over today, with the objectives of better customer experience and improved operations.

The report says that faster processes are key for customer spending increases at airports, resulting in more dwell time. It quantifies that potential spend as 2-3 Euros per passenger for every additional hour.

It also cites a 5.1% increase in non-aeronautical spend as a result of an airport’s digital transformation, the main areas of increase being in retail, food and beverage.

Smart answers

SITA research points to the need for actionable intelligence in three areas: sales and marketing, operational awareness, and passenger experience.

“Getting smart answers to questions across each of these areas is essential to driving the business and operations,” says Ron Reed, Director of Business Intelligence at SITA.

“Answers to many questions have always been available,” he says, “but not in real-time and not with powerful enough tools to interpret data, converting it to intelligence that can be acted upon.”

One of the key challenges to arriving at smart answers is addressing the sheer volume of data out there, which itself is growing. That’s why, according to Reed, “any approach to BI at the airport must embrace the multiple data sources available.

“As an industry, we must access, integrate and correlate multiple data sources. It’s even more important with the pending arrival of the Internet of Things and emerging proximity technologies like beacons – which will bring even more data.”

What's needed

In a nutshell, what’s needed is quick and simple access to data from multiple sources, consolidated and correlated in a way that’s understandable and actionable.

Then, Reed says, “once you have the data, you need meaningful and simple analytics tools to get smart answers to fundamental questions promptly and when possible in real-time.”

SITA is responding to these needs with a fresh approach and an evolving portfolio of tools and services. These include advanced capabilities for self-service access to analytics, ad-hoc queries, and executive-level dashboards.

Operations

To make a real difference to the passenger experience, airports need a better understanding of passenger behavior.

SITA’s BI solutions consolidate data from multiple sources, simplifying access for the end-user to different categories of BI – including passenger flow and dwell, operations, capacity forecasting, asset monitoring, parking, retail, and more.

“We’re already pioneering in this field,” Reed says, “with a constantly evolving BI portfolio based on a common infrastructure that embraces technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, beacons, cloud and more – SITA is delivering a location-based real-time environment.”

Most importantly, SITA’s services embrace proximity – this is the fresh approach that’s missing in today’s world of APIs and apps. Today’s apps present the same experience whether the user is at home or at the airport.

With proximity beacons and other geo-location technologies, SITA is providing personalized experiences that can be tailored based on the user’s physical location.

Day of Travel

SITA’s digital solutions for airports include its application programming interfaces (APIs) to help passengers on their day of travel, by providing information they need – when and where they need it. (See: Empower your passengers)

According to Reed: “Technology has evolved to give passengers an individualized and unique experience on day of travel. Our mobile app is an intelligent tool that will anticipate your needs. The way passengers interact with mobile devices in their everyday lives will be their expectations for airport apps. 

"We're bringing Google Now-like features into the air travel space. It's the new way forward. These features and others will give passengers reasons to download and become active users of airport mobile applications. 

"We're also thinking ahead and working with airports on how to best monetize their apps through advertising and integrating service provisioning, such as parking and  shopping, as part of the mobile experience. By adding value, in the form of content that passengers need, at the time and place they need it, the airport is now creating a platform to consistently engage passengers."

Revenue driver

By providing tools to manage in-app promotions, concession vouchers, coupons, and so on, BI creates new revenue opportunities for the airport. One future possibility is the ability to lease virtual billboards in-app to current media partners.

Another future possibility includes integration of Customs and Border forms contextually and reminding users to complete them before departing. There’s also potential to streamline different processes for the passenger (for example, reserving a premium parking spot) and to integrate loyalty programs to encourage repeat usage.

Other future possibilities include:

  • Accommodation of wearables such as Apple Watch
  • Allowing departing and connecting passengers to order food as they traverse the airport  and pick up on their way to their departing gates and connecting flights
  • General and valet parking pre-booking engines supporting m-commerce
  • Extending wayfinding and navigation to the parking garage
  • Proximity campaigns to passengers in various areas or zones in the airport, such as ‘Chili’s 15% off your meal’

Says Reed: “By adding value, in the form of content that passengers need, at the time and place they need it, the airport is now creating a platform to consistently engage passengers, offering discounts based on location in the airport and other promotional content.”

Pulling it together

Not only is SITA developing mobile solutions powered by APIs to improve the day of travel experience for passengers, but also SITA will soon be making these APIs accessible to the entire travel developer community.

There’s no shortage of developers interested in travel APIs, but the problem is that needed data is fragmented, inaccurate, or non-existent.

The industry needs one party to provide the single source of truth – meaning the most accurate, real-time information for passengers’ mobile apps, whether they’re using an airline, airport or online travel aggregator’s app, such as Expedia and Orbitz.

SITA is ready to partner with airports to help commercialize their data and provide airlines and app developers a one-stop data store for global access to of APIs.

Data services

This is the genesis behind services to simplify and commercialize airport data by connecting different sources into a single global source.

This will provide a set of airport APIs that aggregate the most complete and accurate airport information in the world. Instead of having to access data from each airport individually (there are roughly 2,900 commercial airports in the world), developers can subscribe to www.developer.aero to get everything they need in one place.

The upsides are considerable – for everyone. Airports get operational improvements and increased non-aeronautical revenues, while airlines get an improved and consistent passenger experience.

Developers get a manageable way to tap into the available data in order to create powerful apps at a reduced cost. Passengers get the information they need and want, when and where they need it.

“SITA simplifies how others gain access to the airport’s data,” Reed concludes. “The airport only has to work with us, instead of every individual developer or airline in search of this data. And yet the airport still receives commercial benefits from each data consumer.”

easyJet wins passenger assistance accolade

easyJet was a winner at the Future Travel Experience Awards in 2015 for ‘Best Passenger Assistance Initiative’ based on the launch of its ‘Mobile Host’.

Using SITA’s Day of Travel FlightInfo API, easyJet’s Mobile Host helps to simplify the departures experience for passengers by providing automatic reminders and directions via the easyJet app for iPhone.

The app guides passengers, step by step, on their day of travel with airport directions, queue times, walk times and other flight reminders and updates.

The solution combines live data from the airport’s information systems with the passenger’s booking details, location and flight time to deliver bespoke information while the passenger is in the terminal.

Among the key features are check-in reminders, directions to bag drop and departure gates thanks to integration with Google Indoor Maps, and real-time baggage belt push notifications.

Personalized

Today, able to call on up-to-the-minute information, the airline’s new app provides a personalized experience for each traveler.

In the words of easyJet’s Head of Digital James Millett it’s “another important step in using digital technology to improve our customers experience and to make it as easy to travel with easyJet as it is affordable.”

On the day of travel, for example, relevant flight information will seamlessly appear on the homepage and destination imagery shown for searched and booked flights.

It also includes countdown to travel and passenger details such as payment specifics and passport information, which can be easily retrieved. Bags, sports equipment, seats, hotels and car hire can be quickly added to an existing booking thereby enhancing the whole travel experience for passengers.

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