Information Technology Column

Sizing up the Marketplace

By Monica L. Rausch Associate Editor

January / February 1999

With the projected growth spurt in traffic, airports and aviation businesses alike are building the infrastructure needed to handle the increase. More and more, computer systems are seen as an important part of that infrastructure, not just an afterthought. The Y2K computer bug is not the only issue that bumped up their priority; managers are finding that new systems can make operations run more efficiently, saving time and money.

The trend in the airport market shows airports moving away from building a customized system in-house. As more computer system vendors offer products to fit airports, the latter are drawn toward COTS, or commercial off-the-shelf products.

And, whether airports choose to deal with one company or pick several vendors, the key word that keeps popping up is integration. Systems that can talk to each other and make use of the same data increase efficiency. Also, an integrated system, with an "open architecture," can handle new additions easily. Airports can start out with the basics, a system for ticketing and security, for example, and add on baggage and maintenance later.

The latest technology is web-based. Under this system, the airport basically sets up its own intranet, a private version of the Internet, where software programs are run via web-based interfaces. Only the main server needs to have the software to run programs. Anyone throughout the airport can access information and run these programs from their sites, allowing the use of simple hardware that need not have all the software loaded on it. And, employees can use the system with the point-and-click ease of an Internet traveler.

On the aviation business side, the computer market isn't exactly booming. With only a few buyers, supply and demand seem to be in balance. Also, there are those small FBOs and businesses that are forever committed to using the pen and paper method.

But, those looking to delve into the world of computers will be happy to find that the cost of hardware is dropping. A good, fast computer can be had for about $1,000. Popular software items in this market are those that can work with a Windows operating system since Windows often comes with computers sold today.

The latest developments here include flight tracking and "concierge" software, or software that keeps track of customers' preferences. Both help improve an FBO's customer service. With flight tracking, the FBO can keep track of when a customer will arrive so that all is prepared, or find out who frequents the airport but not the FBO.

Web-based technology is also a new phenomenon. One supplier says FBOs using his software will soon be able to communicate to each other through a website on the Internet, sharing information on customers that may be in transit from one FBO to the other.

Business to be had over the Internet itself is booming, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 7, 1998). Internet commerce this year will total anywhere from $31 to $51 billion. Three-quarters of that total, the Journal states, is in business-to-business sales, while direct sales to consumers make up about 23 percent, or $7.2 billion in sales.

If you have topics on information technology that you think should be addressed in this column, contact Monica Rausch at (920) 563-1648 or e-mail to mrausch@airportbiz.com

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