The rapid pace of change occurring in the world of information technology (IT) is causing a revolution of sorts for airport planners. Historically, airport master plans provide a 20-year roadmap, identifying potential areas for development, protection, and other airfield needs. Enter IT, which is impacting everything from meeting new customer needs and expectations to facilitating the businesses of stakeholders.
Two central players in this discussion are Faith Varwig, principal with St. Louis-based Faith Group, LLC and Tom Strange, CEO of The Solution Design Group, Inc., based in Orlando. The two often team on airport planning projects, and are leaders in the concept of IT master planning.
Central to this discussion is the question: Is this a matter of incorporating IT into the master planning process, or bringing master planning to the IT world? Comments Varwig, “That is a good question; the definition has changed dramatically in the past ten years. In general, IT master plans address the evaluation of current business processes in place at airports and a determination of how technology can support or advance those business processes to make the airport more efficient, at lower cost, or provide a higher level of passenger service.”
Says Strange, “I guess it could be both. Airports traditionally, in the master planning process, think very hard about bricks and mortar, but not necessarily the IT systems needed to support the operation as part of the master planning process. We and others advocate IT master planning become an integral part of the master plan for an airport.
“It’s a chapter in the master planning process, a separate activity. The best way to think of it is a plan for a three- to five-year planning horizon -- an eternity in IT -- that will help the airport define the IT needs that will support the airports business goals and objectives. Don’t do technology for technology’s sake, but do it to support the strategic drivers.”
WHIRLWIND CHANGES; INCREASING DEMAND
Varwig relates that airport personnel and stakeholder representatives are rapidly embracing the new technologies coming out of the IT marketplace, changing the perspective for airport planners. “We spent the last part of 1990s and first part of 2000s focused on building infrastructure and focused heavily on pipe and wire; general network configuration and design; procuring technology systems to support their business processes,” she says. “That’s changed a lot in past two to three years with the new hand-held devices -- I-Pads; 4G phone systems. The mobile app industry has really changed the focus of what the IT managers at airports have to provide their clients within the airport. Now everybody in the airport wants to do all their work on hand-held devices.
“It requires a whole different way of thinking about technology at airports; it requires another layer of infrastructure to support those applications. Ten years ago we hardly dealt with wireless applications in the back of the house. We mostly cared about the traveling public. Now airports have free Wi-Fi; now everybody back of house at the airport wants that same capability of being able to connect no matter where they’re at within the airport environment. It implies huge changes to how they conduct business; to the infrastructure itself; and to the people that support the infrastructure.”
Strange points out that the traditional 20-year plan still makes sense from a long-term overview perspective, but planning today has to recognize the impact of IT. “If we look ahead three to five years from now, the check-in process will be so much more smart phone driven; I don’t know ticket lobbies will need to look the same. In recent years the move has been to all kiosks; now we have to wonder how long we will need the kiosks.”
He says that airlines and other businesses in the terminal and at the airport should have a say in the airport IT planning process. It is becoming typical for airports to survey these stakeholders when assessing the state of the airport when it comes to IT, to incorporate their needs.
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