The airport industry's IT-based systems and services grow increasingly complex--literally by the week. Keeping those systems functioning at peak levels, while at the same time simplifying their use for passengers, presents an enormous challenge.
Add in the fact that airports are always striving to make the most efficient, cost-effective use of their terminal real estate as well as other resources, and you have a situation that demands new approaches.
Part of the solution comes from adept implementation of common-use IT systems that support multiple airlines. Common-use passenger processing systems enable airports to streamline and simplify their passengers' travel experience, from check-in to baggage pick-up.
The rest of the solution, however, most likely lies in implementing imaginative, innovative solutions in an area virtually invisible topassengers, but absolutely critical to the core functioning of any airport: operational maintenance services and support. It appears airports must start thinking about these routine, everyday services in entirely new ways, and particularly about the viability of outsourcing them.
A good example of the future shape of outsourced service support was set in motion in early 2005 in Vancouver, British Columbia, in a highly productive and cost-saving partnership between YVR and ARINC Managed Services (AMS), the operations, maintenance and staffing subsidiary of ARINC. Vancouver is recognised as one of the world's leading airports in the implementation of new technology and for the quality of its customer service.
"We just launched a network of remote check-in kiosks downtown in hotel lobbies, tourism offices and at the convention centre," says Milan Zivkovic, the airport's Director of IT. "This expanded our services far beyond the systems already at the airport--namely self-serviceticket kiosks, automated check-in and boarding, baggage handling, flight information displays. Everything was integrated, we had thousands of devices on the network, and we needed to significantly augment our existing in-house IT support and maintenance capabilities." Vancouver also has two unique passenger-handling systems and a hold-bag screening capability.
"We had to focus our efforts on the airport experience programme currently underway at the airport, while the expanded infrastructure required 24x7 support," added Zivkovic. We decided it was wisest to integrate our IT operations and maintenance under a single unified support solution."
Vancouver already had the right operations and maintenance services provider for the job--AMS, which has been supporting its common-usepassenger systems since 2002. These systems included ARINC's Multi-User System Environment (iMUSE[R]), and ARINC SelfServ[TM] passenger kiosks, which use the Common-Use Self-Service (CUSS) standard to allowpassengers to check in with many airlines at a single station.
AMS provides full operational and maintenance support for IT systems engineered by different companies around the world. It also supported Vancouver's unique cruise ship system, allowing passengers to check themselves and their baggage for flights at YVR while still aboardship, as well as the airport's baggage reconciliation system, which will match passengers with the bags they've checked in before they board their flights.
Vancouver simply expanded AMS's role into a comprehensive service and support contract that encompasses the entire airport's operating functions, including CCTV monitoring, access control, baggage, the terminal Management System (TMS), the noise monitoring, and many other systems even the airport's corporate computing. In addition to the AMS technical team at Vancouver, ARINC's 24/7 call centre provides proactive service-level monitoring as well as responsive dispatch of technical support.
This move embodies a strategy Zivkovic calls "smart outsourcing". It involves analysing the airport's needs and then outsourcing those maintenance, service and support functions that will be better servedby a qualified outside provider like AMS.
"We figured out that at this level of our growth, AMS was a good fit for our in-house IT organisation to support our service-level agreements with our airlines and other tenants," said Zivkovic. "We outsourced the front-end IT support and operational maintenance of our systems--CUSS, FIDS, gates, etc --to AMS. We retained the management part of the structure - maintenance and support of the back end of the systems, such as networking, data centres, head-end systems, servers and overall management--with our in-house IT group.
Jim Martin, Senior Director of AMS, believes Vancouver's move to integrate all of its maintenance services under a single provider signals the start of a trend in the industry.
"By outsourcing the maintenance of these IT-based systems, an airport can go from 20 or more different outside maintenance services to having just one, with an integrated approach," said Martin. At Vancouver, AMS went from supporting three systems to more than 50.
Vancouver has realised a number of benefits from outsourcing to AMS. The major gain has been a significant enhancement in customer service--the customers being the airlines that lease facilities and use the many common-use systems there. And passengers receive better service as a direct result of this improvement.
Another benefit has been a reduction in the total cost of ownership for all support services: not only does reduced downtime save moneyin the operations sphere; it is also cheaper to have a single provider doing all the Level 1 maintenance. Airports follow different models for maintenance support. Some outsource everything, others have 100% in-house service support; and most, like Vancouver, fall somewhere in the middle.
While virtually every airport has a master plan, the majority nevertheless have incorporated technological advances by adding services or systems as needed: the maintenance support would come with them, often from the system provider. Outsourcing operations and maintenanceservice to a single provider begins to look like the preferred solution when another critical aspect of the airport industry is factored in: the tremendously diversified nature of each airport's business. An airport is effectively a city with many types of corporations operating within it: financial services, retail, terminal operations, security, civil aviation services, UPS, FedEx, parking companies--often 12 to 15 corporations with different core businesses.
Airport authorities have to manage this extremely complex mix: their job is to put all those businesses under one hat in what amounts to a massive integration task.
And because each airport is different from the next, there are no off-the-shelf, large-scale service outsourcing packages that can be used as plug-in solutions. Like the individual airport's management integration approach, this must also be created especially for that facility, through a carefully thought out one-of-a-kind service support approach.
Vancouver's example indicates that this may be best achieved through large-scale outsourcing of operations and maintenance services. Asat Vancouver, AMS can help airports create an effective service model for their unique operational needs by offering them the kind of flexibility that outsourcing delivers.
"Every airport IT director or CIO has to think about this choice,"explained Zivkovic. "Each airport is unique. Expanding AMS's outsourcing role was a natural choice for us, especially with ARINC's long history in the aviation and airport services field."
Extension of remote kiosk-based services into hotels, travel agencies and convention centres continues, and remote check-in kiosks willsoon be spread to rapid transit, parking lots, and car rental offices.
"That will be followed by full-service check-in and secure baggagehandling from the same locations," added Zivkovic. As these systems grow, so will the need for fully-integrated operations and maintenance service support.
It is difficult to predict how quickly the large-scale outsourcingof service support will propagate across the airport community. But it is certain that growth, and the airports' increasing focus on using customer service as a marketing tool, will drive the trend.
And more passengers are coming. Not only has air travel nearly returned to pre-9/11 levels, but enplanement at US airports has increased from 683 million in 2001 to 717 million in 2005, with a projected rise to 1.01 billion by 2015.
It is also necessary to combine this with the growth factors at individual airports. For example, Vancouver will host the Winter Olympics in 2010, and it is the focus of Canada's new economic 'Gateway Strategy' to expand commerce with Asia and the Pacific. The airport is undertaking a $1.4 billion capital programme that will add nine new aircraft gates, additional check-in kiosks, and more pre-flight screening, baggage handling capabilities, as well as the airport portion of a new rapid transit link being built in Vancouver.
"Airports can truly differentiate themselves with these systems," said Martin. "At Vancouver these integrated services offer the passenger a unique check-in experience, a real transformation of what it means to go to the airport."
AMS plans to follow the marketing model that has worked for it at Vancouver: seek opportunities to expand by growing from existing service contracts. Its initial customers for large-scale outsourcing willcome from among the many airports where AMS already delivers operations, maintenance and staffing services.
"We will start where we are established as a service provider," added Martin. "Because our customers already know that we deliver exceptionally reliable support with the assurance of service-level contracts to keep their systems up and running." AMS is also working to expand its capabilities by co-operating with other service providers. "Weare looking to partner with other companies that need airport savvy maintenance support for security access control, CCTV surveillance, building and parking control, telecom and point-of-sale services," concluded Martin.
"Outsourcing is a model that works for us," said Vancouver's Zivkovic. "1 would recommend that other airports explore it to see if it can work for them."
"And of course," he added, "they can always come to us to talk about it."
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