A Clean Win Improving Facilities

June 27, 2017
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport deployed smartwatches to employees to keep on top of bathroom cleaning duties in real-time.

For leaders at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), preparing the facility for future needs is a top priority.

Brian Cobb, vice president of customer relations for CVG, said the airport expects exponential growth and changing the environment from a traditional connection market to more of an origin and destination market.

But with growth comes challenges in providing a top flight experience for travelers passing through, which means in part keeping restrooms as clean as possible.

The airport wanted to understand the user data and find ways to adjust staff instead of just a standard cleaning schedule.

“Obviously in an airport environment, it’s incredibly dynamic so as delays occur as a result of flight delays and there’s a change in operations, can our staff be nimble enough to adjust to that change and have visibility,” Cobb said.

He said the airport is gauged on consumer friendliness, so the facility needs to make sure the restrooms are in top-notch condition. CVG leaders turned to wearable technology as a new option for getting workers to the restrooms and addressing cleanliness using real-time data.

Not just a tech fad

Julie Godfrey, manager, retail and food service solutions for Samsung Electronics America, said the wearable technology market is at the tipping point to full adoption. With more people taking up the technology and analysts saying about 3.5 billion will utilize it by 2020, it will double the current market share.

Smart watches have various benefits to multiple industries, Godfrey said. Airports benefit from the technology because it helps with task management, hand-free communication, communicating and locating employees in a large format environment and digitizing analog processes.

Before implementing the technology in the airport environment, Godfrey said there were four major challenges planners needed to overcome: untethering it from a smartphone, being able to operate within durability ratings for an airport environment, being able to operate the devices in an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) so they can determine where the devices are and track them, and then also find a mature partner ecosystem to operate the technology.

“Smart watches, in their technology, the solution is not one size fits all,” she said. “We know that from our different industry markets.”

There are some programs available now where airport staff use tablets, but Cobb said there are questions about that kind of technology usage. Staff can pick them up clear the alert, put it back down and constantly leverage the device and leave it unattended on a maintenance cart for a period of time while cleaning a bathroom, raising concerns about theft.

“Very similar to any mobile device we can have the ability to find it, but if doesn’t leave the housekeeper’s self, we know immediately where that housekeeper is and clearing alerts if necessary,” Cobb said.

Bharat Saini, founder and chief technologist, Hipaax, said the companies met with CVG leaders and discussed the possibilities that could be delivered to the airport. Considering the growth CVG is expecting, they narrowed down on a few use cases for the wearable technology.

“The one we highlighted was how do we take evolving information from the airport, which is real-time analytics and use that to deliver the best customer experience for the passengers that are going through the airport,” he said. “We delivered a solution that has sensors that count the number of people using specific areas and based on the threshold that was established, we then send notifications out to the service crew to be able to address service needs in those areas.”

The project entailed placing sensors around the terminal to monitor passenger traffic and to determine areas needing maintenance from facilities workers by sending them messages via smartwatches. Saini said each time a restroom would record 150 people using it staff members were alerted so they could address cleaning needs based on real-time information and not just a set schedule on what managers think will bring in a lot of traffic to a certain area.

“Usually it’s only after the fact that a business finds out that whatever happened this afternoon was a variation in what was expected or that there was a whole lot of people using a certain bathroom, but there’s no way to respond to that,” Saini said. “What we’ve been able to do is deliver is real-time actionable tasks to service crews based on business intelligence that evolves in real time.”

By using this type of technology to collect live information, Saini said it opens up staff to adjust frequency of servicing restrooms if they’re not being used as frequent and it can create the on-demand need for service if one is getting more frequently used.

CVG put sensors in the baggage claim, restrooms and terminal departure area in the fall and have been using them since October.

While deploying the technology, Cobb said they also discovered challenges with CVG’s own infrastructure. Initially the wearables used a Wi-Fi signal, but the watches weren’t connecting. After delving into the issues, they discovered previously unreported Wi-Fi weak spots within the terminal.

“Oddly enough, what this project allows us to do is alert us to shortcomings in our own Wi-Fi system,” he said. “Now we’ve taken on a different project to go repair what frankly the customer was dealing with that had we not done this pilot we would have not known it existed.”

Cobb said the airport decided to connect the smartwatches via a cellular network so they’re connected at all times and data remains free flowing at all times.

Unexpected Findings

The airport is still delving through data, but since it started there has been some interesting trends noted in traffic. Saini said airport staff discovered one of the bathrooms they thought was high volume was actually getting less than another.

Stephan Saunders, senior manager of terminal operations at CVG, said before the technology was implemented in the terminal they didn’t have a real clear understanding on how passengers were using the facilities. Staff made plans based on ideas feedback, but it didn’t have a way to measure the actual usage of the facilities.

“We thought that the busiest restrooms were going to be on the departure level and based on the feedback from housekeeping personnel, it would be the female restrooms on the departure level,” he said. “We learned through this project that it’s actually the male restroom on the baggage level.”

The ticketing and baggage claim facilities are public, so Cobb said they didn’t necessarily have optics on the individuals using those facilities at a given point. Besides travelers, there are people meeting passengers, people dropping off passengers, rental car agencies, shuttle buses and taxis, which all entail more people potentially using the facilities.

After implementing the technology, CVG could track staff to make sure they were on top of restrooms to make sure they’re cleaned when the demand hit. It also looked compared areas to see where the public sent good feedback or negative feedback from its quality survey. It also tracked it via social media where a lot of feedback comes back on a fast basis.

“No one really hesitates anymore to tell you when you’re doing something wrong via the social platforms,” Cobb said. “Just by the sheer fact of being ahead of that and being able to clear restroom alerts on a more frequent basis and staying ahead of that curve really gives us an idea that we’re staving off on any social negativity, and as you know, when something goes viral, it’s very hard to put it back in the box.”

Cobb said they’re still data mining through the information to find ways to optimize staff allocation throughout the facility, but it was something they needed to work through.

“How do you make sure a solid business case exists for adding staff and that it’s not just to gut feel? Now we have tangible data that we can reflect back on that says for some of these instances we’re going to need restrooms and subsequently how many housekeepers per restroom,” he said.

CVG leaders also addressed employee concerns about implementing such a technology and how it would impact their duties. Cobb said they explained to staff the watch was there to help them, not make their jobs more difficult by alerting them to real information instead of the schedule.

“Candidly, it was a nuisance factor. It was something new, it was not traditional and drastically different from what we’ve tried before,” he said. “But being able to explain the dynamics of our changing environment, the passenger changes and what’s coming through the front door, the staff bought it and they understood what we were out there trying to accomplish.”

Traditional callouts at CVG were done via radio and the new technology allows for the elimination of those devices, which Cobb said lessens noise and improves the overall ambiance of the terminal.

“Now we make those alerts, the staff receives, the staff responds and the customers are none the wiser,” he said.

Cobb said the airport is looking ahead with the technology and where it can be expanded seeing as there’s really nothing holding it back from getting away from the bulky tablet approach to employee interaction. He said he could see them moving into a larger such project involving housekeeping staff in 2018 throughout the rest of the facility, particularly Concourse A.

He said there’s also potential to improve security communications via smartphone communication between employees instead of radios and it also open up more opportunities with passengers using the technology.

As more people embrace wearables, Cobb said they need to know how they can leverage information if they know more about each individual passenger and what their needs are from the moment they drive into airport the time they leave.

“I think we can play in that space,” he said. “It’s just a matter of watching and listening closely and datamining to find out how do we play in that area and play in that environment as wearables continue to gain success.”

About the Author

Joe Petrie | Editor & Chief

Joe Petrie is the Editorial Director for the Endeavor Aviation Group.

Joe has spent the past 15 years writing about the most cutting-edge topics related to transportation and policy in a variety of sectors with an emphasis on transportation issues for the past 10 years.

Contact: Joe Petrie

Editor & Chief | Airport Business

[email protected]


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