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How to service the digital passenger: Airport transformation for the modern traveler

April 8, 2021
Accommodating Generation Z will put airports in position to thrive in the future, and will require intelligent connectivity.

Generation Z, aka the iGeneration, is coming of age. Their presence will heavily influence and force change upon airport operations, retail strategies and the technology and tools needed to provide a positive passenger experience.

To keep pace with evolving passenger demands, the provision of digital services at airports is now a business imperative. Today’s modern traveler is acclimated to a high standard of technology and expects regular services throughout their journey. While airports have incorporated elements of digital transformation into their campus and operations, there is still a long way to go to fully transform the passenger experience.

To become the hub of choice, airports need to fully exploit digital technologies and address the complete digital value chain – from the very first online interaction when a traveler begins searching for a ticket all the way through to the conclusion of the return trip. Every step along the way offers many opportunities to make a good impression with superior service. Airlines and airports that can properly serve today’s digital passenger are primed to maximize passenger engagement and, consequently, increase revenue. While some of the leading airports already use digital technology to power various aspects of their operation, the complete digital passenger experience is still an elusive goal for most.Data, Technology, and Self-Service Solutions

Every flyer is a digital passenger who both provides and consumes vast amounts of data. For airports to effectively use this data, it’s not enough to simply collate information in silos – information must flow through the campus and terminal to provide real commercial intelligence. This requires collaborative relationships between airport operators, airlines, retailers, and service providers to facilitate a new, data-powered operation.

It also requires beginning the data collection and sharing process before passengers arrive at the airport. The earlier the airport can begin interacting with passengers, the more opportunities to meet their needs and build a positive relationship. Collaboration between airlines and airports can encourage passengers to register their intent to come to the airport. Offering incentives to download airport-related apps and discounts for pre-booking services such as parking are examples of how they can work together to achieve a common goal.

If airports know in advance who will be coming to the airport, they will be in a position to offer more precise personalization. Personalization begins with identifying travelers and involves matching data to them as they interact with mobile apps, kiosks and fixed service outlets, which in turn enables presentation of tailored offers and information as travelers move through the airport. Passengers will increasingly use self-service solutions such as mobile check-in, self-boarding, and automated border control. The more the airport knows about travelers, the more tailored digital advertising can be, and the more targeted information mobile apps can deliver to inform passengers of the airport services that are open and available to them.

There is no shortage of technology that can transform the overall airport experience for passengers while providing a significant competitive advantage. For example, with Bluetooth beacons installed throughout a terminal, retailers and food/beverage vendors can send personalized offers to passengers whose preferences are already known. Additionally, automated arrival information can be used to improve carousel efficiency and reduce waiting times. By enabling passengers to track the location of digitally tagged bags from their mobile devices, airports could differentiate themselves amongst competitors, prevent baggage claim areas from becoming too overcrowded, and, perhaps most valuable to travelers, provide passengers with peace of mind.

Most importantly, passengers want to stay informed throughout every step of their journey. According to the 2017 IATA Global Passenger Survey, 85 percent of passengers want to instantly check the status of their flight, 50 percent want to digitally track their bag, and more than half want to receive updates regarding wait times at various points in their travel. Eighty-five percent of travelers are happy to provide personal data to airlines in order to speed these processes up.

Single token travel

Digital passengers are looking for quality services at airports that can enable convenient, informed and integrated travel experiences. Currently, passengers have multiple touch points when booking travel, exchanging currency, securing local transportation, finding flight information, accessing airport facilities/servicing, etc. In a true digital airport environment, the passenger will simply have a one-stop-shop service they can access from their own device.

By capturing passengers’ biometrics and travel information into a single digital record, travelers will soon be able to use this token as identification at each step along their journey. This technology allows a passenger’s biometric details to be captured through a facial scan at the first touch point in their journey. The biometric record is then checked against the passenger’s travel documents and a secure single token is created. Nearly 64 percent of passengers prefer biometric identification as their travelling token, according to IATA’s 2017 Global Passenger Survey.

As a result, at every step in the journey – whether during self-bag-drop, at border control or during aircraft boarding – passengers simply complete a facial scan without having to provide their passport or boarding pass. A mobile system will also capture biometric details from e-passports using a hand-held smart device, allowing checks to be conducted anywhere in the airport by roving immigration agents.

It’s easy to see why airports and airlines would embrace this technology so enthusiastically. Single token travel will improve security oversight, elevate the passenger’s travel experience, speed up passenger processing, and reduce the resources needed to manage the travel journey.

According to the 2017 IATA Global Passenger Survey, passenger will is there to use digital services:

  • 70 percent will share personal information to speed things up at the airport
  • 82 percent would use a digital passport on their smartphone
  • 85 percent of travelers would like to receive flight notifications on their mobile devices

While implementing such a digital strategy would be a win for both the airport and the passenger, the ability to use and integrate the required technology may be a challenge for existing airport infrastructure.

Airports, infrastructure and digital transformation

Servicing the needs of today’s digital passenger involves more than just the deployment of self-service apps accessed via mobile devices and airport kiosks. These tangible examples of the digital transformation that is reshaping the passenger journey are made possible by underlying cable and IT infrastructure. This infrastructure is used behind the scenes by airport personnel to keep the airport running efficiently. This indirectly enhances the travel experience and is important because the consequences of inadequate infrastructure – flight delays, longer airline routes and inefficient schedules – are not only costly to the airport, but also damaging to the passenger experience. There is a direct correlation between the airport’s use of infrastructure and customer satisfaction.

Passengers are not the only ones for whom mobility is changing the airport experience. Mobility is also creating dynamic workspaces for personnel, from security staff, shop attendants and information centers to maintenance, check- in and air crew, to name just a few. The modern airport has very few passenger touchpoints that are fixed to one physical space anymore. This allows huge operational benefits to the running of the airport. It also requires a high-performing infrastructure that is capable of handling a vast amount of transactions using real-time or near real-time data with low to no latency to support the demands placed on it.

Such a high-performing infrastructure delivers complete transparency of the airport ICT infrastructure. Planners can use this transparency to ensure complete redundancy in their networks, to re-route services when essential maintenance and building work must be performed, and to respond quickly to unforeseen outages and minimize disruption. To maintain customer satisfaction and profits, airports must avoid interrupting the passenger journey, whether the interruption be caused by planned or unplanned events. Planning around such occurrences can only be done effectively if the entire infrastructure is documented and the operational teams have access to this resource inventory, wherever and whenever they need it.

Modernizing airport infrastructure

Inadequate infrastructure can negatively impact the passenger experience in the form of flight delays, longer routes, and unscheduled maintenance. Digital transformation is needed to address these challenges; however, due to the complexities of delivering digitalized services, conventional approaches to service provisioning won’t work. Airports must eliminate the silos across the airport organization, specifically as they relate to IT, properly manage an increasingly complex hybrid IT environment, and keep pace with fast changing customer demands and the internal requirements for delivery.

Airlines and airports need a robust IT architecture that is extremely flexible, scalable, and able to handle thousands of sophisticated transactions. The best approach for introducing state-of-the-art IT services into the airport infrastructure begins with identifying the right software solution.

Airport IT and network operations managers need their infrastructure to manage a vast array of cable networks and IT services. They need a system that provides them full control of rollout projects, operational processes and all related information. Any new solution must deliver complete visibility into every facet of the airport infrastructure to support data-driven decisions to prevent service disruption, improve work processes based on precise workplans and shorten outage times due to faster root-cause-analysis.

A standard software solution can provide complete visibility into all network assets and can control everything from cabling and trays to documentation and issue resolutions:

IT infrastructure

To provision services quickly, network managers must have complete insight into the entire IT infrastructure from assets, to configuration items, to licenses, contracts, and documentation. By implementing the right software solution, every interaction between networks, servers, workstations, and software management, from both a technological and business viewpoint, can be optimized. Additionally, integrated license management and IT automation support can reduce IT costs and improve the quality of IT services. A complete DCIM solution will provide airport businesses with full control of data center operations regarding space, power, and cooling. The ability to assess and monitor a data center in real-time improves decision making and daily processes, all while reducing unplanned downtimes.

Cable infrastructure

Data cables and communications services are vital to the modern business world. To manage them effectively, total transparency and graphical documentation of nodes, trays, sections, and individual fiber-optic assignments in conjunction with service layers, is necessary. This will enable network managers to document, plan, and manage the entire cable and network infrastructure in an end-to-end view both in planning and actual mode.

Information and communication technologies

A better organized service portfolio equals better IT service organization. By modeling and provisioning service portfolios, the efficiency of IT activities is bound is improve. Providing the foundation for defining, managing, and monitoring business services and airport assets over their entire service lifecycle will allow network managers to match service management perspectives with IT infrastructure views.

The future of air travel

Like other industries, the travel industry must continuously adapt to market changes and new technology. For airports, the focus is on the passenger’s journey. Airports strive to make travelling a seamless and personalized experience and technology plays a pivotal role in their ability to do so.From the passenger’s perspective, this is not only desired – it is expected. Passengers expect technology to give them more personal control over their travel experience. They want airport processes to be automated, they want a single identity token for all travel processes, and they want real-time information sent directly to their mobile devices.Overall, transformation through digital processes provides an opportunity for all stakeholders in the value chain. Implementing the right technology along with a comprehensive management solution will enable airlines and airports to conquer industry challenges, reduce operational costs, and create a positive flight experience for digital passengers.

Sean Graham, General Manager of FNT Software’s office in Parsippany, New Jersey, is responsible for operations in North America. FNT Software is a leading provider of integrated software solutions for IT management, data center infrastructure management and telecommunication infrastructure management worldwide. FNT Software has more than 500 customers in various sectors including 8 of the 10 largest airports in Germany.

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