Gatwick Airport CIO and Fujitsu tell TechWeekEurope about how improved communications make all the difference in processing passengers
For those of us about to jet off on our summer holidays, the time spent waiting in an airport is merely a delay that must be suffered before we enjoy sea, sand and sun. But have you ever considered how IT and telecoms play a significant role in helping you get through this process as quickly and painlessly as possible?
Gatwick, the UK’s second-largest airport, processes more than around 40 million customers a year and has plans to expand this further as part of an ambitious five year IT plan.
On the face of it, these should be challenging times for the airport, as following months of debate, the Government’s Airports Commission backed the expansion of Heathrow instead of Gatwick – although the latter does remain a feasible option.
But Michael Ibbitson, the airport’s CIO, (pictured left) tells TechWeekEurope this is not the case.
“We’re making really interesting, significant progress,” he says. “The big thing has always been about making the airport more efficient and making the passenger experience better – when I look at the things we’ve been able to do…we’re making big changes at all levels”
As summer really begins to hit its stride and many of us head off to foreign shores on holiday, airports are unsurprisingly busier – and this is where the challenge comes in.
A major part of the airport’s improvement plan is working with Fujitsu to upgrade its telephony and communications infrastructure.
The Japanese technology giant has helped Gatwick move from legacy telephony systems to more reliable VoIP (voice over IP) systems, which Ibbitson says have provided a “significant improvement”.
Gatwick faced a “very common problem”, according to Andrew Brabban, Fujitsu’s head of initiatives programs, as it needed to update aging Private Branch Xchange (PBX) systems in favour of VoIP and cloud-based communications
“It was a natural partnership that we came together,” he notes.
The airport currently has around 6,000 phone end points, so finding a partner that could provide flexibility was paramount.
“We couldn’t find a solution that enabled VoIP except the Fujitsu one that allowed us to have multi-tenant with flexible capacity,” he says. “By partnering with Fujitsu we get all the features, all the multi-tenant capability, but we also get total flexibility in terms of capacity.”
And Brabban has nothing but praise for how Gatwick has worked with Fujitsu’s technology to provide innovation.
“It’s really great to have a customer that is really turning that innovation into practical things that are materially impacting the business and driving competitive advantage”
Mobility improvements such as the implementation of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes have also been popular, as just a third of the airport’s 3,000 employees are stuck behind a disk all day.Those out in the shops, concourses or on the runways need a flexible, reliable method of communication, which Fujitsu has helped bring in.
Gatwick now has around 2,000 BYOD devices connected to a flexible, segmented network, which Ibbitson describes as a “complete step change in terms of connectivity”.
BYOD has really allowed the airport’s employees to stay connected, both in and out of work, he says, with Gatwick adding services such as HR, payslips and employee intranet to the list of features that can be accessed on a mobile device.
Looking forward, expansion is very much the watchword for both Gatwick Airport and its IT systems.
In association with EasyJet, Gatwick will soon open Europe’s biggest bag drop, where 50 bag drop machines will help process customers faster than ever, providing huge efficiency improvements.
And the more comfortable passengers get, the more time they have in the airport, Ibbitson notes.
These improvements have also meant more revenues for the airport itself. Having studied analytics of passenger habits at the airport, Ibbitson and his team have calculated that every extra minute a passenger gets in the shops is worth 2p to the airport and its partners, with long haul bringing in 10p a minute.
Gatwick has major plans for 2015 and onwards, with three years of its ambitious expansion program to go, and hopes to increase passenger numbers going forward.
Ibbitson notes that the airport could possibly serve 45 million customers a year at present if needed, but new processes such as the EasyJet bag drop could push this capacity to over 50 million soon, showing Heathrow that it might not have it all its own way.
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