Skip to main content

Solving airport digital transformation challenges

10 Aug 2023
Victoria Wallace

The digital revolution is reshaping industries all over the world, and airports are no exception.

Digital airport solutions can revolutionise airport operations with automated processes and tools. They simplify and speed up processes like check-in and baggage handling, reducing waiting times and stress for passengers. These solutions also provide real-time flight updates, making planning easier. For staff, automation reduces manual workload and the risk of errors, boosting operational performance.

But, as with any change, airports may face challenges to digital transformation ranging from employee- and stakeholder-related problems to financial limitations and everything in between.

In this article, we’ll talk about the key problems airports face when they go digital and offer practical tips to solve them.

1. Resistance to change and adopting the right mindset

Digital transformation is not only about adopting new software and processes but also about entirely new, innovative ways of working your airport teams must adapt to.

But that is often easier said than done. Stonebranch found that somewhere between 70-80% of all digital transformation programs objectives fail as delivering fundamental change at scale is challenging.

In light of this, your airport organisation must have the right mindset for adopting a digital transformation. Everyone from leadership to new employees must be on the same page and open to trying new things.

As Mark Schwarz, Head of Digitalisation and Business Excellence at Zurich Airport, said at the IAR Online Summit 2022, “if you want to accelerate digitalisation, you really have to ask how can we do it in a better and smarter way, and differently to the last 5 or 10 years?”

How to bring your people on board with digital transformation

The best way to bring all your people on board with digital transformation is to:

  • Involve every member of your organisation from the outset and allow them to voice their concerns.
  • Hire open-minded, forward-thinkers.
  • Work with an experienced, innovative tech partner to drive acceleration and provide the support your airport teams require.

2. Choosing which digital airport projects to prioritise

Innovation is exciting, and it’s so easy to get carried away and overwhelmed by its possibilities. To stay focused, you need a solid foundation for your digital transformation and a starting point.

How to focus and pick a project

Decide which goal you want to impact first and which digital transformation project will move your airport towards that goal. For example, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport focused on customer experience first.

“We’re prioritising digital initiatives where we can impact passenger experience or create operational efficiencies. The reason we went in this direction is that with the return of passengers, we were suddenly faced with the pre-pandemic issues of capacity and congestion. Therefore, we made a conscious decision that when we’re looking at digitalisation, we need to look at initiatives and projects that will help us optimise and maximise the existing capacity we have,” said Deputy Aviation Director, Daver Malik at the IAR Online Summit.

Remember that regardless of the project priority, you can implement digital transformations in stages. You don’t have to do it all at once.

Test smaller areas, phase in technology and analyse results. This is crucial to the success of your digital transformation strategy and something Rezcomm can support your airport with.

3. Stakeholder buy-in for digital transformations

“It’s one thing to prioritise the right projects and have the right digital strategy, but at the end of the day, you also need money to be able to invest and the right organisation to support the whole digital strategy and acceleration,” explained Mark Schwarz at the IAR Online Summit.

And he’s right. A digital transformation at your airport can’t happen without stakeholder buy-in. They need to understand not just what the proposed changes are but also the positive impact the changes will have.

As Federico Cabrera, Airport Operations and Customer Experience Manager at Carrasco International Airport, explains, “airports are complex and big ecosystems, so it’s not only the airport and management body you need to convince, but also the stakeholders. We use a strategy called the three A’s – — airports, airlines and agencies. So we need to convince all of these stakeholders.”

How to bring stakeholders on board

Identify tangible examples of how the digital transformation will benefit different functions.

For instance, an airport’s digital initiative may enhance passenger experience and increase non-aeronautical income. But what are some other ways in which airline and agency partners might benefit? Will the airline benefit from shorter check-in times? A faster boarding process? Reduced turnover times? Will the agency see an increase in security levels and border protection from the digital technology you’re implementing?

Communicate these benefits and how they align with the airport’s long-term business goals and growth plans to stakeholders.

“Once you show the benefits, it’s easier to get buy-in from all parties,” says Federico Cabrera.

4. Managing risk at your airport

With any business change comes risk, but “the greatest risk is to not take any risks,” says Mark Schwarz.

Understandably, airports are not keen to invest upfront if they don’t know the outcome — and introducing digital technologies to your airport is a significant investment, . But ultimately, it costs more to live within your legacy systems than to make the investment.

How to manage your risk

Phase in your digital transformation strategy to prove you are on the right track and continue to see investment.

Work with an experienced and reputable airport technology partner who can help clients manage risk.

“We need to move forward with partners who are open to risk-sharing, in terms of saying let’s set up a proof of concept. Let’s have a trial and see if it works or not. That’s the way to go,” said Mark.

That’s something we wholeheartedly agree with at Rezcomm. We help our clients manage risk with live demos, strategy information, project management and ongoing support and training.

What’s more, we encourage our airport partners to progress at their own pace by plugging in our modules as and when they need to and only ever paying for the technology they are using.

5. Airport data collection

Collecting data informs decision-making and goes a long way in proving the success of digital technology. First, however, airports must consider the impact of data collection on passengers.

“If we want to have information from our passengers, we need to provide the right type of value” said Mark Schwarz at the IAR Online Summit.

If you don’t provide a reason for passengers to hand over their details, you won’t get it.

How to collect data and benefit both, the airport and passengers

Your airport must know why it’s collecting that data and what it is doing with it. Don’t collect data for the sake of collecting it.

Make this clear to passengers and provide something in return for that information to kick off their communication journey (or loyalty loop, as we like to call it). This can be a simple free coffee voucher or a discount on their next purchase.

Consider alternative ways of collecting, such as artificial intelligence. At the International Airport Review Summit, Daver Malik (Phoenix Sky Harbor) explained that the airport looks to mine valuable data from other sources….

“A key part of digitalisation is forcing us to look at different ways of solving that same problem. So, for example, at Phoenix, we’re looking at how we can use AI and commercially available data, working with partners, so we can get that understanding about our passengers without necessarily asking and looking for that piece of info from them.”

6. Reaching passengers

While we’re on the topic of passengers, considering how an airport’s digital transformation affects them. Airport digitisation initiatives are often accelerated with the passenger experience in mind; however, new digital technologies must adapt to the passengers’ needs for them to have a positive effect.

After all, there is no point in investing in new technology if passengers can’t use it properly.

How to adopt digital transformation that reaches passengers

Take a customer-centric approach to ensure they quickly get on board and succeed with the new technologies.

Focus on the tools and devices your passengers understand and feel comfortable using, making adoption easier for passengers of all ages and tech-proficiency levels.

A great example of this is the AR-enabled navigation technology used at Zurich Airport, which recognised that not everyone speaks English or one of the few languages available on airport signage. They needed to ensure that information was available to all passengers in a simple way, in the language they speak.

Daver Malik, Deputy Aviation Director/ACIO, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport says:

“We joined into a partnership with Google to create the first AR-enabled airport using the Google Indoor Live View. That had one major benefit. First of all, it’s the easiest way to navigate. You can just type in the shop or POI on Google Maps. Then, when you tilt your phone, you see the real world around you with superimposed information on top, showing you exactly where to go on a rich level in the language the person is speaking. The key is to get as much of the services as possible on the device the user has so they can search and navigate the information in the language they speak.”

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has adopted a similar customer-centric approach to digitalisation, with an interactive map the airport uses to deliver essential information to customers in real-time.

Daver explained, “We wanted the power to be in the hands of the passengers on their devices they are used to using and provide it in a way that is acceptable to them, easy to navigate and based on or an extension of the current common behaviour of our customers. Not just inside the airport but what they experience outside the airport on a day-to-day basis.”

Overcome airport digital transformation challenges with Rezcomm

No challenge is too big for our team of airport technology experts. Download our brochure, or watch our video to learn about our digital airport solutions, and get in touch to discuss how we can help you deliver your digital transformation strategy.