The smart airport and the Internet of Things
As airports become more digitally connected, the Internet of Things (IoT) can open up a world of opportunities. Much more than merely improving efficiency, IoT can transform the traveler experience, increasing efficiency and generate new revenue. This requires collaboration between stakeholders, and airports should carefully craft implementation strategies that aim for incremental quick wins over “big bang” transformations.
- IoT as a technology architecture
- Potential benefits of IoT applications
- How IoT creates value for airports
- The traveler experience
- Airport operations experience
IoT as a technology architecture
IoT is a way of bringing together different enabling technologies in a specific way to do something new. But how exactly do enabling technologies come together to form an architecture? Perhaps the best way to understand how these technologies come together to create value is through an example from an airport:
- The airport needs to locate its nonmotorized ground service equipment to maintain it more regularly. GPS tags affixed to the equipment function as sensors to create a thread of digital information about the location of a specific piece of the equipment.
- A network of radios communicates that information back to a central server.
- The server aggregates the location of one cart with the location, type, and maintenance schedule for all of the other carts.
- All this data is analysed together to create a plan for which carts need to be retrieved today and undergo maintenance.
- With that information in hand, workers act, bringing in the right pieces of equipment for maintenance on time.
When workers use the information created by IoT to take a new action, the digital information has created value in the real world — in this case, allowing for proper maintenance and greater uptime for ground service equipment.
Because IoT is an architecture, what is important is not the specific technologies involved but rather the flow of information through the steps of the information value loop. Since that information can be about anything, the exact amount and type of value created by IoT are limited only by the business problems airports need to solve.
Potential benefits of IoT applications
We see three principal classes of benefits from IoT, and, in selecting the IoT capability or set of capabilities that are “right” for them, airports should consider their goals for IoT implementation:
1. Operational efficiency
2. Strategic differentiation
3. New revenue
IoT is already in use in airports in many different ways, such as in traveler information systems, traveler traffic monitoring, baggage systems, and facilities management. Most of these uses focus on increasing efficiency. Other uses of IoT, such as enhancing security effectiveness, can improve both efficiency (maintaining throughput with fewer machines or staff) and differentiation (shorter and faster lines for a better traveler experience). Finally, other use cases can directly generate new revenue such as the use of geofencing to gather fees from rideshares. According to our survey, 76 percent of respondents using IoT indicated they used it for efficiency/optimization, compared with 58 percent for customer experience/differentiation and only 35 percent for new revenue.
How IoT creates value for airports
Airports can use IoT to improve efficiency, differentiate their strategy, and generate new revenue. These benefits of IoT can be applied to any aspect of airport operations. Since airport operations are typically split into two, air side and land side, we will explore how IoT can impact both below:
The traveler experience
IoT can be applied at every stage of a traveler’s journey from arrival curb to gate. For example, IoT way-finding applications could be relevant at the parking and arrival stage and the check-in stage. The figure below maps common IoT solutions to each stage as well as the airport stakeholders involved in the implementation.
The traveler experience
Airport operations experience
Much like a traveler’s journey, operations at an airport can also be seen through the lens of an aircraft’s journey from arrival to departure, and IoT implementations can similarly be mapped across each stage and the stakeholders involved for each stage.
Airport operations experience
Flying into the future
Regardless of the technology or application involved, IoT can have the biggest impact on airports when the technology is incorporated into the core business model.
For example, IoT might be used to facilitate a seamless door-to-door experience for air travelers: A single platform that can order and pay for rides on rail or taxi, handle travel documents, and order additional services could open up entirely new business opportunities for airport operators currently dependent on retail sales and parking receipts and greater customer interaction for airlines and other stakeholders. This mobility-as-a-service approach is exactly the type of IoT-based new business model that could deliver a new future to airports. Other opportunities may include biometric check-in, variable services or prices based on wait times, and individualized boarding processes.
However, only time—and the detailed picture that IoT data can create—will tell what the future holds.