Smart data hubs

ACI World’s senior director for security, technology and innovation, Billy Shallow, considers how technology and the smart use of data will continue to transform the airport industry.

If we look at the glass being half full instead of half empty, recent flight delays and disruption could actually be seen in a positive light as it means that the aviation industry’s recovery from COVID and return to pre-pandemic traffic levels is well underway, and the world is fully open to business.

ACI World forecasts that traffic levels in 2023 will be at 92% of 2019 levels and this is an exciting time for aviation. The pent-up demand has demonstrated that passengers want to and are travelling again.

However, we cannot go back to how airports were managed before. Building more infrastructure is not a sustainable way to manage the expected level of growth.

Airports need to become smarter, making use of digital transformation to become more efficient and make journeys as seamless, safe, and secure as possible, whilst utilising undervalued opportunities such as through enhanced non-aeronautical revenues.

As an industry, IT spend is projected to continue its steady year-on-year growth since 2020 to support this push for digitalisation, with 93% of airports expecting their IT spend to stay the same or increase in 2023 compared to 2022. Last year’s airport IT spend rose to an estimated $6.8 billion.

Airports across the world are investing in key technologies to improve the passenger journey, reducing bottlenecks in the process, and optimising resources. Whilst some of these technologies are not new, such as self-bag drops and biometric journeys, there are new innovations that can really shape the journey of the passenger.

Business intelligence solutions are also at the forefront of airport IT investment priorities, with 93% or more airports planning business intelligence initiatives for asset management and flight operations by 2025.

Data has been seen as the new oil: The most valuable asset in the world. Airports are becoming more advanced in how they set up and manage Smart Data Hubs. A Smart Data Hub takes a holistic approach to delivering tangible business benefits from investments in enterprise data capabilities.

This often includes:

  • Providing strategic business capability to realise the full potential of data
  • Enabling all stakeholders to connect, share data responsibly, and drive confident decision-making
  • Allowing users to extract meaningful insight into enterprise performance and its key drivers
  • Empowering users to share data between processes and provision data for operational reporting, analytics, and Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence
  • Offering a flexible and cost-effective approach as the capability can be implemented as a basic functionality or scaled based on the airport data maturity level and business needs

The core components of a Smart Data Hub includes culture, governance, data providers, data consumers, people, and technology. All of these foundations should be carefully understood before embarking on a data journey.

ACI World will soon release its Smart Data Hub Handbook, enabling airports to fully plan, prepare, build, and manage an application of a Smart Data Hub, and also, allowing for the assessment of each airports’ data maturity application.

ACI World is looking to support airports with their data programme, which will enable opportunities for airports to improve operational efficiency, increase revenue, and provide an improved passenger experience.

Later this year, in a global first; ACI World will create and launch a data exchange platform, allowing multiple data sources from airports to be consumed by different firms, such as large tech firms, travel agents, airlines, and airport partners.

The proof of concept allows for live security wait time data from a number of the world’s airports to be provided through the Application Programme Interface (API) Platform, delivering information across multiple digital channels and reducing integration costs for airports.

This wait time data already exists on the airport’s apps or websites but would now be more easily accessible to passengers through different ways, offering them a better chance to plan for their journey from home to the departure lounge.

The idea was born out of ACI World’s Health Measures Portal, where 338 airports shared health information data during the pandemic, in an ACRIS compliant and standardised format, and was displayed to 1.2 billion devices in the Apple Maps application.

Data is also re-shaping some of the airport operational processes. Zooming in on the security process, the most stressful part of an airport journey, there are key initiatives that will fundamentally see how the journey becomes more efficient over the next five years.

The use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning data in the security checkpoint, will enable unseen levels of efficiency in the screening process whilst improving the level of security effectiveness.

Across the world, the use of advanced technologies such as computed tomography machines that can detect explosives are either being implemented by airports or mandated by regulators. Therefore, explosives are automatically detected, in turn reducing the threat risk.

The further exciting developments include Automated Prohibited Item Detection (APIDS) algorithms that have the capability to automatically detect other threats such as guns, knives, and weapons.

ACI World’s Smart Security programme works closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Working Group on Innovation to trial such technologies and understand the best practices of adopting new technology. The use of data imagery will help automate the process, improving security whilst speeding up passenger journeys, with the potential to eliminate queues.

There are countless opportunities to transform the aviation industry through technology and innovation. Data should be used as a strategy by airports and the industry as a whole to drive performance, enhance the offering, and deliver a smoother and more efficient journey for the passenger with better integrated processes.

Data does, however, need to be clean to be effective. The old saying of if you put garbage data in, you’ll get garbage out continues to be relevant. We certainly don’t need anymore garbage in the world.

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