By Cheryl Stewart – Industry and Application Marketing Analyst, Genetec
Transformation used to be a word commonly used in relation to airports. Not only were they transformative in how they used their space, with an increasing emphasis on retail to help boost income, but through digital transformation they also changed how customers interacted and went about their travel. Passenger numbers were rising and the customer journey was becoming increasingly slick.
But this has all changed. Airports have been hit tremendously by the pandemic and, instead of taking a proactive outlook, many are now simply firefighting to maintain operations. Priorities have therefore shifted, and innovation that was previously being implemented has taken a back seat to more immediate requirements, which encompass three main operational concerns:
- Ensuring physical distancing measures are working
- Ensuring compliance and equipping staff to take action to achieve that goal
- Repurposing existing technology investments to yield greater return on investment
There is also another, more emotive objective that will be critical in helping airports recover – regaining customer trust. With a recent YouGov survey showing that over half of Europeans would cancel a holiday if they were expected to wear a mask or take a test on arrival, airports really are facing a crunch point.
Satisfying these objectives is not easy, especially when you consider that rules and regulations are changing constantly, and there are only so many people available to ensure compliance. Therefore, technology needs to come to the fore, not only to do the heavy lifting, but also to help optimise operations both in the short-term and for the future too.
This requires innovation. It doesn’t need to be costly or expansive, but it needs to address current and future operational requirements, both to meet the concerns I outlined above and to show passengers that they are safe to resume as normal a travel pattern as possible. But how?
Leverage security data
Security operations can often be siloed, as wider parts of the organisation don’t understand the business-intelligence it can provide. However, analysed data from cameras already in place can help airports yield trends and intelligence to help combat COVID-19 and drive compliance. For starters, it can be used to analyse passenger flow.
People counting, occupancy and threshold management, and physical distancing monitoring can all be achieved and, when fed into a central dashboard, such as Security Center, it enables staff to quickly assess the situation and give them the necessary intelligence to help take appropriate action – such as opening another check-in desk.
The problem they face is that airport infrastructure was not built for social distancing, so it’s not hard for passengers to breach the guidelines – knowingly or otherwise. Aside from video analytics creating alerts when people get too close, we’ve also seen great success with lidars helping to provide valuable audit trails. By measuring what percentage of people are abiding by the rules, it can help airports track interventions. For example, when increased numbers of warning signs are put up, does compliance improve? Are there repeat offenders? Does the presence of staff reminding customers about social distancing help? Evaluating success will be key in helping operations return to normal, so applying insights such as this can help airports find the right success metric.
But how does this help in the future? Well, people counting and occupancy management will likely be a vital requirement for years to come; but lidars can also have a wider application. They can be used for perimeter detection, which will always be a problem for airports, with such an expansive area to cover.
Guided response support
Whilst gaining insights from business intelligence is crucial, applying it is just as important. But this is often an area where people fall down, due to lack of confidence, understanding or experience. This makes compliance less likely, as a uniform approach is not possible.
Guided support applications are the best way to achieve this. It drives uniformity by automating decision making and helps operators with guided prompts in line with operational policy. Plus, by providing real-time data, all decisions can be properly informed and later audited, thanks to a clearly documented chain of events.
For example, if a member of staff were not wearing a mask, it might go unnoticed; yet could have far-reaching consequences. Guided response support, coupled with the innovative intelligence monitoring applications I outlined above, can help record instances of non-compliance, and can advise operators on next steps. From reminding the employee in question to wear the mask, through to documenting non-compliance, it gives employees the confidence to address issues and be sure they’re adhering to company policy at all times.
Before the pandemic, airports were increasingly looking at ways to optimise the passenger journey, especially the touchpoints they went through as they navigated the terminal. This thought process should not differ during the pandemic. In fact, it should be dialled up. Looking at ways touchless technology in particular can help passengers minimise any potential spread is vital in helping to make them feel comfortable once more. Be this less face-to-face contact through to potential biometric integrations, using technology to guide passengers through can help regulate numbers and inform future layout changes.
Airports have a huge task ahead of them. However, by leveraging a lot of technology they already have, they can drive innovation and gain insights to help meet future operational needs. However, perhaps the most crucial aspect of the analysis will be having one, central platform to pull all these analytics together onto a single pane of glass. Airports sometimes fall into the trap of implementing solutions to fix specific issues, instead of thinking more cohesively. Therefore, any changes made need to be integrated into the wider stack, to prevent silos and drive a real return on investment.