London City Airport gets smart and shows channel development flightpath

Joe Dignan, Chief Analyst, Public Sector Technology

City CIOs need to understand how technology can be used to make their arena more economically competitive. There is a school of thought that says that the main competitive edge for a city is not location but accessibility – and on a global stage that means the airports. Indeed, many cities are becoming transport hubs where the city supports the airport rather than the other way around.

London City Airport is about to develop its offering for the capital’s business people with the creation of a “smart airport experience”. The UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has awarded the airport and its partners, Living PlanIT and Milligan (a retail specialist), funding under the Internet of Things Demonstrator competition.

The Internet of Things (IOT) is the increasing ability of physical objects to communicate with one another and the use of this continuum of data to provide enhanced services to the consumer.

Airports are a useful microcosm of the wider city environment

Airports are a wonderful microcosm of the wider city environment as they are an ecosystem that includes transport, retail, ticketing, catering, accommodation, safety, sustainability, and logistics.

Just like a city, airports require a common open operating system that allows for the sharing of data between inanimate objects, and surfacing that data as information in the right way and on the right devices to the benefit of consumers. In addition, a common interoperable and open platform facilitates the creation of specific applications tailored to the environment.

Living PlanIT has developed an Urban Operating System that facilitates the above and has teamed up with Milligan and industry partners such as IBM, Cisco, Philips, and Hitachi to develop a common operating platform that facilitates communication and also ensures concomitant security and privacy.

Examples of what this means in practice include tracking the movement of people and their luggage in realtime. This makes sure that the right people and their luggage are on the right planes but will also allow you as a consumer to track your luggage on your smart device in much the same way as you can track delivery of a parcel now.

Airports such as London City Airport have a high proportion of commuters who make the same journey, usually on the same service, each week. With the right application and permissions it would not be difficult to make the journey of those customers easier by providing, for example, the ability to book a particular table with refreshments at a stated time and having the correct foreign currency for your journey delivered to your table.

A further example is offers and information being delivered in a preferred language. Information in UK airports is generally delivered in English but it would be possible with the appropriate app and permissions to recognize the location of where a phone is registered and display the information in the appropriate language.

The company that has developed the common operating platform, Living PlanIT, is also involved in the Raptor SME Project based in the Greenwich Digital Peninsula which is also supported by the TSB. There they hold regular SME Apps days where they invite small businesses and individuals to create apps directed toward particular situations. There are a number of SMEs already involved in the London City Airport program such as AppSherpas, Critical Software, Crowd Vision, and Redbite Solutions.

Smart thinking can help tackle the wider market

The London City Airport project is designed as a large-scale demonstration project where lessons can be learned and success can be replicated elsewhere.

It is an important program that builds on the UK’s ability to foster a competitive environment for London and at the same time develop the “smart” thinking that can be scaled to tackle the largest potential IT market in the world, the Future Cities market.

The sheer size and scale of the issues facing Future Cities often makes it difficult to know where to start. Airports provide a useful demonstration environment to deploy technology that allows many of the issues facing cities to be trailed and lessons learned. It is possible to do the same thing with university campuses, hospital complexes, and large shopping malls.

A taste of things to come for public sector IT vendors

The London City Airport example shows the direction of travel for partnership and channel development. The Ovum view is that the Future Cities market will drive far greater convergence of verticals in the public sector space. This means traditional public sector IT vendors will need to work closely with verticals such as retail and financial services, as well as a myriad of SMEs.

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