BAA IT revamp takes off with £400m Heathrow plan

While CIO says outsourcing deal with Capgemini will allow tech team to work on other projects...

While CIO says outsourcing deal with Capgemini will allow tech team to work on other projects...

Airport operator BAA is overhauling the tech at its six UK airports to improve services to passengers, airlines and other businesses.

The company has announced an investment of £400m in IT at Heathrow over the next five years, with additional investment in the pipeline for its other UK airports in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Southampton and Stansted.

The investment at Heathrow aims to improve the systems and infrastructure used by airlines to provide quick and secure check-in, more efficient baggage handling and better stand and gate management.

"The broader strategy is an absolute focus on making Heathrow a more resilient, more aware machine. Using IT to improve the way in which we can engage with our passengers - so better information, better communication - and using it to manage the resources of the airport so that airlines and aircraft get better service and support," BAA CIO Philip Langsdale told silicon.com. "It's a very aggressive agenda of investment."

BAA's airports will soon work as more stand-alone operations

BAA is working to make its airports - such as Edinburgh, above - more independent in terms of IT infrastructurePhoto: BAA

The other major objectives at Heathrow are to provide better systems to deal with incidents and minimise disruption, and to simplify the complex set of systems to cut costs while improving services.

The investment in BAA's other UK airports is intended to bring about a new operating model in which they are able to act more as stand-alone business units than before.

"We differentiate our thinking between Heathrow, which is a big hub and has complex IT needs, and the other airports which are more point-to-point and therefore have simpler IT needs. We are moving quite rapidly away from the model where we tried to superimpose a single operating model across all the airports to one where we have IT suitable for Heathrow - a big 70-million-passengers-a-year hub - and simpler, lower-cost IT for the smaller airports," Langsdale said.

Each airport will eventually have individual security access systems and software implementations. "So we're trying to get a more appropriate level of IT for those airports rather than a clone of what Heathrow needs," Langsdale added.

To help the business focus on getting the most out of this investment, BAA has agreed to outsource many of its IT services to a consortium led by Capgemini in a five-year deal worth £100m.

The outsourcing provider will take over the running of applications and infrastructure for about 10,000 users in May 2011 following a two-month transition period.

Capgemini will act as systems integrator to simplify BAA's IT portfolio, reduce IT costs while improving service levels and deliver services to airlines and retailers operating in BAA airports.

Among the other companies involved in the consortium are aviation IT supplier Sita, which will run networking, telecoms and radio services, and Computacenter, which will provide desktop and server support.

BAA will retain responsibility for...

...overall IT strategy, stakeholder management and the quality of IT services, although about 200 BAA staff could potentially transfer to Capgemini.

BAA currently outsources some of its IT to Computacenter and Logica but these services will be absorbed as part of the new agreement.

The outsourcing of these IT services will free up BAA's tech team to focus on several major projects that will form the basis of the company's investment programme.

The first of these projects, Real Time Heathrow, is to improve how information is managed and shared with airlines in a way that "actually helps inform and drive decisions about resource usage, rather than just giving you a picture of how the things are performing", according to Langsdale.

"Heathrow is unlike any other beast where you have to have collaboration with all the stakeholders for it to work. If the airport works but the UK Border Agency hasn't got the right people at the right time, you end up with lots of queues and people get very cross, understandably. Or if an aircraft arrives and we haven't got the ground handlers to do the baggage," he explained.

BAA also intends to improve the IT that supports its baggage systems, with particular focus on reducing the time it takes to move baggage for connecting passengers, who make up 30 per cent of all passengers who use BAA's UK airports.

The redevelopment of Heathrow Terminal 2 is a major tech project

The redevelopment of Heathrow Terminal 2 is a major part of BAA's technology investment plansImage: BAA

"We're looking at how we use IT to improve baggage connection, reduce the minimum transfer time and improve Heathrow's performance on baggage, and we're seeing some good improvements there in terms of our KPIs [key performance indicators] as a result of good use of IT," Langsdale said.

Among the technology being used to support this are RFID tags, which are used on the baggage transporters at Heathrow Terminal 5. "We're beginning to see RFID as being more commercially viable but we haven't really got any detailed pilots on that at the moment," Langsdale said.

The third major project being overseen by Langsdale and his team is the redevelopment of Heathrow Terminal 2, which requires extensive wiring and the construction of new control and server rooms.

"The rebuilding of Terminal 2 is a massive building project and part of this is also a massive IT project - it's probably one of the largest IT projects in Europe at the moment. It's like building the infrastructure of a city," Langsdale told silicon.com.

There is also a focus on back-office systems with a "fairly antique version" of Oracle being replaced with the Oracle 12 business suite in a project scheduled to take six or seven months.

"That is the first step in further renewal of our back-office systems which are pretty old and based on fairly un-joined-up IT," Langsdale said.

The final area of tech development looks to improve communications with passengers. This goal requires better online services but also working out how the organisation can push information out to mobile devices more effectively.

This investment will build on BAA's recently completed refresh of its Microsoft technology stack, which started with a move to Windows 7 towards the end of 2009 and was completed two months ago with the implementation of Server 2008, Office 2010 and Outlook 2010.

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