Digital Transformation at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport: A Conversation with Aaldert Hofman

By The Open Group

Global air travel is growing at exponential rates. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air travel is expected to double by 2035, growing from 3.8 billion travels in 2016 to 7.2 billion.

Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam is already feeling the effects of this growth. According to Aaldert Hofman, Lead Enterprise Architect for the Schiphol Group, the airport has been working to accommodate this trend through digital transformation, using a strategy of “bytes not bricks” to better manage crowds, accommodate airline schedules and provide a better passenger experience.

We spoke to Hofman in advance of The Open Group Amsterdam 2017 event where he will be a keynote speaker on October 23rd. He discussed Schiphol Airport’s digital transformation, and how they’re using Enterprise Architecture to enable the changes that will allow the airport to accommodate large increases in passengers.

What was the impetus for doing digital transformation at Schiphol Airport?

About two years ago, we realized that, up until then, we were often in a reaction mode between IT and the business. It was quite difficult to bring new technology and possibilities into reality. The business was entirely focused on operational excellence, so we introduced a new IT strategy where we proposed and sketched out what technology could bring to the business. We went through a technology push with a complete business mindset. We knew already by then what the business strategy was, where we could improve business processes and how we could help them. So we pushed it from the IT side and then together with the business we elaborated on two main themes where we could go into additional transformation.

What were the end goals of the transformation? What did you want to accomplish at Schiphol Airport?

You must realize that in an airport, the customer of the airport is usually the airline. As a passenger, of course, you travel through the airport, but you don’t have to pay the airport for being there. Of course, we hope you buy some stuff or consume some food and beverages and you can do many things, but our real customer is the airline.

In our digital journey we set two goals—one was for the airline. The airline wants to have a smooth and cost-efficient operation in the airport. We want to use smart operations, proactive coordination. The other goal was to bring a seamless passenger journey to our passengers. Our own goal was that if we had very satisfied airlines and passengers, then our goal is to be Europe’s preferred airport and the best digital airport in the world.

What were your criteria for being the best digital airport?

When our Chief Information Officer claimed that we wanted to be the best digital airport in the world, that title didn’t exist. Within the airline and airport community, the Airports Council International (ACI), we started a discussion of what a digital airport should look like and how we could measure that. In the past few years, together with our international colleagues from other airports we started to define what a digital airport is, how it should be measured and what are the typical aspects, etc. We started the discussion about the new phenomena called the digital airport.

Towards the passenger, which is what’s appealing to most people, we want to provide personal and relevant information. We want to provide information that is really fit for your journey. In kind of an ultimate dream we would say, when you enter our airport there’s only one flight and only one plane, and that’s your flight and your plane. Nothing else matters.

On the other hand, for the airlines, we want to provide airport control in which we can make certain to the highest degree possible that every plane, every flight will depart on time with all passengers and luggage aboard in a safe and secure way. But for the airline, on-time performance, on-time arrival and on-time departure are the most significant KPIs.

How was Enterprise Architecture used to facilitate the transformation? How were the TOGAF® standard and ArchiMate® modeling language used for the transformation?

Based on this architecture vision, we defined a kind of business architecture and business services that had to be in place in the ultimate target architecture. Based on that we also defined the target application architecture and infrastructure architecture. We used Enterprise Architecture, and especially the ArchiMate language, to document this and we used the TOGAF standard for common terminology. We do know the TOGAF standard and the Architecture Development Method (ADM), and we did not use it strictly. But we did use it as we went along. Especially later on in the project, we reused that in a very significant way for our own purposes. That was at the moment last year when the Board of Directors issued a statement that we had to build another departure hold in seven months to accommodate the growth of the number of passengers. The number of passengers across the world is growing, but at our airport the growth was above average.

What have been the results?

What we were able to do given the fact that we had documented the business processes in Enterprise Architecture using the ArchiMate language; we could use that as a blueprint for all the business services that had to be in place in the new departure hold. That gave us a lead in time—we could reuse it and we knew that it was correct. It saved us a couple of months of work. It was using a blueprint and figuring out we need these kind of business functions. We need these kind of applications and we will use this infrastructure. We have to order this product—and that was realized within a couple of months.

How has the airport changed since starting transformation? What are the new benefits for consumers?

We still struggle with the number of passengers because the growth is still extraordinary. But our digital transformation—which is still going on—enables us to cope with that growth by providing our passengers personal and relevant information, although we still have huge ambitions in bringing that even further. We can help the airlines in maintaining their on-time performance in departures even with this huge growth. If we would not have had this digital transformation enabling passengers and airlines, we probably would be stuck in the middle of a crisis with too many passengers. It’s like a statement from our Chief Digital Officer—his statement is ‘digital transformation means that you use digital capabilities to solve problems that you can no longer solve in the physical world.’ Our natural way of reacting is that we will build more bricks, we will bring more concrete to the problem at the airport. But we have to transform from bricks to bytes. We have to start thinking that more bricks won’t bring the solution – more bytes will bring the solution. Sometimes we can avoid having more bricks by bringing a digital solution.

You mentioned the passenger experience and being delivered customized information tailored to your flight—can you give an example of what the passenger experience is at Schiphol Airport now?

We are still making progress, but as a passenger it’s easy to select your flight and then you get your personal itinerary, you can get info on how to walk to your gate. As a passenger you will find what is the time schedule for your gate; how many minutes will it be to go through security; how many minutes you will have to go shopping; how many minutes do you have left for food? And if you inquire, ‘Where can I have coffee, where can I have food?’ you will be shown only the restaurants that are near you. So you will find only the airport services that are in reach for you—and you will not find the services that are at the other end of the airport. We focus, and we only bring you the services that are between you and your gate.

It’s being delivered via mobile app, but not only in our app. It’s also that we want to provide this data through APIs. We provide our data in open APIs because we prefer that other parties—other airlines, other commercial parties—use our data in their app. Of course, we have our own app, our own website, but we realize that not 100% of the passengers in the airport will have the Schiphol app. They will use the KLM app or Delta or the United app or you name it. And we will provide the data to KLM so that they can use that data in their app.

Are there plans for additional transformation projects at the airport?

We consider it a journey. It’s not a program with a distinct start and finish date. We expect it to last at least through the end of next year, 2018. By then, we hope that the digital mindset is incorporated in the mindset of business and in IT, and then we’ll go on with that journey.

@theopengroup #ogAMS

Aaldert Hofman leads the Strategy and Enterprise Architects team within Schiphol Group.  Previously he focused on core business domains as Passenger Services and Airside Operations. Before joining Schiphol Group in 2012, he worked as an Enterprise Architect with Capgemini for over 20 years.


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