How OutSystems Powers Airport Operations to Improve the Experience of 55 Million Passengers Each Year

In 2003, when a leading European airport operator started working with OutSystems, they wanted to provide real-time flight information to staff and agents on their mobile phones. Now over fifteen years later, they have a business-critical, integrated suite of over 170 applications that powers almost every aspect of security, commerce, operations, and customer experience across ten airports. The result—increased efficiency and better customer experience for over 55 million passengers annually.

 

 179 Applications running on OutSystems

179 applications running on OutSystems

 Used by over 7,400 3rd parties, and 1,500 staff

Used by over 7,400 third parties and 1,500 staff

 194,000 app hits per day

194,000 app hits per day

 67 million notifications in 2017 summer season

67 million notifications in 2017 summer season

“The systems we have deployed using OutSystems are like the nervous system for our airports. They ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time to maximize turnaround and ensure customers have the best-possible experience.” Senior IT Manager

Get the Right People to the Right Plane in the Right Place at the Right Time

Challenge - In 2018, more than 55 million passengers traveled through this operator’s ten airports. Operational efficiency, security, and safety are paramount to getting passengers safely and promptly on their way.

Back in 2003, when the airport operator started working with OutSystems, many of their operational processes involved disjointed information sources and inefficient information sharing.

Multiple phone calls and manually composed texts and emails were required to get almost anything done. Just getting the cleaning staff to the right airplane, at the correct gate at the right time often required heroic efforts when arrival times and gate numbers changed.

The company needed an IT partner that could automate such communication. They wanted staff and agents (including refueling drivers, baggage handlers, coach drivers, cleaners, security, and passenger assistance staff) to have access to real-time flight information on their mobile phones or through a browser. Then, it would be easy to have the right people in the right place at the right time even if arrival times and gate numbers changed. The goal–improved efficiency, punctual flight turnarounds, and better customer experience.

From a technology perspective, they needed to automate communications and improve support for mobile staff to cope with rapidly-growing passenger numbers while improving customer experience.

Key technical selection criteria included:

  • A backend server that could aggregate multiple sources of flight information.
  • The ability for mobile users to subscribe to receive updates on specific flight information via text messages.
  • A web frontend for real-time delivery of flight information.
  • Strong integration capability so that the system could connect and evolve alongside many other systems.

OutSystems met the technical requirements, and even though OutSystems was then little more than a start-up, the airport operator became one of our first clients in 2003.

Establishing an Architecture for Rapid Application Development

Solution - Although the goal was to deliver flight information updates to web pages and mobile devices, starting at the front end was impossible. There were too many different information sources and protocols. The first step was to build an information hub. This central database (built on OutSystems) draws on multiple information sources including IATA seasonal flight schedules, national air traffic control, and the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (“EuroControl”). These information-feeds provide continuous updates.

The hub makes real-time flight information available via web services, including a gateway for SMS text notifications. Back in 2004, staff and authorized third parties could quickly subscribe to receive text alerts for specific flights that were on their roster. They would then receive instant updates whenever flight information changed, for example, new arrival times or gate numbers. Staff with access to a browser could also get access to the same information and subscribe for specific alerts.

Initially deployed in 2004 at five airports, the system has significantly evolved ever since, and all the ten airports operated by the company now rely on it. Thanks to the open web services that the hub provides, it is now easy to create new mobile apps and web-based apps that consume the data it provides. Back in 2004, text messages were the best option for mobile staff, as smartphones were yet to be invented. Nowadays, although SMS text alerts are still supported, most users now use an OutSystems native mobile app to receive notifications and reminders. This has the extra benefit of providing off-line information access, and reminders.

Ten Digitally Connected Airports

Results - This System was just the start, and over the past 14+ years, the company has used OutSystems to build a suite of 179 applications that cover almost every aspect of airport operation. Many of these applications connect to web services that the original Information Hub provides. These applications fall into five domains as summarized below:

  • Aviation Security, Border Control and Facilitation
  • Commercial, Development, Retail and Concessions
  • Management and Operations
  • Customer Service / Passenger Experience
  • Other Systems

Today, OutSystems touches almost every area of airport operations. Just a single flight can involve 90 notifications, such as arrival time changes, gate changes, and so forth. OutSystems has automated all these notifications so that mobile staff (like fuel providers, security staff, ground staff, baggage handlers, and cleaners) are always in the right place at the right time.

Given the business-critical nature of these systems, they have to be 100% fault-tolerant. Keeping the applications up-to-date is a continuous process with bi-weekly deployments. This relentless deployment schedule is made easier by the OutSystems single-click, unbreakable deployment capability.

By the Numbers

The following metrics help illustrate the business-critical role played by the airport operator’s suite of OutSystems applications:

  • 7,400 stakeholder users
  • 1,500 employee users
  • Growth of 5,600 users over the past seven years
  • 194,000 application hits per day
  • Average of 90 notifications per flight
  • Over 67 million notifications during the summer season
  • 50 external subscriber organizations including airlines, tax, and immigration authorities, handlers, fuel companies, etc.)
  • 179 applications, 3,772 Database tables, >4,700 web screens.
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