Embracing future of travel with Airports 4.0

MAHB rolls out plans to provide seamless connectivity among devices anywhere, anytime and in any conditions for multiple stakeholders


At Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), we are investing in our key assets and technology to transform into a service leader and redefine the total airport experience via digitalisation and enhanced efficiency.

As an aspiring service leader and a global hub, digital transformation is compulsory to catch up with the growth and trends of passengers who are expected to be more connected and have more control over their journey. In an increasingly competitive environment, airports are focused on expanding and enhancing their appeal to increase their share of air travel and tourism, including innovation and a strong focus on enhancing customer experience

While safety and security always remain the top priority, airport leaders are also focused on ways to streamline the business and operations by leveraging technology to meet goals and objectives, as well as passengers’ demands. After all, in today’s digital world, there is no escaping the power of data, so harnessing its benefits is key.

With the emergence of digital technologies enhancing airport processes, airports are becoming more data-centric to ensure fluid processes and will ultimately bring values to passengers. Just look at the numbers.

Passengers expect airports to offer services on their devices like mobiles, tablets and laptops. One report suggested that globally, airport investment into digital technologies will grow by 2020 within the next two years, with 86% of airports believing the Internet of Things (IoT) will present clear benefits in the next three years. Hence, digital transformation is inevitable.

Airports 4.0

MAHB’s plans on digital transformation is executed by embarking on the Airports 4.0 initiative. The Airports 4.0 initiative includes the transformation into a smart airport that uses “single token” data for passengers to pass through all touch points seamlessly and provide personalised services.

Needless to say, airports all over the world are getting more competitive. We are striving to improve our services and step up our game in our aim to become a global hub through digital transformation. At this juncture, we are transitioning from Airports 3.0 to the Airports 4.0 initiative and we are starting with the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) that comprises two terminals — KLIA and KLIA2 — as the catalyst.

Here is a quick take on the stages:

• Airports 1.0: Manual and analogic processes (efficient, but lack of focus on customer experience).

• Airports 2.0: Self-service processes (automation on key flow processes eg, self-check in, self-bag drop).

• Airports 3.0: Digitalisation to optimise flow monitoring and processing (eg, mobile apps).

• Airports 4.0: Focus on connectivity and realtime information by connecting all stakeholders in one fully integrated digital ecosystem.

As part of the Airports 3.0 journey, we have digitalised many processes at KLIA such as providing self-check in and self-bag drop counters, and digital way-finding through a mobile application. Thus, embarking on the Airports 4.0 initiative is timely as this would enable a fully integrated digital ecosystem promising a seamless travel experience by relying on business intelligence and big data analytics (BDA) collected across the passenger journey.

This year, as part of our transformation journey into a service leader, we expect a more passenger-friendly journey with better foot traffic flows and reduction of choke points and congestion at the airport. Through Airports 4.0, we will be able to manage passengers’ perception and sentiments better.

The Strategy

Airports 4.0 is a digital framework encompassing infrastructure enhancement, capacity development and digital innovation that aims at terminal optimisation, operational efficiency, revenue generation and regulatory compliance. At the same time, this will also lead to the ultimate customer experience.

It comprises six main components, namely its driver and enablers, IoT/industrial IoT (IIoT) framework, supporting building blocks consisting of elements such as intelligent enterprise, cyber and information security, BDA and artificial intelligence (AI). The remaining two components are the seven solutioning clusters and the Unified Digital Platform (UDP), dubbed as the lifeline for Air- ports 4.0.

As of now, all the main components are in place and we are rolling out in stages various initiatives that fall under the solutioning clusters such as flow monitoring and management; process automation; and customer engagement.

Some of the initiatives are designed as minimum viable products and being implemented in the form of a pilot or proof of concept (PoC). This is to allow the need to pivot or go for commercialisation without further delays.

At the same time, we must recognise that the essence of the digitalisation process lies in providing realtime information of the services and facilities available at the airport. It requires integrating the information feeds from our stakeholders and this is no easy task.

Our partnership with OpenText Corp — a Canadian-based provider of enterprise information management product and services — started in November 2017, with their role as the solutions provider for the BDA implementation at MAHB.

To date, we have completed the UDP, mobile app, Washroom Response Management System and Washroom Inspection Management System with several more to be released in a few weeks’ time.

Deploying BDA

This brings us to the question of how BDA drives Airports 4.0. Airports 4.0 is anchored by BDA initiatives. Big data allows a company to make meaningful, strategic adjustment that minimise costs and maximise results. A digital transformation is not complete unless a business adopts big data. The UDP is the engine running our BDA.

Anchored by the data lake to manage the analytics and AI or machine learning capabilities, it will be able to transform data into information, information into insights, and insights into decisions and actions. Imagine the 60 million passengers per annum going through KUL and the ability to convert the data collected into something that is extremely valuable.

With OpenText Magellan, this AI-powered analytics platform will be able to model and simulate the information gathered from the data lake and provide predictive and prescriptive solutions towards problem solving.

Meanwhile, the data feeds coming from various IoT/IIoT to the data lakes could be in the form of elevators, people movers, aerotrains, as well as cameras, beacons and sensors. It is important to have an overarching IoT/IIoT framework that can capture all the data coming from various sources and in a multitude of formats.

There is no one-size-fits-all IoT/IIoT solution. However, the framework needs to be robust enough to ensure flexibility in terms of options and scale.

Passenger Journey

Passengers expect airports to offer services on their devices like mobiles, tablets and laptops (Source: MAHB)

So, what does this mean to passengers? With Airports 4.0, passengers can travel smart and seamlessly with the use of a mobile app and being identified upon checking-in to churn out the single token data that will be used at all other checkpoints till the boarding gate.

Imagine this. From your home, you have downloaded the MYairports app that will let you know the best time to start your journey from home and reach the boarding gate in time. Bear in mind, the traffic on the road and at the airport, as well as the queuing time at the checkpoints at the airport have been accounted for. When you reach the airport, you proceed to the automated check-in which will churn out that single token data of yours that will be disseminated to all relevant parties such as the airlines, immigration and customs.

Then you go through security screening effortlessly with automation in place. You don’t even have to take out your belongings. Follow the app to proceed to the shortest immigration queue. Then spend your time shopping at your favourite outlets as the single token will prompt offerings from your previous shopping experience. You then board your flight happily with- out having to show your passport and boarding ticket. Biometrics technology such as facial recognition will be part of the single token data collected.

The immediate focus for this digitalisation journey is on KUL. What about the other international airports in Malaysia? There is no one-size-fits-all solution. MAHB is proactively working with technology providers to ensure solutions are unique and tailored to cater to each airport’s needs.

While the roll-out of the digitalisation is anchored at KUL, the other international airports are not sidelined in the process. For example, the Kuching International Airport is in the forefront from the e-commerce angle.

We are jointly creating a PoC on the self-service solutioning with IER, a French company, for the Langkawi International Airport as its passenger profiling differs from other airports. For Penang, we are focusing on terminal optimisation, where digitalisation will be supporting the infrastructure development to achieve the goal.

It is worth noting that various self-service digitalisation initiatives such as self-check in via kiosks and self-bag drop are implemented simultaneously in KUL, as well as the other international airports in Malaysia.

Although it is obvious that KUL will be the initial beneficiaries of the digitalisation efforts, we are working diligently to ensure how the roll-out could be implemented promptly across other airports, factoring issues such as technology and infrastructure readiness.

With the IoT and IIoT frameworks in place, MAHB is capable of providing comprehensive seamless digitalisation of airports through business intelligence and a fully integrated ecosystem.

Our end goal is to provide seamless connectivity among devices anywhere, anytime and in any conditions for multiple stakeholders, aiming at improving efficiency, enabling innovations and transforming our business with digital services especially on BDA.

  • Azli Mohamed is the chief strategy officer at MAHB.