5G, Hong Kong International airport and the importance of moving fast in a digital world
Thu 23 Jan 2020 | Erich Gerber
Not too many companies are advanced in their 5G deployments, but Hong Kong International Airport is
In a recent article, I wrote about the amazing customer experiences to be had in airports such as Changi and ways to enable that customer experience. Here, I propose to extend my stopover by looking at what goes on landside, rather than airside, and how one carrier is leading the way in using the latest digital tools to reimagine operations.
Just as Changi embodies how airport operators are reworking the customer experience, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is a template for how smart use of data, communications and infrastructure can reinvent the back-end processes that enable passengers to move swiftly from point A to B.
My eureka moment here was hearing that the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) had applied for a 5G licence so that HKIA has its destiny in its hands with a dedicated and reliable network that removes any dependency on third-party carriers. Not too many companies are advanced in their 5G deployments, but Hong Kong is.
Many IT decision makers might think that 5G isn’t something they need to worry about too much for now. However, HKIA wants to enhance efficiency with robotics and automation and optimise workflows via data analytics. Being an early adopter makes sense because fast-moving companies are thinking ahead, and they don’t want to be disrupted by market entrants. Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook and Google have an insatiable appetite for adjacent markets and other company leaders should worry that they are next in line.
An example: digital twin technology. This is essentially a way to build bridges between the physical and virtual worlds. HKIA is using the technology to create a virtual rendering of the airport for operational models and training. Better to do this in simulation and get it right than try in the less forgiving sandbox of the physical world.
HKIA is also working on a high-speed, sensor-equipped baggage system, using robotics for cleaning tasks, and even studying how it might use driverless vehicles on the apron to accelerate cargo and baggage delivery. AI-suffused, video-enabled analytics will help to manage queues, make optimal use of the workforce, and speed up baggage handling and catering. This isn’t just about increasing efficiency, but also about health and safety. For example, HKIA has been collaborating with a local research institution to detect foreign objects on runways.
HKIA is just an example, but the lessons apply across the board. Many organisations are customer-centric and place customer data and the impact of that data at the centre of their business strategies. Some call that customer intimacy, others will call it the customer journey or customer experience. However, data is the asset that allows organisations to place customers at the centre of their business designs.
In HKIA’s case, it’s the communications medium that supports a large Internet of Things network that will calibrate events all over the airport and generate the data for analytics. Whatever your business, 5G and other new technologies are platforms for new thinking. Today, it’s not enough to be a fast-follower. The ability to control data and leverage the insights from information is the goal at the end of the transformation journey. After this journey, you won’t have written another page, or another chapter – you will have written an entire new book.
Your business is digital and digital companies invest heavily in R&D and software. Are you doing that? Or are you stuck in the departure lounge?