Cloud and mobility take off at Gatwick Airport: an interview with CIO Michael Ibbitson

By Danny Palmer
07 Aug 2014 View Comments

Gatwick is the UK's second largest airport and the biggest single runway airport in the world. There are 23,500 on-site employees who help with the travelling needs of 34 million passengers each year.

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Overseeing the large IT infrastructure on which the airport relies to serve its customers is Gatwick Airport CIO Michael Ibbitson.

Ibbitson and his 100-strong team are responsible for IT across the whole airport, including services used by ground handlers, retail staff and everybody in between. It's an IT estate that includes over 100 applications across a network of 25,000 endpoints.

Flights arrive and leave Gatwick Airport 24 hours a day, and Ibbitson described how its new Airport Collaborative Decision Making System (ACDM) analyses data about each flight in an attempt to make the airport as efficient as possible.

"It's about integrating data from the control tower in terms of sequencing of aircraft - is the aircraft coming down, is it staffed, is it fuelled, where is it going, does it have the food it needs - and understanding where it is in the process of taking off," he told Computing.

"[ACDM] is about creating visibility and we've created a portal for all the airport stakeholders so they can see their own operations - so if you're EasyJet you can see EasyJet - giving everyone a consistent view of the data in order to improve efficiency."

The success of ACDM, Ibbitson explained, will be judged on whether it enables Gatwick to achieve its goal of increasing the number of flights it handles per hour from 48 to 55. 

"If you never have a time when you're waiting for somebody to take off or there's not too long a gap between aircraft, you save seconds on each flight," he said.

"But over an hour that adds up and allows more aircraft, and more flights coming in and out the airport means more revenue for everyone."

It isn't just on the runway that Gatwick is attempting to harness the power of data, the airport is also gathering as much information as it can about the retailers operating within its buildings to drive improvements.

"It's about getting all that together to understand the spending, what seasonable habits are, what passengers are looking for, then to try and improve the retail mix to make sure we maximise revenue," he said.

Despite the emphasis on data, Gatwick Airport is in the process of consolidating its data centres down from three to one, as Ibbitson looks to take advantage of third-party solutions, such as Amazon Web Services, which hosts the ACDM system.

"We wanted an infrastructure we felt was resilient, and having assessed the options between Azure - which we do use as well - AWS and Google Cloud, we felt AWS was currently the most mature," Ibbitson explained, but insisted Gatwick has no intention of restricting itself to one cloud provider.

"We have a policy that we want to make sure we can host our applications anywhere and we don't want to lock ourselves into one infrastructure provider," he said.

However, the increased use of cloud has brought challenges for Gatwick Airport, including how best to harness applications on mobile devices.

"One of the challenges was how do you get the information to devices? We quickly realised that on-premise solutions don't lend themselves well to being available on a tablet anywhere in the world," he said, before describing how Gatwick has deployed Box's cloud collaboration solution in order ensure secure data and file sharing.

"A key element with Box was security," Ibbitson explained. "Box had all the required security compliance certifications we needed to make sure our data was protected if it was held in their data centres," he said, adding that a command and control feature which can disable any account in the result of a lost device "was the overriding reason to use it".

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