By Tony Fulton, Director, Industry Strategy, Construction and Engineering Global Business Unit, Oracle
Airports are among the largest, most complex and most visible civil engineering infrastructure projects in the world. In fact, one could argue that airport construction is similar to building a micro city. Like a city, an airport project requires highly coordinated management through the complex stages of planning, building and operation across a conglomeration of assets, and throughout the airport’s lengthy lifecycle.
As the numbers of these airport “cities” expand, a new urban form is emerging — the aerotropolis. An aerotropolis places airports as a “city center” surrounded by actual cities and a cluster of aviation-linked businesses with associated infrastructure around them. Such areas include Amsterdam Zuidas; Las Colinas, Texas; and South Korea's Songdo International Business District.
Indeed, airports increasingly are seen as a catalyst for economic growth throughout the world. The significance of such facilities is reflected in the nearly £458 billion dedicated to capital investments for airport infrastructure projects globally, according to the CAPA Centre for Aviation.
Critical to the success of such projects is careful coordination around the planning, investment, construction and maintenance needed to build and sustain such operations. Thoroughly planned and well-managed airport construction often results in economic boosts for a region or country. On the other hand, poor execution may result in losses of millions of pounds per day – and deter future investments.
So how can major cities deliver ever-shifting airport infrastructure on time and on budget? Airports around the world are looking to the cloud for new efficiencies and to deliver multi-layered aspects of project delivery.
Cloud Technology is Essential to Success
Cloud technology can help programs from the onset and adjust to significant unexpected variables throughout the lifecycle of a project. If there are changes in the economy that affect the expected throughput of the airport, then some course correction may be required with some elements of the project delayed and others brought forward. The ability to respond to these variables is essential, given the need to develop short-, medium- and long-term capital plans. Having all of the right data available to all appropriate stakeholders is critical to such planning. Too often, that data is trapped in silos, limiting organizations’ visibility and ability to act.
Another benefit is the ability to guarantee governance and transparency to public and private investors. Being able to provide a coordinated look across projects for maximum economic benefit lets key stakeholders see how capital is being spent – an important step in winning and maintaining support for such large, long-term projects. Here again, the cross-stakeholder data management and analysis enabled by the cloud plays a key role.
Building Challenges Can Be Mitigated with Better Visibility
The actual building of an airport is vastly complex. There are many factors to consider: collaboration, coordination, a clear audit trail, strong governance, and change management. One could argue that the construction of an airport never actually finishes. It’s ongoing, forever.
At any one time, there are many stakeholders including owner, government, regulators, airlines and financiers involved in complex infrastructure work. Managing compliance has to be done openly and accurately. Communication is essential. Cloud technology can help facilitate effective planning by providing a single source of accessible data to all key stakeholders, helping identify opportunities, and then evaluating these against strategic objectives in the planning phase of airport construction or expansion. Robust project portfolio management via cloud technology also can provide insights into which investments to make, how to prioritize their delivery against competing projects, and how best to navigate the constraints of existing budgets and legacy assets.
Building design of the airport may change – that’s a potential challenge that project planning can help mitigate. There may be a need to build or shape transport infrastructure; otherwise, the result is a shiny new airport but no means of getting to and from it easily.
In the UK and elsewhere the New Engineering Contract (NEC) standard is being applied with the aim of providing all-round transparency in tendering, contract administration and dispute resolution. Any systems deployed to manage the construction of the airport must be wholly aligned and kept in lock-step with the change management processes outlined in NEC.
These varying challenges can be well managed by cloud technology that can track and control documentation, coordinate activities across key stakeholders and inter-related projects, and manage correspondence and transaction records.
Sustain Seamless Lifecycle Operation
The lifecycle of airport assets never end. Cloud technology can ensure operational productivity for maximum ROI throughout the lifecycle. Being able to better manage maintenance schedules is made easier when all those that need to be involved can access schedules, dispatch resources and provide the necessary materials needed to the get the job done – at any time.
Cloud technology can also help organisations to manage warehouse and retail facilities, allocate space, track contracts, payments and maintenance requests. Facilities and Retail Management is vitally important in today’s aerotropolis, and much of airport revenue is generated from shops, bars and restaurants seen across terminals all over the world.
The ability to select and deliver projects that meet strategic requirements and produce ROI over an entire airport lifecycle is now imperative as travel and transportation organisations attempt to transform their businesses to operate more effectively. A failure to do so not only leads to cost and schedule overruns of each individual project but can – in the case of an aerotropolis – negatively impact the economic growth of an entire region.
In short, you’re not building an airport, you’re building an economy. Choosing the right cloud management technology gives investors, owners, operators and project teams full visibility into the entire lifecycle – and the biggest chance of success. That is surely worth investing in as aerotropolis culture continues to take off.