How One Airport is Reaching for the Cloud

Picture an airport, sitting on 18,000 acres, with 50 buildings, and 1,800 direct employees. Add on the 67,000 people who report to work at the airport every day, and another 176,000 passengers passing through the terminals on a typical day, and you have a business that needs efficiency and scale to run effectively.

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That’s exactly the challenge Steve Shaffer, CIO of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, faced when he arrived at the question “to do the Cloud or not to do the Cloud.” He chose to reach for the Cloud.

“I think you have an expectation when you come to the airport that you want it to be like other experiences. And we ruin it for you,” joked Shaffer. “The word we use is, we want to choreograph your individual experience and do that 67 million times per year.”

To do this efficiently, Shaffer decided to start by incorporating the Cloud for employees.

“We got into the Cloud less from the traditional make-stuff-simpler idea but more to scale—to make our employees productive in the field rather than tethered to a desk or data center,” he said.

Matt Calkins, CEO of Appian, the software platform DFW uses to run more than 40 mobile apps, says Shaffer’s decision to “do the Cloud” is “transforming the way an airport runs.”

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“A digital transformation means organizations become agile and responsive, and they do that through software,” said Calkins. “There’s a race, and the Cloud helps everybody go faster.”

The airport started using the Cloud to eliminate paper and reduce non-green energy usage among airport employees. With the success of the first roll out of automation and mobility in the Cloud, they have now moved on to making processes easier and improving experiences for employees, vendors and passengers.

“The Cloud takes away risk from developing projects. The Cloud allows you to do more projects more fearlessly,” explained Calkins. “The freedom to use and scale as needed makes the Cloud magical.”

The magic happens in the most basic airport functions, like keeping bathrooms clean. Customers can report that a bathroom needs cleaning just by tapping a red unhappy face on a wall-mounted, encased iPad on the bathroom wall. The Cloud sends an alert directly to a janitor’s iPod, and the janitor knows exactly where to go to perform cleaning services. A similar feedback system is also available when passengers leave customs and immigration, giving people the ability to voice their feedback in real time.

Shaffer likes to compare people’s airport expectations to what they experience shopping online from Amazon.

“The future is, how can I have a different relationship with the 67 million passengers each year that move through the airport?” said Shaffer. “Good airports have vast amenities that you may not know about. DFW has a yoga studio. So if I know you like yoga, I can tell you about it. … What if I recognize that you are arriving late? I can send you a message that we will comp you one time for valet parking, to get you back on schedule.”

The crux of it all, said Shaffer, is “how can I leverage the Cloud to deliver a delightful experience to you?”

“The Cloud allows people to know more, see more, participate more and speak on more topics,” said Calkins. In a word, he said, the Cloud is “democratizing.”

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