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Insight  |  Apr 13, 2020  |  Arora

Could Your Digital Foundation Support the Smart Airport of the Future? Part III: Initiate Collaboration

  • Could Your Digital Foundation Support the Smart Airport of the Future - Part III

By: Gil Neumann

Could Your Digital Foundation Support the Smart Airport of the Future?

In our Geospatial Practice blog, Arora asked the question could your digital foundation support the smart airport of the future?

We discussed The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) and the ever-changing, tech-centric airport operational and management environments. The future of these domains increasingly relies on understanding how to build bridges to not only harmonize and leverage datasets, but to serve as a standardized platform for improvisation that supports strategic aims and tactical decision-making.

There are several actions airports can take to establish the foundation for a smart airport future, including:

  • Consider the Future
  • Initiate Collaboration*
  • Conduct an Assessment
  • Build a Roadmap
  • Leverage Requirements

The previous blog described how airports can “Consider the Future,” encouraging airports to consider core strategies that focus on the future in concert with digital literacy and recommending specific technologies in which an airport might best find a return on its investment.

* This blog focuses on “Initiate Collaboration,” while subsequent blogs emphasize additional actions airports can take to solidify its data foundation for the future.

Initiate Collaboration

Whether working in a large hub commercial service airport with thousands of employees or a smaller, non-hub airport, interdependencies and information sharing require some measure of proactivity between internal and external stakeholders to gather a broad understanding of data needs and available resources (or lack thereof).

Many of us recognize intellectually that we need knowledge from others to collectively solve big problems or drive visionary concepts, yet we still lack the motivation or rarely take action to collaborate. Teamwork all too often feels inefficient, risky, low value, and political—with perspectives the believe it eats up valuable time, introduces potential for distrust, inadvertently moderates our own area of expertise (as it relates to its seeming importance, at least to us, in the corporate enterprise), or might lead to self-promotion of other parts of the organization seeking to elevate status or “save” the work they offer.

Collaboration is a way of working that attracts and involves people outside one’s formal control, organization, and expertise, to accomplish common goals. Collaboration is not about seeking consensus, nor is it intended to be a marketing tool to “sell” one department’s capabilities to another part of the organization. But it is a way, at the risk of sounding cliché, a way to “break down silos” and to discover different points of view that may not have been considered.

Acknowledge that Stakeholder Perspectives May Differ

Airports and communities served by airports have a mutual dependence when it comes to collaboration. Airports and communities that do not work together introduce the opportunity for inadvertent challenges that could be mitigated or agreed to through open communication. This interdependent environment requires airports and municipal, county, and state agencies to share information.

Much of this information is geographic in nature—identifying locations of assets, facilities, infrastructure, events, and boundaries. Airports should seek information from surrounding communities to support planning and development, airspace analysis, property acquisition, noise mitigation, environmental protection, and customer service. State and local public service departments need information from airports for transportation planning, compatible development, emergency response, and zoning.

For proper collaboration, it is helpful to set aside unhelpful assumptions and preconceptions about those with whom one seeks to interact. There are numerous stakeholders when it comes to information sharing in airport planning and community development. Each stakeholder has a different lens through which they operate. These lenses are filled with biases (which are not necessarily a bad thing) that can drive decision-making as it relates to information sharing, proper planning, and collaboration at airports.

As stakeholders come together, it is important to appreciate other perspectives. Anticipation of different perspectives lays the groundwork for proper collaboration that includes working together to come to a reasonable consensus.

How Can Airports Collaborate for Enhanced Information Sharing?

1. Work on your network and create forums

Two of the biggest barriers to collaboration are ignorance about others’ expertise and mistrust in their ability to meet your expectations or leverage the solution(s) you bring to the table. Building your network can help solve both problems.

The most successful collaboration efforts include finding forums to share experiences and to learn from stakeholder roles, responsibilities, and missions. Knowledge gathered, and networks built from these interactions, are critical in building partnerships that coalesce around a unified objective and that seek to benefit all stakeholders.

Another step to enhance collaboration is to participate in a variety of forums such as user group meetings, regional or local outreach sessions, and even broad-scale conferences. Events such as these can provide a wealth of information and experiences that can be extrapolated into further information sharing, targeted at specific stakeholders or for specific programs. If such a forum is unavailable, consider taking the lead to create a local information sharing environment.

The key is to be proactive and to take the first step—embrace introductions through meetings and initiate purposeful information sharing events such as brown bag sharing opportunities, discovery sessions (for shared IT solutions, software, licensing, etc.), or eventually, more formal presentations to management.

2. Contribute to someone else’s project

Knowing how and when to collaborate is a learning process. Working with those who have experience (even if it does not include digital literacy) before you construct a program, project, or refinement of your own helps you pick up on business processes, routines, and other tools that make collaboration efficient.

For example, airport planning, planning, and other professionals in airports and state and local government that use complex datasets, employ hardware, software, or cloud solutions. Each group likely includes employees willing to bridge organizational boundaries or can refer you to like-minded individuals. Through the forums mentioned above or other networking opportunities, there are likely opportunities to find cross-cutting projects already underway or in consideration where collaboration may be the key to not only finding a collective solution, but also to gain a big-picture perspective and/or spark ideas for future opportunities.

Solutions May Be Closer than You Think

Collaboration can lead to tremendous discovery related to information sharing. Forums and/or intentional information sharing can create an environment that allows for the identification of resources from other organizations while simultaneously informing others about resources available from your organization. A simple avenue for identifying resources can be a cursory review of an organization’s website. Descriptions provided in department-specific websites can include contact information or links to websites frequented by planners or by other stakeholders. Going down these rabbit-holes can unearth a treasure trove of contacts that may be located nearby—sometimes offices down the hall or in the next building on a city government campus or airport offices.

Local airport planners and community planners should have easy access to airport or government websites, and in many cases, may have access to intranets established within municipalities for the specific intention of information sharing. Many municipalities or departments leverage Microsoft SharePoint websites or on-line collaborative tools such as SmartSheet for projects that span multiple organizations or planning / project periods. In many instances, specific websites can include links to useful information such as available location-based data or pre-baked maps that can be utilized to enhance collaboration.

For example, many organizations such as State DOTs or environmental agencies have constructed ever-evolving datasets for decades, filled with useful features, attributions, and metadata. Many local planning departments include geo-referenced PDF files of parcel data or zoning maps that can be leveraged easily with airport planning materials to amplify land use compatibility opportunities or challenges. Also, organizations that are fortunate enough to already have enterprise GIS systems in place can provide controlled access to thousands of local features and data points, and in many instances, imagery and remote-sensing.

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