Tag: Airports

Business Development is Not Sales!

Read Time: < 1 minute


Knowing the difference will make a difference for your business.

I am amazed by how often these two terms are used interchangeably, where the former is often used as a fancier term for the latter. Often, when I talk to those responsible for Business Development and the activities they are involved in, it turns out they are really talking about Sales. Conversely, when I talk to those responsible for Sales and who are good at it, turns out they put a lot more emphasis on Business Development activities.

Business Development and Sales are two distinctly different activities, and in today’s rapidly evolving business environment we would do well by knowing the difference. I would even venture to say that a well-developed understanding of Business Development, and an ability to do it well, is decidedly more important in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace. A focus on Business Development will give you a new perspective on your firm’s purpose and its future growth and direction. Business Development is concerned with the future of your business.

So, what’s the difference between Sales and Business Development?

Sales is generally well-understood. It involves the transfer of title or ownership of a product or service from seller to buyer at an agreed-to price. Simply put, Sales is about generating transactions. On the other hand, there does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of Business Development.

Most attempts at a definition suggest that Business Development covers a range of activities and that it is somehow related to value creation. It entails tasks and processes to develop and implement growth opportunities within and between organizations. It is also suggested that Business Development has a unique role in the innovation process, and that it is inherently collaborative and integrative in nature. Ultimately, Business Development is about generating qualified leads for a product or service offering.

Which is more important?

Sales is generally well-understood. It involves the transfer of title or ownership of a product or service from seller to buyer at an agreed-to price. Simply put, Sales is about generating transactions. On the other hand, there does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of Business Development.

It is not a question of one being better, more important or more desirable than the other. They are in fact complementary activities. The approach to Business Development and Sales tends to come from very different, yet complementary and reconcilable orientations. However, where you should place emphasis will depend on what is a higher priority within your organization at a given point in time. If you have clear market validation for your offering and are consistently closing a high proportion of prospects, then allocating more attention to Business Development to prospect for leads should be your number one priority. If you have more leads than you can deal with, then your focus should be on closing more Sales.

If your tendency is to be purely sales-driven, then you are not investing in your future, and it is less likely that you will turn prospects into clients. This is because you have not invested effort into understanding their needs and wants – this is fundamental to Business Development. If, on the other hand, your orientation is pure Business Development, then chances are that it will be difficult to acquire new clients. You need a good balance of the two orientations.

Growth starts with the Business Development mindset, and it is no coincidence that rainmakers have this as a dominant trait – they build authentic relationships with clients; they have empathy and listen to understand their clients’ needs; they provide what clients want and need; they are able to show clients the value of what they will receive; they are able to bring clients to the point of transaction; and they remind clients of the value they are receiving.

How does Business Development and Sales work together?

Knowing the difference between Business Development and Sales is helpful since it will spur better understanding, coordination and collaboration between the two functions within your business. Depending on your organization, it may even be beneficial to separate these two functions while ensuring they collaborate effectively. Business Development should focus time, effort and energy on building relationships with qualified leads to the point that they can be handed off to Sales to become happy customers.

It is easy to see that very different skillsets and talents are needed to perform well in either of these two different, yet complementary functions. Those who can imagine future possibilities; are constantly in search of new knowledge and information; can build diverse networks; and know how to attract and maintain partnerships, do well in business development. Those who are highly persuasive; make the Sales process as simple as possible; and know how to engage customers in an authentic way, do well in Sales. Employees should naturally “fall into” the roles that come naturally for them according to their own talents and interests.

It is important to stress that the entire process of researching, prospecting and qualifying to closing is a team effort. It therefore makes no sense to set targets and incentivize Sales when the client acquisition process is a whole-organization endeavour – this may well encourage behavior that is not in the best interest of the company. After all, acquisition of a new client is a team win and should be celebrated as such!

Rise of the Ecosystems

Read Time: 13 minutes

Spin your web to connect, collaborate and co-create

Prof. dr. Annemieke Roobeek is professor of Strategy and Transformation Management at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands. She is Founder & Director of MeetingMoreMinds B.V., an inter-company networking organization that helps accelerate innovation and sustainable implementation in a networked setting (www.meetingmoreminds.com). She recently set up GrwNxt B.V., a company that delivers data-driven infrastructure for producing fresh produce in megacities in fully controlled climate growth rooms (www.grwnxt.com). Through Open Dialogue B.V., another of her companies, she has designed and supervised large-scale transformation processes and strategy projects for companies and (governmental) organizations since 1994. She is co-initiator of XL Labs B.V., which is specialized in designing and developing ecosystems, and has held several non-executive board positions in various industries from finance to air transport and from publishing to pharmaceuticals.

EH You’ve got a very interesting career,… you started out with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, while at the same time having a very keen interest in academia that eventually led to consulting and directorships at some fairly significant companies, including Abbott Healthcare, ABN Amro and KLM. So, what drives and motivates you in terms of your purpose and what’s been the common thread throughout your career so far?
AR: Yeah, well I do have a purpose and I think there is a common thread. What I always want to do is to look further into the future and to see how you can mobilize a positive strength in society – positive forces in society to come forward. To look forward to that what is new and up and coming. And for that, of course, in a globalized economy, an airline is a very interesting company because it brings you everywhere in the world. And banking is very important because it is necessary to finance things and to work in a socially responsible way with the money of the banks. I think we learned that lesson, particularly in the crisis of 2008 to 2010. And Abbot, I liked so much because of the positive contribution to healthcare and a healthy society.
And indeed, I worked as an advisor and board member in many companies in very different industries, which also gave me enormous insights into changing society in a positive way, but also knowing what the hurdles are to change. And, in academia I’m a professor in strategy and transformation management. So, if I would not have had these deep insights in companies and strategy formation, I would not have been able to lecture to my MBA students and executives on insights into the board dynamics that may lead to challenging strategies or to stand-stills.

EH: That’s quite important…. to have a finger on the pulse – so to speak – of business and what’s going on in the marketplace. I’ve often said to people, we’re experiencing a new renaissance in many ways in business, and in society more generally. It’s an age of accelerating change and greater complexity….
AR: Yes, but that’s also been going on already for quite some time. When I did my PhD in the mid ’80s, I was working on the new techno-economic paradigm that would be the foundation for, let’s say, the new age to come. That involved working on what is the implication of the combination of new technologies like microelectronics, IP, telecom, biotechnology, nanotechnology, new materials. We all could see that already, and we did many studies on this.
The strange thing I would say is that, until the mid ’90s, you had a kind of euphoria or excitement over the kind of changes this could bring about. Then later, when the translation to business opportunities comes into play, the connection between all these new technologies and the changes envisaged disappeared for sake of shareholder value and short-termism.
I think what is interesting about the period we’re in today is that there is quite some criticism of the short-termism and shareholder value approach. We really have made a switch, I think, in the mindset. Also, what many new generation CEOs and stakeholders value is having a purposeful contribution to society and to think further than what a company can do, but what a company can contribute, in ecosystems, in networks and to the society in a broader framework.
I think that is so extremely exciting and indeed, it is very complex, as many things come together, but that is exactly the setting in which we can commit further than with all the technology and opportunities, by also giving answers to the challenges in the world than what we could do in the late ’90s.

EH: Yes, I agree. I think it’s the increased connectivity that’s really spurred on a lot of this and we’ve almost come full circle in that a lot of businessmen and businesswomen now realize or are quite assertive with the notion that business is a force for good in society. We still have a way to go for business to prove that, but what do you think are the biggest challenges facing organizations in this regard?
AR: I think it is not having the awareness that we are in times of disruptive change. It’s not that we cannot access technologies and new insights and knowledge. This one part we cover quite well. I think what is much more difficult is to adapt organizations to these disruptive changes. The organizational structures and existing hierarchies and the focus on egos by CEOs is still very dominant. I think this is particularly so in the US. We also see this with the last cohort of baby boomers who still are extremely focused on their egos. And, we also see it back in politics, of course, and developing companies. I think that hampers us from making real changes in the organizational structure, giving people much more freedom in terms of work settings and collaboration, but also in terms of collaboration between companies. It is still very much the old-fashioned organizational structure that is dominant and that hampers us.
In fact, in the past 20 years, from making optimal use of the technologies and the insights and the knowledge that has become available, the most important stumbling block are the institutions and for that we really must find political answers. With that I mean, for instance, that people are quite often anxious to make change during their working life with new habits, but also with, for instance, their pensions, or with the security they have today and that cannot be guaranteed tomorrow. The majority of people, certainly in the country I live in and the rest of Western Europe, do have a rather stable foundation, which is a stable base for salaries, for working conditions, for social security and for pensions when they are no longer working. That is what is at stake.
And as long as we do not have a new social contract – a “New Deal” – if that is not coming, then there is still a lot of instability in society that prevents us from making much bigger leaps forward than is possible nowadays. I think what is interesting is that the younger generation and the people in the startups and scale-ups, they are taking the risks. And when I speak for myself, I’ve set up several companies, like… I’m just in the midst of setting up a new one again. As you know, you take a risk because you want to contribute with your company to that greater purpose. In this case, it is feeding the mega cities. So, we’re taking the big picture and developing a software company to support this, and so on. But this is just a very few people who do that. People think they are entrepreneurial, but there are not that many entrepreneurs.

EH: Yes, that’s true. I think for the most part we have all become “institutionalized”.
AR: Exactly!

EH: Or corporatized, if you will. Institutionalized would be a better way to say it. But I think fundamentally though, that the human being is entrepreneurial, is never satisfied with his or her status quo and is always looking for ways to improve his or her circumstances. But over the years of working life, that is kind of drilled out. That creativity that one has is drilled out of people to some extent.
AR: Yeah, but also another point is that, as different from what you have seen in North America, here in Western Europe we had a very long and deep crisis. Whereas we’ve seen – particularly by the end of the ’90s until, I’d say, 2005 or 2006 – quite some entrepreneurial startups and a vibrant situation – they were more or less the babies that were taken care of – the last economic or financial crisis really left deep scars in people’s psyche, in their awareness.
You know, there was more uncertainty, with people asking, “Can you do it? Will you do it?….” And there were people also looking more and more for safety and this is something you cannot change so quickly. Certainly, when there are no political answers and no new political arrangements. And, I think that hampers, in Europe more than in the US or Canada, let alone Asia. So, I think there are also societal reasons why things do not go as quickly as the “Silicon Valley people” always think it should go.

EH: Would this be due to a promotion of individualism? What you have in North America is more the individual-centric approach to business as opposed to a societal or communal approach?
AR: I think that, particularly in Western Europe, you see the environmental model much more now. Let’s say, an enlightened capitalism based on social arrangements. And this becomes more and more important to have in order to take bigger steps forward. Therefore, you need to find the 21st century safety nets, and they will need to be more flexible than what my parents had, to make utmost use of the diversity and creativity we have here in Europe. But it is certainly not that we would like to go to the American “Me, myself and I” model, which is something we now see as very 1990s and 2000s. And that is also not the position young people would like to take as an example to emulate. I think we are looking forward to what I call the “new us”. And, that “new us” is based on more diversity, but also giving more mutual security to each other.

EH: In your consultancy work at MeetingMoreMinds you talk a lot about ecosystems and use the term webber or super-connector, if you will. How important does that role play in where economic activities need to be driven from, in terms of value creation?
AR: I think this is key. With the webber – or the ultimate connector – I mean the new roles that are so important in connecting people, businesses, institutes of knowledge, capital, governmental institutions to each other, around challenging questions, or challenging new things. And particularly, that connecting – what many people say they do, that they network – is not really the case because very often it is them knowing each other in their own reality, knowing yourself in your own company. What I mean with webbers in ecosystems is that with a much more diverse universe around you, around that [challenging] question, you see different companies and competitors, joining. But they also must collaborate and therefore you need these independent roles, which I call webbers, who know very well the purpose of the ecosystem that has been created around a challenging question, but who also know the different strategies of the parties involved and how to connect those people that can contribute to a productive way of using technologies, knowledge, and developing new services and products around it and making money in a responsible way.
But that connecting is something that is extremely undervalued, but also underestimated for what the importance of that is. And I would say that networks and networks of networks in ecosystems do not take off if there are no webbers who have really that role to play and you cannot say, “Well, someone will take it up.” No, it is such an important role that without all that – let’s say connectivity – between the different parties involved, you get chaos instead of oversight. And what webbers do is they connect, and they give oversight, but they also make it happen without have to play the ego role as we know that of a CEO. So, they are less hierarchical. They are what I call horizontal leaders who do it with respect for the others involved. But since they also [are motivated by] the purpose of the ecosystem, I would say they level up, and bring the different parties to a higher level, because you now play at another dimension, which makes it so exciting.

EH: Well, it’s very interesting because you’ve just described my career!
AR: Yeah, that is funny that you say that, because so many people – when I describe the webber – they say, “Oh! Now I know what I am!”

EH: Right. Well, I see it very much. So, I mean, everything that I’ve achieved has been through this kind of a webber type of role in terms of when it came to privatization of the air navigation system here in Canada… bringing all the parties together and actually moving forward on a common vision. And now also, with drone traffic management is another issue where you have software development companies, you have hardware companies, you have the regulator, you have all of these different parties having to come together. But what do you feel is the most important aspect of getting such an ecosystem going? I mean, for me, it’s all about taking initiative and leadership, but is that all, is there more to it than that?
AR: No, I think it’s also getting the mandate so that the webber is not only the connector, but that there really is, let’s say, a substantial mandate, not only in the ability to take decisions where necessary and also to have a say about the budget. And that means that you [as a company] have to delegate and that is very difficult, particularly for boards or executives in companies, because then very often they think only of their own short-term interests. Whereas, in an ecosystem – exactly as you describe around drones – you must look forward and already think about what will be important for the years to come. So, you must work at a higher level and with a future outlook and you do that for the greater good. And that very often clashes with what boards and the management of individual companies think should be in their short-term interest.

EH: Let’s delve into the whole issue of governance a bit more because it is really what you just mentioned – traditionally, boards have always focused on the competitive position of the company. And whereas, what we’re talking about is this notion of co-opetition, where you’ve got cooperation and competition going on at the same time. I think the ICT world has picked up this notion, within ecosystems, quite early on, but this is not so in many other industries. That just doesn’t exist yet. What will it take?
AR: I think it’s good that you mention that, because you could already see from the late ’70s and early ’80s that particularly IT engineers and software developers had their own communities in Silicon Valley, but also globally. And they freed themselves from the idea that everything must have a copyright, or everything was intellectual property. They were the first to understand that exponential learning only happens in collaborative settings, where you trust each other, because when you add something, you may expect that the others will do that too. I think that is why the IT industry, from the early ’80s onwards, grew so rapidly. Whereas we have seen the opposite in biotechnology. There we saw that sharing was forbidden and that [for example] professors at universities who thought they had a tiny thing that might be worth a lot of money, protected this with so much [legal documentation] for rights to this intellectual property, that even larger companies could not do anything with it. And this has hampered the development of biotechnology. And, you can even see that there has been a time lag of almost 25 years between what we saw coming up as new technology and its realization.
I worked a lot on biotechnology in the ’80s and I also worked on the regulation of biotechnology for the European Parliament. But there was a stalemate in the development of the technology, because of the ultra-protectionism, whereas sharing is the new normal. I think that particularly with technology that has come out of academia and in production already and in its application, we see a much quicker takeoff with all the community sharing it. It is also what companies should share. I think that the open source is a very good example of the new way of working, the new way of sharing. It is in fact creating a new setting where you need to share to better understand the potential. It also denies, at the same time, one company from knowing everything, or doing anything it pleases. So, collaboration is key, but the setting must be developed for that to happen.

EH: So, there’s been a lot of focus on competition for decades…. Are you seeing a shift towards creation [through cooperation] more than before and that this will be the new norm for value creation and of growth?
AR: Yes, I would say so. But the funny thing is that this is much more difficult in the US than in Europe, because we have much more of a sharing mentality. I think this will also be the new success of Europe – generations here are much less tuned in to short-term wealth creation, and working much more in [collaborative] environments, doing challenging things [that are of value to society.] That’s exactly what we see happening.
We have for instance, here in the Netherlands, Prince Constantijn who is the leader of the startup and accelerator network at B. Amsterdam [a startup and innovation ecosystem], next to the IBM buildings in Amsterdam, and he is organizing together with many smaller companies the Capital Tour XXL. So, a lot is being organized to stimulate cooperation. And, I think it also is a lot less risky for investors when companies and startups connect and work together, instead of going it alone, and can go a lot further with innovation. I think investors will also learn from those failures and question why go for one unicorn and not for an ecosystem.

EH: Right. So, it’s a way of de-risking the venture as well….
AR: I would say so.

EH: So finally, what does this all mean for government policymaking and regulation since, as you mentioned earlier, the institutional community has not kept pace. What does this mean for governments in general terms, in this new reality?
AR: I think that in Europe, but also in North America, that you will see a new kind of industry politics coming up. How to create a new force [to compete with] Chine, for instance. But I think this is exactly not what we must do because we know that when government steers industry policy it’s always cherry-picking. Only multinationals are the winners, or a few little darlings that grew up quickly. The new name of the game for governments is to see what the really big global issues are around climate change, health, social contracts, energy transition, etc. These are things that governments can address and can stimulate companies to work on, by having a long-term policy [framework] around it.
I think what Germany did in the late ’80s was really great – to have policies in place for 20 years on renewable energy, and to stimulate an entire new industry without saying what exactly must be done. Governments should refrain from detailed policymaking but address more the international and global issues.
And therefore, I think that the institutions, like for instance the European Union but also the United Nations, will become more and more important. We’ve seen this with the SDG’s – the social development goals – where we can address the big issues and stimulate companies to work purposefully together on solutions. This is very different from what we’ve seen in the ’90s and particularly up until the economic crisis. I think that going it alone, and in it only for yourself, is a dead-end because the business models have changed. The business models are much more geared towards networking and ecosystems. The questions have changed, and the challenges have changed. It’s not about a new machine. It is about new systems and therefore systems thinking is extremely important, particularly for governments, to see how they can collaborate on the big challenges, and not to dictate, but to let go.
And to invest in education, in easy access to knowledge and in easy access to institutes of higher education. So, not that we have the situation where you need immense amounts of money to pay just for a few courses or to get a masters degree. I think one of the important things is to have accessible education at all levels and to have even more international education. And particularly, not to protect too much, but to trust each other more. And I think, include the Chinese, include the Russians, in very important international projects to learn together. Perhaps even a mission to Mars can help with that!

EH: It definitely requires at the institutional level, quite some – well, I would even say revolutionary – change, to make sure some of these institutions that have been built up over the decades are fit for purpose. And, as we’ve seen with the whole Brexit debate of course, quite a lot of concerns about the European institutions and how they function.
AR: I would say it is more about the British, and particularly [the politics] in the parliament there, but not about European institutions, because we go on.

EH: Indeed. Well, it’s certainly an interesting time. Lots of political change happening and I think we’re at a stage where there’s still a lot of debate going on in terms of what is the way forward [on the most important questions of the day.]
AR: But I think that’s also good, because we should not follow dictators or demagogues. I think we should cherish democracy, dialogues and open minds and only then can we surprise ourselves and our fellow citizens….

EH: … in what we can achieve together?
AR: Exactly!

EH: Alright, very good. Well, on that note, thank you very much for the time.
AR: It was a pleasure!

Let’s get digital, digital, I wanna get digital, let’s get into digital….

Read Time: 14 minutes

Digital air traffic services will help create the smart airport of the future, offering greater flexibility, enhanced security, and more efficient traffic management at reduced costs.

Digitalization is starting to take hold in aviation in a big way, with promises of greater efficiency and productivity improvements, new insights and better decision-making, and further innovation. It is an evolutionary process that will yield revolutionary outcomes, as it is set to change business models and provide new, value-creating opportunities.

For Saab this journey started some 15 years ago when LFV, the air navigation service provider (ANSP) of Sweden, presented Saab with a problem – whether it was possible to provide air traffic control from a remote location in order to keep an airport from permanently closing down due to the high cost of maintaining a staffed control tower. This spearheaded the evolution in the air traffic management (ATM) industry.

The collaboration that resulted between LFV and Saab was a success and put into operation the first Remote Tower Service (RTS) in the world. In June 2016, the partnership evolved to the next level, with LFV and Saab establishing Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions (SDATS), combining LFV’s expertise in delivering digitalized, innovative and certified operational solutions with Saab’s technological leadership and global organization. The company commenced operations on 1 September 2016. In this episode of Vantage Point, I speak with Per Ahl, the newly-appointed CEO of SDATS, about how this came about and his vision for the future.

Digitalization is one of today’s big trends and has been for a while. In many ways, aviation is playing catch-up, with Saab being one of its main proponents. What got this going for Saab?

It all started with LFV – the air navigation service provider of Sweden – approaching us with a problem that it was getting too costly to provide tower control at Örnsköldsvik Airport and that discontinuing air traffic services would effectively close down the airport. Then, another airport that was in another part of Sweden was on the borderline to be closed down, because of cost. But these airports are still very important for the local communities, and industry and so forth.

So, at that time LFV asked Saab whether there would be a possibility to combine towers – a new type of infrastructure – with the operational side to lower the overall cost. That was actually the starting point for making the feasibility study in 2007-08. The results of that capability study were so encouraging that both LFV and Saab realized that – absolutely – we can do this in a completely new way.

And then when we looked at it differently – cost-benefit and business case wise – that if we combine different airports into a center and centralize the whole operation, what would the gain be? That has been a very interesting journey, to see that by centralizing several airports you can reduce the overall direct cost by up to 20 – 30%.

So, centralization has been driven by this kind of solution, for us at least. We now have one operations center – after we got the first-in-the-world-airport to be certified and operated from the center in 2015. Now, we have four airports at that center. We will be building a second center in Stockholm Arlanda, that initally will have up to four airports in operation next year, but will have the capacity for up to 22 airports.

You mentioned certification and of course the regulatory element is quite critical. How has that played a role? How important has it been for Saab to get the regulatory community on side?

That has been a journey by itself, I will say. There are several different, very important stakeholders, and one important stakeholder is the regulatory part as we are running a safety-critical operation. As we were the front runner, nobody had done this before. So, absolutely, this was very important to have the regulator engaged from the earlier days.

The first tender was released in 2011, and we won that. And then, we started to look into how should an approved system look like. As you know, digitalization and technology itself will be an opener for new services and applications. You need to change the whole regulatory framework. This is something that will take time. So, we made a decision – both LFV and Saab – in 2011, to focus on today’s rules and regulations [based on recommendations contained in ICAO Doc 4444 – Procedures for Air Navigation Services: Air Traffic Management.]

So, we really scrutinized all the different paragraphs in ICAO documentation, the Swedish Air Law, even down to the local airport municipal laws and so on, in order to see whether we could implement the technology, and on top of that, the related operations procedures.

That was the starting point – whether the whole system could be driven as an operational, as-today system. But we realized that we could do much, much, much more with digitalization, and with new applications. But in order not to blur the interaction with the regulator, we put that aside and really focused on delivering the technology package to meet the requirements of today’s operation.

We started to install the first system in 2011, and we had hoped that it would take maybe two years to get the approval. But it took much longer. In 2015 we got the “tick in the box”, and by then LFV and Saab committed 30,000 manhours to provide safety cases and arguments, and all the procedures and human factors analyzes and so forth – 30,000 manhours! But then, for the second airport we could reuse quite a lot and we were down to 16,000 manhours. And then with the third airport, we are down to 5 to 6,000 manhours. We started to have a process now – and we could interact with the regulator and so on.

That has been an eye opener for other regulators around the world. I mean, EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] was one of the first to adopt new kinds of directives. Now ICAO has also started to look into this, and I think it was a very fruitful meeting in Bangkok just a months ago – they have started to realize, “This is something we have to take care of.” It has been a journey to change the mindset, even on the regulator side. But as we have proved, we have a system in operation and we now have competition, and they have done a great job as well. So, it’s not if this will come, it’s already here.

So, it has been really a long journey to come where we are today, and I’m very pleased that during the last – I would say – two years the view has been changing dramatically. It’s not about the technology; it’s how to take care of change management, not just from the regulatory side, but also on the operations side. That has been very, very important.

So, it’s really been a learning process for all, I hear. As you gain the experience, and of course mindsets change, and the culture around innovation and technology adoption changes, would it be right to say that it’s really about getting people to think about new approaches to doing things?

I would say so, that’s been our number one experience. Forget about the technology, the technology provider can solve that. We have proved that. Our competitors have proved that. Everything is revolves around change management. That’s the most important element, to have people change mindsets. That’s the most important part.

If you create a center, and have the whole operation run from there, then you have to move people – controllers from airport A to the center – and you must take care of that movement and the changing [work] environment. That has been a very important element to understand, and to offer this new work environment in the most positive way.

So, clarity of vision and having everyone embrace that vision, that requires quite a bit of leadership and clarity of communication to building that trust. Has that been the biggest element to success?

Absolutely. Yes, definitely. You have to stand up, hold meetings and interact especially with the operations people. And it’s important to have a spokesperson from the operations side who can be part of the whole rollout. That has been very, very important.

We were lucky in Sweden in that we had a program manager from the operations side. In the beginning, he was the most negative person in the group. But we picked him as the Program Manager from the operations side and told him, “Okay, now you have to be on our side, so to speak, and really drive the change technology-wise and so forth.” And he is our best advocate now and salesperson, because in his position he has to be able to say, “Okay, I will not sign off on this solution until I know that my fellow colleagues will accept it.”

So, our system really has been operations driven from day one, and that has been with his help, in order not to be engineering-driven or technology-driven. It’s operations driven. And, it was a generational thing as well. That is, if you have been living at a country regional airport and spending 25 years in the tower, to change to a new way of doing things that’s a tough journey, I must say

But, with the younger generation, it’s a completely other ballgame. We have a huge lack of ATCOs (air traffic controllers) in Europe and in Asia. And with the younger generation, they don’t want to sit in a dark regional airport. They want like to be part of the IT or gaming environment.

Now, there’s an attractiveness of this kind of environment. We have a center with a good work office environment, with screens and so forth and the latest technology. We have one young controller – he’s 25 years old – who came directly from the training academy into the center, and it has worked perfectly. I mean, it was no issue at all. It’s his environment. His background is in gaming, what he does as a hobby and in his spare time.

Then, our Swedish regulator realized that, “Hey, you haven’t been in a regular tower. You must go down to the airport – 600 kilometers away – where you will work for two weeks.” So, they sent him off and after one week he called back to the center and said, “Please, can I come home? It’s so boring!”

So, for us it was very important to know that we were on the right track because we have to be attractive for the younger generation that has not yet [decided to] become an ATCO. We needed to understand how the work environment plays a role in order to be successful in the [labour] market.

That’s a very important point, especially with the [labour] shortages, not just for ATCOs, but pilots and mechanics and so forth. I think technology advances and innovation are very much going to be the magnets for attracting the new generation.
Obviously, how this all started was you were dealing with a challenge – Sweden was dealing with a challenge. But, when it comes to the adoption of digital towers and digital ATS in other countries that may not have the same challenge as Sweden did in beginning, how do they embrace this technology? Their case for change may be different.

It’s different drivers in different countries. If you have a competitive [air traffic services] environment like in the UK for instance, then it’s other drivers. For other countries, where you have a government-owned ANSP, they have other drivers. You can see that aviation is quite a young industry itself. With the creation of airports after the second World War, there are now lots of airports that have very old towers that need to be replaced or refurbished. To refurbish or build a new tower, it’s very, very costly.

[Those airports] will have a very easy business case to justify, and to go for [RTS], because it is at a fraction of the cost. Even in Sweden, our fourth airport – it’s a ski resort up in the western part of Sweden – is building a totally new greenfield airport with the latest technology, including our system. So, to save money, instead of building a “brick and mortar” tower, they go for the [RTS] solution. And what we have offered to them – since their season is only during winter – is that we will provide them with air traffic services during six months of the year. So, suddenly you can base a new business model on a digital platform that was not possible for a “brick and mortar” tower.

And, sometimes you need to have “five and a half” controllers…. You can’t have a half controller, so you must have six and that may be a very costly. But what we can offer is ATC on demand now. Maybe you only have two hours in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon and the rest of the day there’s nothing. That is something we can offer.

So, it’s actually a scalable solution to meet the demand. and, of course, you save significant cost in the actual installation of the capability. Do you see, in terms of future airports around the world, that the control tower as we know it will no longer exist, but will have more sensors providing the necessary information?

Absolutely. If you look at Asia, India and so forth with the huge growth in traffic, they have a lack of ATCOs and they see the digital rollout as part of the [future] infrastructure. Definitely.

Our company SDATS, since I became CEO three months ago, has also transformed into an ANSP. So, we have our own operator certificate. We are a true digital ANSP now. From the 1st of September, the whole center that is in operation now with LFV will be transferred into our company. So, we will have from the 1st of September, controllers on the payroll and everything.

Last week, we had the last negotiation with the union for this transition. So that has been an interesting journey and an experience, definitely. But I think the reason we do this; is for the reason that we need to understand the full spectrum of this – the impact – and then you have to understand how the operation will be run in the future. And the only way [to understand] is to become an ANSP ourselves.

So, what we can offer to the market is not only the technology itself, but we can provide support with operational services and for getting it approved, the required training, and so forth. But as well, in the competition, where there are possibilities. We can offer a full-service concept as that of an ANSP.

Very interesting. No doubt there are some real challenges. You just mentioned one – of course, the labor element needs to be brought along. But, what would be your number one challenge at this point in time?

At this point, in general, it is still the change management part. Definitely. To have everybody involved from the beginning. That is something we always emphasize when meeting a client – you have to have a very, very good understanding of the impact on the whole organization. It’s not only the operations side. It’s also the engineering side. It’s everybody. You all have to be a part of this, because it changes the foundation in any ANSP.

What does that mean for the type of skillsets, mindsets, and then the kind of aptitudes that you need to have on your team to be able to manage this in a proper way? I would imagine technical skills – yes, this is good, but it’s perhaps less important than the human EQ (emotional intelligence) skills.

Absolutely. As I said, we started already in 2006 with this. And then, we had the operational system in 2015. We have, I would say, a huge experience bank in this. Not just on our technology side, but as well how to make this journey or the change part. And I’m very, very lucky that we handpicked the people who have been part of this from day one on the operations side and as well as in leading the change within LFV.

They are now working in my company. That is a fantastic situation – that we can have them onboard – to help guide other customers around the world. And that has been very, very positive. The feedback we get is that [customers] need a “hand to hold”, so to say, because nobody has done this before. We have already had our pitfalls, and know what to avoid. Instead, [customers benefit from] our experience, and that has been a very, very positive feedback.

On a more personal note, you’ve been appointed CEO [of SDATS, a joint Saab and LFV company) – congratulations! And, you certainly have a very impressive career – transitioning from flight dispatcher to airline fleet engineer, to consulting, and more recently to marketing and sales. That’s not something you started out in, but given this broad experience that you have, how has that helped you with some of the early wins at Saab, and also in terms of creating a vision for the future?

I must say this has been a huge experience for me, and a very positive one. I was flying with Scandinavian Airlines as a pilot as well on the DC-9 and 737s. To have seen the whole spectrum in the industry, that has been very, very positive. I have had the pleasure to work with very good people all over the world.

I have always been intrigued that… generally speaking, the rules and regulations and how the operation is performed is still very much from the time of the Second World War. I have always seen the possibility to do it in a more efficient and less costly way. And, to bring people together, so that you no longer have the stove pipes of the past so that you can integrate information between the different stakeholders.

I hope in the near future, we can integrate aircraft information more in the ground system, because it’s still a guessing game whereby the pilot has all the information in the cockpit with the FMS (flight management system) to fly the optimal routes and the environmentally friendly approaches, etc.

But that is not taking into account the ground system, where {ATCOs] are still guessing what the pilot, or aircraft will do. We need to come to some kind of understanding to share the best information and not start guessing how to fly. I mean, it’s ridiculous now in 2019 that we would still operate in the same way.

So, there may still be hope for VDL Mode 4? (VHF Digital Link (VDL) is a means of sending information between aircraft and ground stations, and in the case of VDL Mode 4, other aircraft)

Ha, ha, ha,…. You said it!

Within the context of the Internet of Things – that is really driven more from the software industry and mobile telephony, if you will – it’s very much in the same vein. I see this already in unmanned traffic management (UTM), that conceptually, is quite different. It’s relying a lot more on automation, relying a lot more on digital information exchange, and so forth. So it’s interesting. It may well be that traditional ATM will migrate more, conceptually at least, towards a UTM-type of setup.

I definitely think so. I have always challenged ANSPs around the world, “How do you foresee your role in 10 years’ time or 15 years’ time?” And the response typically is that it will be the same. But it will not be the same!

You have other pressure now, coming from other industries like Google or Amazon and those kind of guys. I mean, they will just go for this, and I’m surprised that the ANSP [community] has not taken action to be part of [shaping the future.] For me, it’s amazing.

What we are doing now, when we design our centers, is that UTM will be a working position within our center in the future. Definitely. But what we are doing right now is the ATS side, for obvious reasons. But, within Saab we have other divisions looking at new surveillance technology, drone tracking, automatic detection between birds and drones, and so on. And this has been very, very successful.

And as well, security from remote locations. We have Vasteras Airport in Stockholm, after working hours at four o’clock the full security operation is run from Stockholm Arlanda Airport with sensors and so on. That would be an integrated part of the center in the future.

So, this is just the starting point and I often refer to the telecom industry. They have had the copper network early on and suddenly you have an iPhone, a smart phone with apps. I didn’t know what an app was 15 years ago, and [this industry] just exploded and I can’t live without it. This would be the same with digitalization of the ATS service, or airport operation.

To wrap up, and looking to the future, what would be your most important goals and objectives in the coming years to continue to create value and drive change in the industry?

I think a very important milestone for us – now that SDATS has become an ANSP and we’ll be running the operation from the center as of the 1st of September – is that we’re going to bring our knowledge and experience elsewhere, to all parts of the globe.

I think there will be some very interesting opportunities in the near term – one, two, three, four, five years from now. Definitely, we’ll be a global change agent in this and we will be part of it. We have already started to push the whole industry in this direction, and I think that will be a challenging journey for everybody. But, it’s the only way to do it.

I would imagine that it will be a somewhat different rate of change in different regions, but I think every region ultimately will need to embrace this new approach.

Yeah. We can see that already now with the space-based ADS-B and so forth. It’s a big change. And the way we have done the infrastructure side of things in the last 50 years, that will not survive. It’s something from the past. We have a continent like Africa…. why should they invest in copper networks, and so on, when they can go directly into this kind of solution and create a completely new operation to support the build-up of the economy in the country in a completely new way? I mean, it’s ridiculous to go the old way.

And we’ve already seen that in Africa, when it comes to a digital telephony, mobile phones are being used for payment services – it’s more advanced in Africa than in other parts of the world. And the use of drones for delivery. I was in Rwanda and saw the Zipline operation to deliver blood products to remote the clinics. And so that’s beyond visual line of sight operations (BVLOS), and it’s already being done in Africa.
Leapfrogging to the next generation of technology is certainly very, very possible in places like Africa, and it’s a region that will be growing quite significantly over the years to come. Interesting times. Well… Per, thank you very much for this.

The Building Blocks for Smart Airports

Read Time: 10 minutes

Grant Furlane, CEO of LocoMobi

How license plate recognition (LPR) technology and the Cloud will improve efficiency and provide better passenger services at airports

This week’s interview is with Grant Furlane, CEO of LocoMobi. Grant has over 35 years of experience as an entrepreneur in the technology sector, specializing in the parking, transportation, cloud computing and network security industries. He has been involved in over 600 million dollars of technology investments and was contracted to lead several initiatives for large public IT companies. He aggressively built three transportation technology companies that established the vanguard for tracking and monitoring vehicle movement, and developed and sold integrated control systems for major airports, hospitals and parking lot management companies.

Q: How did you get started and what got you going?

I’ve never really worked for anybody. I came right into being an entrepreneur from day one. But what got me into infrastructure – believe it or not, this is about 25-30 years ago now – is that I felt we were in trouble. At that time, I was really intrigued with the world of transportation, congestion, and how we were going to deal with the problems I’d already seen in places in Europe. I had co-founded the World Symposium of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) in my late 20s, early 30s and there were three of us involved then. I think that forum has now grown to a membership of about 10,000 strong.

At that time, it was my feeling that to be more efficient in the transportation sector, we had to find ways to be more efficient in moving cars and people. And so, during the first 20-25 years of my career I developed companies that revolved around being more efficient in moving cars and parking cars, which is now leading me into an area that I have always had a passion for – how to manage the transportation infrastructure.

The problem was not that it couldn’t be done, but that the technology just did not exist to form the needed communications infrastructure. As it is still today, if you want to go from one building to another, you’ve got to go into a parking garage and take a ticket or use an ID card. If you want to go to yet another building, you will need yet another ID card because it could have a different building owner, and a different parking garage operator. If you go onto a toll highway, you need yet another pass. When you get on public transit, you need another pass….

Alternatively, if I could find a token as a unique identifier that you could pass around, then you wouldn’t need multiple passes. So, 20-25 years ago the only token available that could be moved around was a license plate. The problem was that the technology to get read rates high enough to make this plausible did not exist. So, for years and years I worked on different algorithms to improve performance – both in terms of speed and accuracy of license plate recognition (LPR.)

Then more recently, the cloud came about which allows a plate to be recognized anywhere, anytime, in real time. Both technologies had to work together for this to really work. And that is, scan a number plate – the unique identifier – and move it around via the cloud.

While I had been developing all the hardware, there was no enterprise hardware that could connect to the cloud directly. So, I designed and built it all – the payment terminals, the payment kiosks, etc., so that we could have an integrated solution. At the same time a fellow named Barney Pell, who is one of the most innovative people in the world, was working on a mobile way for people to pay for transportation and he started with parking as well. However, he was not getting any traction. He had heard about me and got in touch. I looked at his business plan, and said “the software is good but you will need to pivot to a different plan to hit the expected numbers” So, I helped him design some technology that would work with his software and we went out and patented the thing we called Card Kit and Gate Kit, which essentially allowed a cellular phone to find your location, and then when you pay, open the door or a gate.

We now started to see revenue, but it wasn’t very big. So, Barney then convinced me to merge and we formed what is now LocoMobi. A month later in May 2014 we went to the TiE50, which is Silicon Valley’s premier annual awards show for early stage technology startups, and we won. This followed with 2nd place in the “Smart Building” International Startup Competition in Nantong, China. This confirmed that we had leading edge technology as a startup, and so we went out to implement, not forgetting that my goal had always been to be in parking, transit and tolling – anything to do with managing people and transit, cars, trucks, toll highways, and parking. As we’ve become successful on the parking side, landing two huge contracts with Park ‘N Fly and WallyPark for airport parking, we were offered a tender that no one else could do, which was for the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge – a 7.8-mile-long toll road built in 1958 that connects the Indiana Toll Road to the Dan Ryan Expressway on Chicago’s South Side. This launched us into tolling one year earlier than planned. And, we have now launched transit applications just a month ago.

Q: What got you interested in the airport scene?

I’ve always felt that the airport environment was a distinct and different market all on its own, because it has so many moving pieces. Airports are becoming smart cities themselves. Although I could tackle the airport environment for parking, I felt this was too limiting. An airport is very big in retail, it’s very big in customer service, it very big in parking, and it’s very big in so many other things like media and advertising. I’ve been holding back because I want to offer an integrated solution that makes sense for an airport to want to invest. And so, we’ve set out to build upon what we already have as infrastructure, so that we can manage not just parking, but ground-side and air-side transportation.

And there is security, which also can be managed with the same infrastructure. We’ve come from reading license plates to smart plates, for which we use artificial intelligence – machine learning – so, why can’t we go further? And so, we started a new company called Quest Intelligent Technologies that is one of the first companies out with machine vision technology – or artificial vision or vision intelligence – that provides automatic imaging-based inspection and analysis. This involves using cameras and giving them intelligence to see more than we can see with our eyes. By seeing the constant flow of people and/or cars we are able to see differences or anomalies that allows it to be predictable.

The technology is now at a level that we can see so intensively into something that it can actually layer itself into hard matter. For example, the vision intelligence cameras that we’re testing now can get about seven layers into your clothing. So, let’s pretend a guy walked into the airport in today’s world and had a gun. We would catch that as soon as he walked into the airport. Forget the security screening areas. You can’t afford to do that with all the people milling around. You need to catch the suspect right upon entry. So, this is using CCTV and vision intelligence. It allows us to see things and predict things. In addition to that, I can cover the entire ground side. Why is that car circling over and over? Why is that FedEx truck there for three hours when it’s supposed to be there only three minutes? With all this different information, you can manage the ground side traffic movements.

And, of course the parking is obvious – it’s what we do now. For example, what happens to my car when I drop it off at the valet service? Does it actually get to the garage? We make sure it does. As soon as we take a picture of the plate, we are watching for that car to enter the garage. We can make sure no one’s switching cars and doing things they shouldn’t be doing. Again, all this data is hosted and shared in the cloud.

Likewise, on the airside we can track assets. Why are there three planes in this area on the tarmac? Why is this delivery truck where it shouldn’t be? We can do this since from quite a distance we can read serial numbers, and we can even visualize differences associated with the asset. Like, why are there three people on that cart when there should only be one? With vision intelligence and machine learning, the possibilities are endless in creating what we can call a smart airport, just like the smart city concept. With the smart city, data are collected from citizens and devices using sensors integrated with real-time monitoring systems, that are then processed and analyzed. The information and knowledge gathered are then used to tackle inefficiency, and enhance safety and security. Technology and digitalization has allowed this to become a reality. It’s a great story.

Q: What are some of the bigger challenges that you’re facing in implementing this vision?

For a person like me who’s always working on the edge, the biggest challenge I have is in introducing change. People are very, very nervous about making changes. And airports have probably been the hardest. Most feel secure when everything is hardwired throughout the airport. Cloud computing as an IT paradigm is still not readily accepted, while for most businesses if you don’t go to the cloud, you’re probably not going to be in business for long. There’s been a real challenge at the middle management level and in the IT departments to accept where everything’s going. By going to the cloud, in many cases, you can eliminate half the IT department. Making such a move can make the operation twice as efficient. The return’s immediate as far as the investment is concerned. And the results for the operation are even better. Now you’re getting real time information and the ability to predict stuff. However, because it can be such a complicated presentation, we really need to get to the right people to show them what the technology can do for them. Then again, five years ago I couldn’t convince people to use LPR for parking management. Now it’s the standard in every single request for proposal (RFP.) People thought I was crazy at the time!

Q: The RFP process – it’s one of those things you come up against when you’re dealing with government organizations, which airports are for the most part. What’s been your experience with this procurement culture?

It’s primitive. Let me tell you why. You have people who have all this infrastructure already built in the airport, and they’re afraid to move away from it. So, when it comes to procurement, they end up asking leading edge technology companies to move backwards! They will ask vendors for a certain technology because that’s what they have. And they have relationships with the people who put that in. But here’s the biggest problem. And we all see this all the time. Typically, in order to bid on an RFP, you must reference up to five installations that have been running for five years, etc. Well, this means that you will have legacy technology. It’s like saying, “If you have anything new and innovative, you can’t bid it.” I come across this time and time again. The innovative companies that can provide most value in terms of new concepts and technologies are simply not given the opportunity to enter the market, because of this old-style procurement practice of very prescriptive RFPs.

Q: How have you been able to get around that? Would partnerships or joint ventures with established companies be a way forward for you?

Absolutely. Our approach has been to go out and talk to innovative owners; people who have money in the game. When you are a startup or inventor, you need partners not just customers who are prepared to work the good and the bad with you. Because there are tough times when you’re developing technology. Whether it be Bill Gates of Microsoft, or Steve Job of Apple, or Henry Ford, it doesn’t matter. You are going to fail and gain, fail and gain. But when you have partners who believe you can get to the goal line, it makes all the difference. So, we said, “Okay, let’s go after innovative clients – clients who would listen.” And, we also decided to pick up a couple of big ones.

So, the first one I went after was Park ‘N Fly in Canada. Why? Well, I knew who they were, they knew me, and they were bought by CKI, one of the biggest infrastructure funds in the world. As a result, it didn’t take much more than three weeks to convince them to go with LPR, automated payment, mobile transactions, everything, and all cloud-based. So, we probably concluded one of the biggest parking contracts ever, in short time, covering every major city in the country.

Now that we had a reference from seven city airports, we went south and did the same thing with a company called Wally Park that is actually bigger than Park ‘N Fly and we got 21 locations in the US. Technology acceptance is usually the biggest challenge, but suddenly we were gaining traction and the reaction I was getting was, “We get it, Grant. We’re prepared to take the risk.” What got us there quicker than most startups is that we got validation. We won the TiE50 for having one of the best technologies in the world. Then a week later, we won the Smart City competition in China. So, that was the route we took. Further, we created probably the most incredible board there is of any small company, and we brought in people from the industry. That gets you business and that’s what you have to do as a startup. Today – only two and a half years later and now with 40 employees – when I’m bidding for a contract, I have prime, platinum references.

We are still called a startup, but we don’t operate like one. We grew much quicker. We hit profitability near the end of our second year. It’s a much different company today. And all my other companies operate the exact same models – they all have one thing in common. They all can manage on my infrastructure.

Q: What would be your top three bits of advice you would have for any future entrepreneur?

The biggest one – and I’m going to write a book on it – is the word ‘Entrepreneur’. Don’t use it lightly. Entrepreneur doesn’t mean raising a bunch of money and spending it. You have to live it. You have to sacrifice. You really need to feel it, and have the passion, and that’s what a lot of people lack.

An entrepreneur is not a guy who goes and buys a Mac’s Milk or a 7-11. That’s a small business owner. An entrepreneur is a guy who has an idea, and literally will do what he has to do to make it a reality. When I met my wife, I was living in a campground, by choice. I had no money and I wanted to develop my first idea. I wasn’t trying to raise money so I could buy a $3 million-dollar house. That’s not an entrepreneur.

The second thing I’d tell everybody – and this very important – failure is not an option, because there’s no such thing. People will ridicule you and say, “He’s crazy.” You don’t fail. You experience. Everything you do, you build upon. And if you keep the focus, if you truly do it, I mean really keep the focus, you’ll get there. But then it goes back to what is a real entrepreneur? It’s a guy who won’t give up. He’ll be the last guy standing in the plant. He’ll be the guy at home working because he had to lay everyone off. If you don’t give up, there’s no such thing as failure. Most people don’t realize that 99 percent of the companies that fail didn’t realize how close they were to success. They just gave up. Unbelievably, they were almost there. But, that last one percent is the killer for all of us. I’ve never felt I had to give up, ever. There’s always a way.

And the last point is the most important. Be prepared to pivot. I don’t care how good you think your idea is. Don’t stick to it just because you think it’s great, and it has to happen. Don’t be afraid to pivot. Some of the greatest companies in the world started out with one thing, but found another opportunity through it and pivoted, and subsequently were very successful.

Intelligent Solutions for Superior Airport Performance

Read Time: 5 minutes

Christian Onselaere, CEO of ADB SAFEGATE

Helping airports handle more air traffic with their existing infrastructure

This interview – conducted jointly with Momberger Airport Information newsletter – is with Christian Onselaere, CEO of ADB SAFEGATE, a leading provider of intelligent solutions that deliver superior airport performance. The firm provides integrated solutions for the airfield, gate and tower, to improve an airport’s capacity, safety, and efficiency, which requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders – the airport, ANSP, airlines, aircraft handlers, and others – to create a collaborative decision-making platform. In May 2017, The Carlyle Group bought ADB SAFEGATE from PAI Partners, which had previously bought ADB from Montagu and then supported ADB to acquire Safegate International and to form ADB SAFEGATE.

Q: What sets you apart from other solutions providers in this space?

We see ourselves more than ever as an integrator of end to end solutions with a clear focus to optimize the processes at an airport and thus increase the airport’s efficiency considerably. This efficiency has a direct impact on airport and airline operations whether by decreasing turn -around time, increasing the number of slots or cutting down on processes that do not add any value. Airports often do not have the physical or financial means to just expand, re-design or redo parts of the airport. Airports need to operate smarter, by moving away from the siloed systems and toward solutions that work across all key operations across the airport. What sets us apart is that we have built up an impressive resume through our turnkey projects where we have gained wide experience, not only with our own solutions, but also with leading third party solutions covering the tower, gate, airfield and services. Unlike some other vendors on the market, we have a long history of developing innovative solutions in collaboration with our customers, this strongly decreases our dependency on third party suppliers and allows us to have a tight control of all the elements influencing our customers’ operations. Our company is a big player in the aviation market, but at the same time, small enough to give our customers that personal care they need, supported by a very broad range of competences that we have built up with our teams.

Q: Would you say that China, and Asia more generally, is where most of the future business will come from?

China is indeed an important market for us, it has taken us a few years to crack the code but I can now proudly say that more and more airports are selecting ADB SAFEGATE as a key supplier. We were the leading supplier in China already for our advanced visual docking guidance systems (A-VDGS) and apron management solution with over 1000 A-VDGS sold and installed guaranteeing increased safety on the apron.  Our airfield lighting solutions are now being implemented at the country’s leading international airports, like recently with the New Beijing Airport. So, yes, China is a key market where we are now successfully expanding our presence, but let’s not forget that there is so much more happening, whether in the rest of Asia where we see a lot of movement on key markets like Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Australia, or the Middle East or Latin America. The Middle East is really ADB SAFEGATE’s home region, after our historic strongholds in Europe and the US. In the Middle East we see a lot of similarities like we see in Latin America. Important projects that need more than the pure product approach, where we are supporting customers by analyzing how they can improve operations and support them with our global experience managing complex turnkey projects.

Q: What challenges do you face to orchestrate solutions that will work for all, stakeholders? Who is the ultimate customer?

The ultimate customer is always the end customer, the traveler who is only looking to one thing, making sure his trip runs smooth and on schedule, without any hassle or issues. When we unite the necessary stakeholders around the table, their focus is to improve the overall efficiency of the airport and the traveler experience. I agree that many airports still suffer from silo thinking, but I also see a strong will at all airports, airlines, ANSP’s etc… to better collaborate to see the big picture and find solutions that will lead to that improved airport efficiency. In this exercise, we need to have all involved – whether airport management, airlines operations, airfield operations, the ATC or the terminal manager – focused on one clear picture of what the ideal airport looks like and the steps we can each take to contribute to getting there, often in phases depending on priorities and investment capacity.

Q:  How important is involvement of the safety regulator (e.g. the CAA) in the solutions that ADB SAFEGATE may be able to implement?

We involve all key stakeholders when revisiting the airport’s performance and seeing how we can further improve. In the case of Lahore, the CAA played an instrumental role. We would have never been able to increase capacity, or even accommodate diversions from neighboring airports, if it were not for the support of the Pakistani CAA. In Lahore ADB SAFEGATE worked closely together with the airport and Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authorities to increase airport performance and upgrade capacity to beat the challenging foggy winter climate. We integrated a complete system from the runway to the tower and we were able to radically improve the airport’s availability or ‘weatherproofing’ it as we say.

Q: What new innovations or product upgrades do you have in development?

We have prepared a very interesting set of new innovations, all related to increasing the airport’s efficiency to the fullest. Highlights from ADB SAFEGATE include:

  • The launch of an enhanced Safedock visual docking guidance system which integrates docking, gate and apron control, surveillance and monitoring systems to improve the efficiency and accuracy of aircraft gate arrival, turnaround and departure. Our new system also helps to enhance apron situational awareness and safety and is built on the experience and expertise of ADB SAFEGATE, which has supplied more than 7,000 docking systems worldwide.
  • Our leading LED technology, which is deployed across airfields globally with more than 1.2 m LED fixtures installed. ADB SAFEGATE has supplied two-thirds of the LED systems at more than 700 airports, showing how airports everywhere have switched to this energy efficient lighting technology. ADB SAFEGATE offers the only full LED portfolio of lights and visual aids proven to deliver energy and other cost savings adding up to millions of euros annually.
  • The new Pushback Support Tool that simplifies air traffic control (ATC) workloads and enhances airport safety and efficiency. The tool automatically suggests the optimum aircraft pushback routine, monitors the pushback procedure and warns ATC of potential conflicts with other aircraft or vehicles in the apron area.
  • Also new is A-Lytics, a data analysis solution that provides airport managers with new insight into how well operations are running. The system reveals operational performance related to the airfield, tower and gate, such as aircraft docking times and on-time turnaround performance for departure. Airport managers can now more easily see and fully understand what is happening, how they can improve efficiency and what solutions can be implemented to increase the airport’s performance.
Q: Will the recent change in ownership see a change in direction or focus?

New ownership will not affect our strategy, our approach in the market or our Mission, Vision or Values. We will continue to realize the goals set forward as part of our strategic focus, e.g. build for the future with Airport Performance Solutions, remain a leading innovator in our industry, provide excellent service, create an inspiring working environment and accelerate wherever possible with targeted strategic mergers and acquisitions. More than ever, we want to be the key integrator of choice for airports, maximizing traffic throughput and minimizing the time aircraft spend on the ground while maintaining the highest safety. We support our customers by integrating airfield, gate and tower systems, enabling all parts of an airport to work together as one to increase airport performance, from approach to departure. Our new owner fully supports our company’s strategy. This doesn’t mean that nothing will change. Changes will focus on reinforcing any shortfalls and on creating even greater potential.

Travel Industry Adoption of Digital Wallets is Ready for Take-off

Read Time: 7 minutes

How one company is helping to turn the smartphone into a digital engagement tool

This week’s Vantage Point interview is with Andrew Phillips, Director and Founder of Flon Solutions  –  a start-up based in Lausanne, Switzerland founded in 2012. Flon Solutions provides everything to turn smartphone digital wallets into customer engagement and marketing tools.

Q:   You started in telecommunications, and then decided to go off on your own. What was driving you in this and what was your vision?

I’m an electronics engineer by training and worked many years for a large European telecom operator, Orange. It was part of France Télécom Group (now renamed as Orange), which has operations across many countries in Europe and Africa. I had several project management roles and increasingly reported into head office functions – including the IT & Networks and Devices divisions.

These days the most popular smartphones are iPhone or Android, but a few years ago there was a much larger portfolio. Orange was buying and reselling €5+ Billion devices to their customers each year. This was a portfolio of around 130 devices that largely changed every quarter. So, picking the right device for the right customer segment, making sure that you’re giving them something to maximize their customer experience, was really important.

I worked with a team to analyze the specifications, features and pricing options for all upcoming devices from various manufacturers and match them to the right customers and assist in quarterly purchasing decisions for each country and segment. That was quite a challenging job. So, when I decided to leave Orange to start my own venture, I applied these data analysis experiences to customer engagement.

Then in 2012, Apple announced a new digital wallet application originally called Passbook. I thought “this looks nifty” and realized it was a great way to follow your customers’ behavior when interacting with your organization or brand.

In the airline industry, Passbook became quite popular – especially for e-boarding passes. Most airlines around the world now support digital wallets as a convenient, secure and standard way to present boarding passes to their passengers. They’re quick and easy to use at the boarding gate.

Passbook has since been renamed Apple Wallet and clone applications are available for Android. It’s also great for things other than boarding passes – coupons, event tickets, gift cards, loyalty programs and more.

So, Flon Solutions provides everything to create and manage digital wallet programs for customers and staff. We make it really easy to set up, distribute, and control these programs, and then measure how effective they are.

Q:   What’s it like switching from a corporate environment to now being an entrepreneur and running your own show?

It’s certainly very different from working in a very large company like Orange. You have to wear every hat there is, instead of expecting that someone else is managing sales or finance and you can just concentrate on technology or R&D. Now everything’s up to you and you quickly realize that sales is the most important thing.

There are a number of companies building products and services around digital wallets – though the market is still relatively small. In some cases, an existing IT department or contractor builds a custom implementation. For example, an airline usually already has a large contract with a service provider to manage their bookings, ticketing, billing and so on. And, they will usually engage the same team to add the digital wallet boarding pass functionality to their systems.

Other companies are specifically focused on digital wallet marketing. Some concentrate on the mobile payments side of digital wallets, such as Apple Pay. Others are more engaged with the consumer loyalty side – coupons, loyalty cards, events ticketing, and so on.

We often help our clients to understand the great advantages of using digital wallets to engage with customers or staff. In the airline industry, the use case for boarding passes is well known, but not always for other applications.

A key advantage is that you don’t need to build, maintain and distribute your own mobile App. Digital wallets already have everything you need to easily engage with your audience. To create a really engaging application for your customers linked to back-end web services and databases can easily cost $100+ K of development work.

Then, you have to promote your application in App stores that are already filled with over two million apps – both for iPhone or Android. So, you need to continuously push and maintain your app. Today, most people have stopped installing apps. In fact, 65% of smartphone users now install on average zero apps per month. Instead, they just use a few communication apps like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

So, we think a better way to go is to use all the powerful features in a platform that’s already installed on every iPhone – and something similar can be installed with one-click for Android users. It’s ready and waiting for any type of engagement program you might be interested in – loyalty programs, membership cards, coupons, events and more.

The nice thing is that the user has a consistent interface. They get a Pass that’s fully interactive, always up-to-date, works in multiple languages, has built-in geolocation or beacon alerts and push messaging. And, colors and logos are easily customized to your brand.

Most airline passengers are enrolled in frequent flier programs. However, many don’t really know how many points they’ve got on their card, what they’ve got to do to get to the next level, when their points might expire, or these sorts of things. This is because they usually have a static account and get occasional updates by post or email. With a digital wallet pass, everything is immediately available and always up-to-date.

Q:   What verticals or market segments have the most potential for adoption of the solutions you’re promoting?

Airlines already have a well-established understanding of digital wallets for boarding passes. They’re not always using it for loyalty programs. These tend to have their own mobile apps that have been developed separately and, consequently, as a customer you end up needing to use several different apps for the same airline.

If you fly regularly, you may even have several airline company apps on your smartphone – all with a different interface. This is difficult to remember and cumbersome for customers to use. So, consolidating these onto the same platform that the passenger is already familiar with for boarding passes is a better way to increase engagement while lowering marketing, development and maintenance costs.

Airports have different requirements. They’d like to provide benefits to their airport shopping retailers to make it easy for customers to find special offers or be encouraged to return, as we have done with our successful points-based loyalty program called StatusPass.

Airports have different requirements. They’d like to provide benefits to their airport shopping retailers to make it easy for customers to find special offers that may only be available at the airport, and be encouraged to return.

We also work with Swiss Tourism (and we’re currently reaching out to similar organizations across Europe), with products such as interactive digital coupon books or competitions for travelers – encouraging them to visit different places, events, attractions or hotels in a touristic region.

There are many opportunities in the travel and tourism industry that really work well with digital wallets. For airlines, because most travelers are already familiar with digital boarding passes, there’s a lot more that they can do.

For HR management, we have other products designed for staff, such as interactive ID badges. These digital cards help to confirm identity, but also provide easy access to work schedules and secure time-clocking. This is especially useful for staff that don’t usually sit at a desk and have access to an intranet. Instead, it’s easier to access everything they need during their workday via a smartphone.

And again, to develop and customize a mobile application for each division of an organization would be very expensive. Instead, we can easily assemble the right information all in one place for each team using a digital wallet pass. Our product – TeamPass – makes it super easy to set up and distribute the right information to different groups across an organization. You can easily interface with other systems – such as payroll or scheduling – putting everything in one place.

Q:   This is all part of the trend of digital engagement – whether it’s peer-to-peer or within groups – which is really taking off. Would you say that we’re still at the beginning of this innovation adoption curve?

Airlines have already adopted digital wallet technology for many years – for boarding passes and so on. Some have used the same features for other functions, in other verticals of the travel industry. Some hotels and car rental agencies are also using digital wallet programs for booking vouchers and special offers. Over 50% of travelers are familiar with digital wallets.

On the other hand, general consumer adoption of digital wallets and mobile payments is low, but it is increasing. In North America, over the last few years new mobile payment options like Apple Pay and Android Pay have been launched and are slowly gaining popularity. So this makes the digital wallet a great place for a brand or organization to have a presence. If a user is opening their wallet app multiple times a day to access a stored credit or debit card, and at the same time your logo is right next to that card, then they’re receiving brand reminders every day.

Q:   How do you stay ahead of the technology changes that may come?

In fact, things don’t really change that fast, in terms of the mass adoption of new technologies. It’s often a little bit frustrating when you build something and think, “Wow, this is going to be really great and everyone’s going to love this!” and it then takes longer to catch on than you had expected. It takes a long time to change consumer behavior for certain things. You also must make sure the people in charge of marketing or loyalty programs understand the benefits and are willing to try things out. Of course, hundreds of different ideas pop up all the time, and there are a lot of trials going on that sometimes bring good results and sometimes not. But, it certainly takes quite a bit of effort to get a large group of users to change their behavior to adopt a new technology.

Q:   What is your biggest lesson learned and what advice would you have for future entrepreneurs?

People talk about this famous “product/market fit” concept to ensure that you build something that the market really needs. It sounds like an obvious concept, but it’s really, really hard to get this right. There are a lot of adjustments and changes and pivots that you end up going through along the way before you really build something that a lot of customers are going to want. Then you need to figure out how to scale your business to meet the demand. It sounds like a simple concept, but it’s very hard to get right. It’s easy to spend a lot of time being a kind of consultancy firm, working on different projects for different clients. To push that into compelling, scalable products takes a lot more work.