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Dubai Airport turns to real-time data in drive to be world's "biggest and best" airport

Scott Carey | Oct. 2, 2017
The world's busiest international airport is turning to sensors and real time data analytics to manage queuing times through security, baggage wait times and even toilet usage.

dubai airport800
Credit: Dubai Airports

Dubai Airport is looking to leverage the huge volumes of operational data it has to start driving better customer service across the airport, from the security queue times all the way to the toilets.

Michael Ibbitson is the former CIO at Gatwick Airport, which has been using big data analytics tools from Splunk in a bid to reach zero-queuing times through security. Now in his new role as EVP for technology and infrastructure at Dubai Airports, the executive is trying to take those practices and scale them up for the larger airport.

Dubai airport processes 90 million passengers a year, making it the busiest international airport in the world, with passenger volume over double that of Gatwick.

Speaking to Computerworld UK at Splunk's .conf2017 in Washington D.C this week, Ibbitson explained how the challenges are "at a bigger scale at Dubai, not just for IT but across infrastructure".

The airport has also run out of room to physically expand beyond its current two-runway size. "Growth has to come through innovation and automation," Ibbitson said. "We don't want to be the biggest, we want to be the best, with new levels of customer service."

One of Ibbitson's first projects was to open an airport operations centre, bringing together all of the various operations teams like the airfield, transport, and IT. The idea is that everyone is "in one place" and sharing data across that facility with Splunk when it opens later this year.

The purpose-built facility will display real-time dashboards on large video screens and will have theatre-style seating.

Ibbitson explained: "We started a project to do the data integrations behind the scenes and start providing the meaningful data through applications or through a platform like Splunk, with one set of dashboards they can log into through web pages."


Driving customer experience levels

Dubai Airports has been using two deployments of Splunk Enterprise for a year now, one for its traditional IT operations and another to give more general operations analytic capabilities around queuing times and baggage flows.

The aim is to be able to monitor data across the whole estate - 4.5 billion data points and counting - so not just IT system logs but also data from sensors, air traffic control systems, transportation flows and other core infrastructure.

Ibbitson has set himself some ambitious goals. As well as reducing the airport's hefty energy consumption by 20 percent and offering the best airport wi-fi in the world, he's also aiming to cut security waiting times to below five minutes, much like the project he oversaw at Gatwick.

For energy consumption, Ibbitson has already started deploying sensors and using Splunk to get better visibility of energy usage so that his team can start to spot pinch points and identify areas for improvement. The goal is to cut its energy consumption - which is currently 2.5 percent of the whole city - by 20 percent, saving $25 million a year by 2023.


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