Malaysia Airports is one year into a five year digital transformation aimed at matching the world’s best airport experiences. Fundamental to the strategy is data and analytics, according to the group’s CIO, Yiang Ming Lee.

“There’s a lot of gut feel that comes from running an airport. There’s a lot of inefficiency because data is not always at the fingertips, it’s a little bit late, it’s disparate,” Lee told Which-50.

“So more than being a digital organisation, we want to be an analytics organisation.”

Lee says there is no shortage of challenges, with around 100 million passengers transiting annually through terminals that are more than two decades old. Lee says at the moment the airports are a long way behind what he considers the world’s best airport, Changi in Singapore.

Voted the world’s best airport the last six years by Skytrax, Changi sets the standard for travellers with low wait times, biometric screening and many automated process. Lee, who was speaking to Which-50 in Singapore during an OpenText user conference, says Changi is also driving up expectations for other airports.

“Every airport wants to be Changi. As much as I hate to admit it as a Malaysian, that’s the gold standard in airports. So we want to be that.”

Lee says, catching up with Changi will likely take at least another five years. Malaysia Airports is already one year in to its Airport 4.0 initiative, its take on the the so-called fourth industrial revolution where digital technologies like IoT and automation are disrupting industrial processes.

Analytics and experience

The strategy has three main focus areas, Lee says. Firstly, the airport group is expanding its use of analytics in an attempt to inform decisions which in the past had relied on intuition.

“We are trying to go the way where all decisions we make are based on data. And that could mean either predictive or analytics. Therefore that becomes a single source of what we do, a single source of truth.”

Yiang Ming Lee, CIO, Malaysia Airports. LinkedIn.

The second phase, and one Lee concedes was not fully considered initially, is the user experience. The CIO said the transformation has shifted to ensure travellers’ experiences are optimal and consistent. Technology like biometrics and automation help in this regard, Lee says, but must always be paired with a human touch.

The ultimate goal is to create an “intuitive” airport experience for travellers regardless of their own background. Doing that, Lee says, can lessen the typically mundane and at times frustrating steps typical of an airport.

He argues a better airport experience will actually mean travellers spend the same or more time at a terminal, redirecting their attention to retail – the third phase of Malaysia airports overhaul.

Lee said the consistent experience can carry over to retail outlets within Malaysian airports’ terminals with digital features like biometric payment options and personalised offers unlocking new revenue streams for the group.

“If we could take a little bit of the airport process away from the passengers whole journey and convert that into a bit more entertainment or experience I think people would spend more time there.”

“That simplicity of process needs to be very tightly joined up to the other experiences.”

That customer view – rather than a technology approach – informs Malaysia Airports transformation, Lee says, because ultimately customers don’t really care about the underlying technology.

“The customer doesn’t worry about what happens n the back end. To them it’s the fact that ‘I really want to be at the airport, I want to be able to enjoy everything and airport gives me’. And more importantly, we want them back.”

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