Virtual worlds

Huawei CDO explains how merging the physical and virtual worlds can reinvent the airport experience

By Andy Bien, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Global Aviation, Huawei Technologies Co

Andy Bien, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Global Aviation, Huawei Technologies Co: “I am hopeful that in three years we will see a more resilient, more human-centric and more sustainable industry.

The airline industry has faced unprecedented disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic on a scale never seen before. It took a lot of effort for airports, airlines and their partners to stay afloat: cutting costs, downsizing and delaying investment. Today, with the global recovery approaching, the industry faces new challenges caused by rapid travel demand, staff shortages and high fuel prices. But what would it take to overcome uncertainty and exploit new opportunities? How can the industry equip itself to navigate this new normal?

Through discussions with different airports in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific, a common interest that always comes up is how digital capabilities can increase airport resilience. Resilience in the form of operations, financial and human. Talking about artificial intelligence and machine learning might have been a novel feeling in the past. But when the manpower to work in the airfield, the baggage hall and the customer service counter in the terminal becomes more difficult to acquire, autonomous operation, robotics and AI assistants have become the focus of exploration. With the support of mature technology, strong use cases emerge. The speed of digital transformation in industry is accelerating.

The ease of downloading apps for mobile devices could project a sense of ease for technology adoption. However, our colleagues who have spent time and invested heavily in mobile app development would disagree. More attention, and indeed investment, needs to be directed to form a solid foundation of connectivity, data integration and management, AI development platform, and a flexible hybrid cloud environment. to support genuine interests and needs to reinvent current processes. Only then will the industry return to the desired growth trajectory and be able to meet passenger needs for a smoother experience.

In addition to the technology platforms mentioned above that had attracted high interest, the emerging concepts of intelligent twins and metaverse describe a new way of interacting with data and the virtual world. The connection between the physical and the virtual has never been closer, with one affecting the other in deep and meaningful ways. Situational decision-making will be enhanced by supporting holistic sensing of the airport environment. Reviews can be performed after the event without loss of fidelity, and future development can be predicted to guide better resolution. This has the potential to completely reinvent the airport experience, for passengers, staff and operators alike.

I would like to share a number of observations from the wisdom of experienced executives I have had the good fortune to speak with over the past few months. First, have faith. The disruption was fierce and unprecedented, but most of us survived. Now is the time to rebuild our industry without fear. Second, we need to focus on building the capacities that would make us more resilient. Uncertainties and further upheavals may arise, but this time we have learned our lessons and are more prepared than ever to overcome them. Finally, invest wisely in digital and partnerships. When it comes to technology, it’s not just cool accessories, but apps with real potential to transform our people, our practices, and our technology foundation. It is not a question of how much to spend, but of the cost of underinvestment. When it comes to partnerships, especially in these difficult times, find a partner who is truly committed to technology and willing to invest with you.

Based on this valuable information, I am hopeful that in three years time we will see an industry that more resilient, more human-centric and more sustainable.

Andy Bien recently participated in a virtual event co-hosted by FTE and Huawei focusing on “How next-generation technology can reboot and reinvent global airports,” alongside key executives from Changi Airport, Aena, from Hamad International Airport and airports in Malaysia. Panelists shared case studies from their own digital innovation efforts and discussed the widespread use of technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and bigdata.

Watch the full on-demand webinar recording here >>