BI taking flight at Auckland International

Published on the 28/10/2016 | Written by Donovan Jackson

Auckland Airport
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While at first glance it may seem that Auckland Airport enjoys a ‘captive audience’ and therefore a monopoly on the customers parking and shopping there, the man in charge of using analytics to drive better customer engagement said nothing can be further from the truth.

The flights that link the facility with the rest of the world are somewhat allegorical, as Shay Desai explained: “We’re competing against global online retailers as well as local operators. We’re competing for the same dollars in the same wallets, so that is where our drive comes from,” he said.

Desai, in charge of business intelligence for retail, transport and marketing at the airport, is presenting at the 2017 BI Summit, taking place in Auckland on 13 and 14 February, and said BI is a crucial part of the facility’s operations. “There are two parts to the business; one is terminal operations, the relationship with airlines and border agencies, which is regulated, the other is the unregulated side, which are the retail, transport and property businesses. These divisions use data in different ways. On the regulated side, BI helps drive efficiency to get the most out of the terminals. On the retail and parking side, it is about driving value for shareholders.”

Driving value for shareholders, Desai pointed out, rests to a good extent on taking good care of the people passing through the facility by delivering great customer experiences; it is in this area that he plies his trade.

He added that the airport enjoys an advantage in that customers have a unique mindset in the airport, where they might be going on holiday or a business trip and are compelled to dwell. “Our customers therefore have time to spend on exploring, shopping and dining, but we also must acknowledge that there can be anxiety. Our desire is to make sure there is a great experience and where possible lessening that anxiety,” Desai said.

Owing to the nature of its operations, he said the airport has access to ‘quite a bit’ of passenger information. “It’s stuff like who is going through the terminal, where they are from and where they are going – a lot of that is picked up from scanning boarding passes at Duty Free – who the passenger is flying with, demographic information.”

That sort of information, anonymised and treated, Desai took pains to point out, with the utmost respect, can be used to provide better experiences for the individual. “We are looking at additional initiatives to collect more data as, now, a lot of what we have is ‘at the instant’ and we don’t necessarily have a relationship with the individual – it is this that we want to establish.”

At the recent Dynamics Day, the drive to mass personalisation emerged as a key challenge; it is exactly this that the airport is seeking to achieve – and only by knowing more about its customers can the airport deliver better, more personal experiences. “So we’re looking to widen the net, potentially by introducing a loyalty scheme and combining information from other sources, such as from parking, online bookings where addresses and other details are shared. By tying that information together, we can develop proper relationships with our customers,” Desai added.

There is an ‘executive’ layer, too; he said the facility’s senior management recognises the value, both potential and actual, being delivered by analytics. “Management is very much on board with data driven decision-making,” Desai confirmed.

Notably, he said the principle of ‘great is the enemy of good’ is broadly applied; BI augments decision-making, it doesn’t replace it. “We look to data to show trends and provide insights to shape strategy; the analysis is delivered to the leadership which uses it as a factor in decision making.”

At the BI Summit, Desai will share his insights and a fascinating glimpse into the digital journeys which start long before passengers visit the airport to board a plane.

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