When he joined Manchester Airports Group (MAG) in 2004, director of group technology and innovation Dr Martin Smith brought with him a wealth of expertise about how to use IT to enhance business reputation. His experience has given him a broad viewpoint on how IT can and should be used within a commercial organisation.
Smith has had a distinguished and varied career before arriving at this role: a physics degree followed by work in research, safety and regulation, marketing and external affairs, much of it in the chemical sector. All these, he believes, have given him the broad view of business and IS’s role in it that is needed to be an effective CIO.
He thinks a key turning point in his career was probably his later work at ICI Chlor-Chemicals when he was working in an IS role preparing the company for sale from its parent and seeing through that transformation with the new owner, INEOS.
“The challenge we achieved was to do much more IT — probably twice as much for half the cost — and with only 20 per cent of the internal staff.”
He learned that even under such high pressure it’s possible to deliver improved performance. “If you are very clear about what you want to achieve, the ability to put in a good service environment is high,” Smith says.
In considering where future IT projects can have most benefit, there are several factors to consider, explains Smith. Firstly, existing business workflows have to be maintained and supported.
Then there is an important role to plan and prepare in advance of expected future business needs, “trying to spot where we might get tripped up”, as Smith puts it. And in parallel with every new solution, there may be opportunities to rationalise existing systems.
Finally, there are some areas where business reputation may be damaged by poor IT implementation or delivery. “Some IT is in business-critical areas where it’s not simply an issue of financial loss, but also of business reputation,” says Smith.
This might include MAG’s customer website or things that adversely and disproportionately affect customer experience on site such as check-in and passenger information systems.
Even technology beyond Smith’s direct control, such as the body scanners now installed at Manchester terminals, or the recent tightening of cargo security controls required by UK government are important to manage, as data flows between systems can often be interdependent.
Tighter cargo security procedures way well impact on customer experience processes or gate dispatching unless appropriate actions are taken to compensate, for example.
In his role Smith believes in the value of information sharing with his peers. He is a member of the Airports Council International, working on their World Airports IT Standing Committee which makes sure that his company is influencing future international best practice.
He also meets regularly with his peers from other airports, BAA and key airline operators as well as other CIO-level executives in the northwest. He believes such networking is essential for both him and his key staff.
Heading back to the Terminal Three short stay car park, it is very clear how much Smith has to concern himself with.
He must provide the information to co-ordinate the activities of airlines, passengers and a huge number of other third parties on site, comply with complex regulation regimes at national and international level and continue to collect and fully exploit the vast amount of data moving around the four airports to improve efficiency and customer experience.
Smith is managing a highly dynamic IT environment and helping to make Manchester and its three sister airports the continued success they need to be in these tough times.
The 10 cash-strapped Manchester local authorities which share ownership of the group must be delighted to have a share in a successful, dynamic, enterprise during such times.