When Alison FitzGerald joined London City Airport, she inherited a capacity-constrained and vulnerable IT system and a department viewed as a support function rather than an active partner. Two years on, and the IT has changed beyond recognition. Off-site data centres have been set up to ensure resilience, new systems brought in, digital signage rolled out, next-generation security scanners installed. She has done all that while maintaining operations, successfully doubling passenger throughput. IT has now been given a central role in all project planning.

Job title

Company name
London City Airport

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Having a speedy, efficient passenger proposition is core to the airport’s commercial success and, in 2016, in her role as chief operations officer, Alison ensured that LCY was at the cutting edge for embracing technology solutions that improved the customer experience.

Furthermore, the airport’s £344m airport development programme was green-lighted by the UK government in July. To ready the ground for that substantial growth, Alison secured and delivered a multimillion-pound investment in airport technology. Examples include;

  • LCY has an industry-leading passenger proposition, which is our market differentiator. To know passenger journey times, we had to accurately measure passenger journey times. In collaboration with Crowd Vision, we have introduced camera technology throughout the airport, from train to plane. This allows LCY to monitor journey times, identify risk and respond. Our terminal operations team use live real-time data to monitor overall passenger flow, queuing and processing times – for security, immigration, baggage reclaim, use of concessions and check-in. Data is crucial to how we run our day-to-day business and forms the bedrock for the plans for our smart, connected airport of the future.
  • We implemented the next-generation security processing which maximised our passenger throughput, while maintaining our proposition. LCY currently has the highest passenger throughputs of any UK airport.
  • We built in live customer experience feedback (collected in terminal via social media and feedback now terminals), which is shared with operations, service delivery and passenger experience teams. This means the airport can identify issues before they become problems.
  • We introduced common-use, self-service bag drop to reduce check-in times to under three minutes, which helps deliver our passenger proposition.

Alison has made the use of technology and data integral to the airport’s day-to-day operations. That made her the natural choice to become the airport’s chief operating officer and member of the executive.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
In addition to the above, Alison and her team delivered a number of high-value projects that not only improved operations and passenger experience but also the overall value of LCY as a business. Examples include:

  • authored and delivered LCY’s new IT strategy
  • new team recruited
  • new systems brought in
  • digital signage rolled out across the site
  • next-generation security scanners installed
  • new 24-hour service desk put in place, and IT services given a central role in all project planning, including large-scale construction projects currently planned and under way
  • technology solutions used to enhance security
  • networking of airport systems has allowed the integration of data to enable informed commercial decisions (eg car parking, concessions, food and beverage) to be made.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Alison has overseen multiple innovative projects for LCY. Examples include:

  • She worked with a small, UK-based tech business on a trial to provide LCY with real-time data on aircraft turnaround time. The aim was to meet our target of 30 minutes per aircraft and increase our overall runway movements. This trial was successful and run in collaboration with airline partners and handling agents. We are now commencing implementation.
  • In partnership with Innovate UK, LCY has worked on dynamic stand allocation that uses artificial intelligence to improve aircraft turnaround times. This will be piloted in spring 2017. It will provide more intuitive prediction of stand allocation, improve overall aerodrome performance, and increase the number of flight movements.
  • Given LCY’s unique ability to measure the airport journey, we have developed an LCY app prototype that integrates this data. The app will assimilate key services, include Google maps and internal wayfinding, be delivered by beacons, record operational and terminal performance, hotel bookings, weather, flight status, retail, and food and beverage pre-order). The app is currently under development.
  • All of the data currently collected at LCY is being harnessed and evaluated to design our airport of the future.

LCY prides itself on being an airport that embraces innovation, and, in particular, collaborating with British tech firms. We are a small, agile business that has been, and will continue to be, a proving ground for tech solutions that will improve our airport and global aviation more widely.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
When Alison joined London City Airport, IT was viewed as a support function, not an active partner. Technology decisions were made without input from IT, and the department was not considered strategic to the business. Her brief was to deliver a comprehensive IT strategy in support of innovative products and services. Her goals included preparing systems for growth ahead of physical airport expansion, and improving services to passengers and airlines.

Fast-forward two years and the IT infrastructure at London City Airport has changed beyond recognition. Off-site datacentres have been set up to ensure resilience, new systems brought in, digital signage rolled out across the site, next-generation security scanners installed while maintaining the operation, passenger throughput successfully doubled, a new 24-hour service desk put in place, and IT services given a central role in all project planning, including large-scale construction projects currently planned and under way.

Alison’s success has resulted in technology solutions now being viewed as core and crucial to how the airport operates. Technology and IT is no longer a support service. A clear manifestation of this is the fact that Alison is now the airport’s chief operating officer and sits on the airport’s executive reporting to shareholders.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
The key to Alison’s success with our executive and shareholders old and new has been to present IT/digital programmes using business outcomes and language, as opposed to industry-speak.

Eileen Youds, former shareholder from Global Infrastructure Partners, says: “Before Alison joined LCY, IT was viewed as a support function and not as an active partner. Technology decisions were made without input from IT, and IT was not considered strategic to the business. It had shifted around in reporting lines, moving away from the CEO direct reporting. Alison took on the role of CIO reporting to the CFO, and within the first six months, it became clear that she was one of the leaders the organisation needed. She established great relationships with key executives, and teams recognised her desire to help them be successful through her determination to stay with them while difficult tasks were solved.

“Alison held vendors accountable for their deliverables as well as the quality of their work. The bar was raised for all who worked with IT and within the team itself.”

Within nine months of joining LCY, Alison was promoted to the board. In early 2016 the airport’s chief operating officer needed to take six months out, and Alison had no hesitation in stepping in to cover the COO role in parallel with that of CIO. With a global climate of security and terror threats to airports (Brussels and Istanbul are recent examples), this is a huge responsibility to undertake for someone with only a short tenure in the sector. However, the announcement was very well received by the organisation and is a ringing endorsement of what Alison represents: a true professional, competent in technology, focused on improving operations, and working as a strategic partner within the business.

Matthew Hall, former CCO of LCY, says: “Throughout, Alison had the skills to explain the need for change and to take everyone from the shareholders to our customers on the journey. This would have been enough for most CIOs. Alison has gone much, much further. She has personally spearheaded significant operational improvements for our passengers – eg CrowdVision and common user check-in. And most incredibly, she is now running the airport on a day to day basis. A remarkable journey in a very short space of time.”

Adrian Spink, CEO of Company85, says: “Alison inspires absolute confidence, and is never afraid to challenge existing assumptions. Her professionalism is beyond question, and she has a rare blend of vision, drive and tenacity that ensure the right projects are sponsored and that they are kept moving forward to drive results. And most importantly she immerses herself 100% in the business – it’s never ever about technology.”

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
In Alison’s tenure, LCY has partnered with multiple IT suppliers, including Advance 365, SITA, Phase 5, Avtura and CrowdVision.

The latter was a product used for security purposes at the hajj, but was applied for monitoring the passenger proposition at LCY. This was the first airport-wide implementation of passenger monitoring in the world. Following its success at LCY, it is now used in Gatwick, Heathrow, Abu Dhabi and Dallas Fort Worth, among others.

We see ourselves as an airport that can work with the UK technology sector, and jointly innovate to improve our passenger journey as well as the global airport experience.

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Alison’s team of 15 has a 50/50 gender split. Additionally, LCY operates a flexible working policy for all staff. Furthermore, LCY is an equal opportunity employer, and 64% of our overall workforce comes from within five miles of the airport.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
The new IT function is organised to deliver change with commodity services outsourced to strategic partners. This allows the internal team to focus on the delivery of technology solutions to meet the needs of the business and fully align with corporate objectives and outcomes.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Alison is part of LCY’s Brexit working group and one of the key priorities for the business is maintaining our passenger proposition as this is our key differentiator. In particular, the airport will look to ensure it is future-proofed from any changes to immigration at UK border, as well as any additional security clearances that may be required.

Additionally, LCY wants to continue to recruit and retain the best of global tech talent.

LCY has an active lobbying approach and collaborates with airport, airlines, regulators and UK government in all matters regarding Brexit.

When did you start your current role?
October 2016

What is your reporting line?

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
We are in the process of reviewing our organisation design and chief innovation officer is a planned role within the operations and technology team, reporting to the COO.

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
At least twice a week.

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?

IT budget

What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Operating expenditure is £3.6m

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
Around 30% on operational spend, majority (capital) is spent on new product delivery and innovation.

Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. Analyst houses
  2. Industry bodies
  3. Media
  4. CIO peers
  5. Consultants

London City Airport IT department

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?

How many employees are there in your IT team?

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • wearables
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • Security
  • AR/VR
  • enterprise applications
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • wearables
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
Artificial intelligence and block chain for full automation of passenger processing.

The EU

Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?