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CIO Confessions

The head of IT with the Vancouver Airport Authority knows how to keep stressed-out travellers happy

Globe and Mail Update

WHO Kevin Molloy is chief information officer and vice-president of simplified passenger travel with the Vancouver Airport Authority, which runs Canada's second-busiest airport, Vancouver International.
WHAT Molloy heads a 30-member IT department responsible for computing and communications infrastructure that serves not only airport staff but also businesses operating within the airport's boundaries and the 400,000 daily passengers. A wide range of software applications run on an infrastructure of Sun servers and some 400 Windows-based PCs, along with 400 check-in counters and other customer devices.

tq What does your dual title say about where IT fits in with the Vancouver Airport Authority's business?
Kevin Molloy I think to some extent it's that alignment that our industry has been talking about for a decade or more—about ensuring that IT priorities are aligned with business priorities. In our case, we've decided to put part of the business and the IT responsibilities in the same shop.

tq How are you applying IT to making the passenger experience simpler and better?
KM Canpass—the original Canada Revenue Services automated border program, where passengers registered their fingerprints and provided background information to the government—was first conducted at Vancouver International. Vancouver was also the only airport in Canada with the U.S. equivalent, which is called INSpass, or the Immigration and Naturalization Services pass—again, a biometric kiosk where pre-registered passengers could bypass the customs and immigration lineups and buzz right through the border.

Continued work with both those governments allowed us to say, 'It's possible passengers can register in one program and have the benefits on both sides of the border,' and in fact we worked with both governments to facilitate such a program. It ran here for the last two years under the name of Nexus, and has now been declared an official program. It's being rolled out at other Canadian airports as we speak.

About a million passengers fly into Vancouver every year to get onto a cruise ship to go to Alaska, almost all from the U.S. We can use satellite technology to beam our check-in capabilities right out onto the cruise ship as it sails the Inside Passage. So our cruise-ship passengers are now checking in on board the cruise ship as it sails the last 24 hours into Vancouver. We then transport them and their bags directly from the cruise ship to the airport, in bond.

tq What do you see as particularly interesting or important technologies today?
KM Wireless in all its forms. Our whole airport is completely WiFi, so passengers and employees have access to either the Internet or to their administrative systems. We're delighted to work with Air Canada, whose passengers can check in on their cellphone or BlackBerry, and download their boarding card in the form of a bar code right to the screen of their phone. When they come to the airport, they simply present their cellphone with the bar code on it to one of our kiosks or an automated bag-drop location, and away they go.

We've moved strongly down the path of biometrics. Not only are we using biometrics on the border, but our own employees undergo an iris scan before they're allowed into the secure parts of the airport. We anticipate the use of biometrics growing over the next couple of years.

Radio-frequency technology is also something that's becoming more interesting—we're hoping it will help us track a bag at every stage along the way. That way every transaction to which a bag is subjected would be time-stamped and location-stamped. And philosophically, self-service in all its forms, be that kiosks or cellphones or home-based preprocessing for airports.

tq What's your favourite gadget?
KM Oh, my BlackBerry—can't do without that. Until a couple of years ago, I was the person with the numerical pager on my side and the switched-off cellphone in my briefcase. But I moved to the BlackBerry a couple of years ago, and I was addicted within days.

tq If you could change one thing about the IT industry, what would it be?
KM I would start by going back to the educational institutions, to ensure that the graduates that they're pumping out are prepared for the business world. To ensure they aren't coming out just with the technology knowledge they need to be successful, but an understanding of business principles in general, to enable them to better understand how they can serve the organizations for which they're going to work. IT-business alignment continues to be a challenge.

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