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Airport authority gets IoT infrastructure ready for takeoff

Columbus Regional Airport Authority is making sure its wireless LAN is robust and resilient enough to support several IoT use cases it's planning to launch.

After building out its wireless infrastructure a few months ago, the Columbus Regional Airport Authority tripled its available bandwidth. It was a move that helped give wings to the airport authority, which oversees the operation of three Ohio airports -- Port Columbus International Airport, Rickenbacker International Airport and Bolton Field Airport --  to embrace IoT.

Currently in the early design stage and still formulating his strategy, one IT pro is looking to pinpoint a few affordable quick wins that he hopes will demonstrate why IoT infrastructure is good for the business.

"I tell the executives here, 'First comes the investment, then comes the innovation,'" says Jim Lizotte, director of technology at the airport authority.

For example, Lizotte hopes IoT sensors will soon be able to track luggage. Then, an airport employee can inform a passenger it will be 25 minutes before his or her suitcase arrives at baggage claim and recommend the passenger grab a cup of coffee in the meantime. With nearly a half-million passengers passing through its gates monthly, that's a considerable boost in potential concession revenue.

The airport authority also hopes to use sensors to calculate the wait time in a security line and push out messages to a passenger's mobile app with updates. And by using IoT sensors in parking garages, the authority can notify people that spots are full, eliminating the need to put a parking attendant at the entrance to the garage to redirect passengers.

Another possible use for IoT infrastructure is to create more efficient custodial operations.

"We have a very high number of custodians doing regular rounds to check soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers to see if they are running out," Lizotte says. "We're looking to have soap dispensers with sensors that tell us when they're empty so we can go fill them."

Lizotte is intent on designing a Wi-Fi network that is robust, resilient and has sufficient capacity to support all of these use cases on IoT infrastructure.

"People tend to get boondoggled by specifications, and they don't think about what it's like to use the product," he says. "It's like when people buy cars and they think only about styling. Does styling tell you anything about gas mileage, maintenance and monthly payments? When you're buying into wireless, you're buying a circulatory system. You can't afford to make a mistake with it."

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Lizotte is being deliberate about how he introduces the IoT infrastructure internally, noting that it helps to get support from a partner inside your organization to advocate for the technology. Lizotte found that partner in the airport authority's concessions manager.

"Now it's not just me as the CIO asking for more money for technology," Lizotte says. "My concessions manager is sitting in meetings with marketing and other [departments], without me there, and he's advocating for this technology. I want to speak to business partners in a way that they will understand we are trying to make their jobs easier and more successful," he adds. "I don't want this just to be an IT thing. I want it to be a business thing. You have to identify the operating impact of the project and get people to see the value in what you're doing."

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