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Meantime’s software creates efficiencies for airports

Meantime IT first became involved in airport IT in 2011, when the Kendal-based bespoke software provider was asked to create an ID booking system for what was then BAA Airports Ltd.

The system was so successful, the company was invited to develop a programme that would manage volunteer and reservist staff through Heathrow Airport during its busiest ever time for footfall: the London 2012 Olympics.

Since then, Meantime has gone on to create four additional systems for Heathrow, which have been deployed to six airports around the UK. Its software - which is also used by local authorities, charities and private businesses – manages retail training, ID booking, VIP travellers and reservist staff, amongst other operations.

"We were invited to create a system that would manage the booking system for airside and landside ID passes by BAA back in 2012,” says Meantime’s managing director Fenner Pearson. “The system was needed urgently, and we had just three months to write the spec, develop the system, carry out user acceptance testing and get the software live. We did so, without a hitch, and the system continues to be used at Heathrow and other airports without a single second of downtime."

Heathrow bosses were thrilled with the software, and the speed with which it was developed.

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Meantime delivered a robust, reliable system for a competitive price, within a very short period of time.

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Lynn McNicholl’s, BAA’s project manager.

Impressed with Meantime’s technical skills and ability to deliver projects on time, on spec and on budget, Heathrow requested a system that would manage the recruitment and deployment of volunteers around the airport during its busiest ever time for footfall: the London 2012 Olympics.

Michelle Smith was the head of passenger welfare during the Olympics. She explains: "I was given the task of looking at how we could manage and monitor thousands of volunteers to help out at the airport over the summer of 2012. My first main requirement was a public website with information about our volunteer programme and a booking system that people could complete to register their interest. The software Meantime had created for the ID booking system looked like a great starting point, we just needed to adapt it into what we needed to manage the volunteers."

Taking direction from Michelle, Meantime created a package that had two major functions: one was to allow potential volunteers to discover information about the programme, register their details and organise the required training for successful applicants; the second to delegate the successful volunteers to their required stations.

More than 4000 people registered for the volunteer programme, with over 1000 going on to assist Heathrow’s passengers during one of the busiest summers the airport had ever experienced. Up to 250,000 passengers a day were going through the terminals, and volunteers were on to offer assistance at every stage.

Using hand-held tablets, all tracked by Meantime’s system, the volunteers provided passengers with train and bus times, helped them to book hotels and order transport, and directed them to the correct terminals, exits and entry points. The programme was so successful, Michelle and her team decided to adopt it as a permanent feature of Heathrow’s passenger experience.

A similar system was developed to manage the airport’s Reservist staff – the non-operational colleagues who help out in the terminals during busy times in the airport, such as major events in the capital or busy holiday periods.

The Reservists were being managed by a paper-based system which was proving cumbersome, so Michelle appointed Meantime to develop a system that would allow her team to manage deployment of staff via web-based software.

The result is an information communication and booking system that operates using real-time online shift booking and role allocation. Each of them is kept up to date with their roles, instructions and other requirements by SMS on Blackberries and tablets. The instant nature of the mobile messaging means that staff can be deployed where they are needed within seconds, ensuring any disruption is kept to an absolute minimum. The level of information stored also means that people with specific languages or specialist knowledge can be sent to an area where their skills will be put to best use.

"We have 950 people in the Reservist programme, some who are happy to help in whatever way they can, others with more specialist knowledge or rare languages,” says Michelle. “This is all information we have on the Reservist system anyway, we’re just using it to the benefit of the passengers. We can identify who they are, whether they’re on duty, where they are within the terminals and then send them an SMS with detailed instructions, all within seconds.

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It’s definitely one of the most innovative things that we’ve ever done for passenger satisfaction.

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The next system was for Heathrow Academy: a scheme which manages training for the airport’s thousands of partner and retail concession staff. Karima Khandker is head of the academy. “We knew the basics of what we needed, but Meantime had anticipated functionality we hadn’t thought of,” she says. “The system was built in a really short period of time as we were on a very tight deadline and it was delivered within two months, branded the way we wanted, built the way we wanted, and with a lot more intelligence than we’d considered. “As a project it’s been very successful,” continues Karima.

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With a system this intuitive, which gives reports and analyses data and takes the admin and the headache away from us, it really is worthwhile.

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When a system was needed to manage passenger trials around T2 before its opening in June 2014, Heathrow knew exactly who to call upon. Before the terminal opened to the public, Meantime’s software managed trials which saw nearly 14,000 volunteers take part in detailed simulations of passenger movement in and around the terminal. The system managed everything from initial registration of volunteers to tracking their movements around the airport.

Meantime’s ID booking system is now used by six airports in the UK, and the company continues to provide a wide range of systems for Heathrow that have introduced efficiencies and reduced operating overheads, all from their riverside offices in the beautiful surrounds of the Lake District National Park.

*The following feature first appeared in Airport Information Technology’s November 2015 newsletter.

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