Check-in desks at Copenhagen Airport

Perhaps we will become a software company

With Jonas Dan Jørgensen, CIO, Copenhagen Airports As CIO of Copenhagen Airports, Jonas Dan Jørgensen oversees the digital wellbeing of a bustling travel hub that is home to 700 different companies and serves 70,000 passengers on an average day. His goal is to have a digital component in every single business element.

During his two years as CIO of Copenhagen Airports, CPH, Jonas Dan Jørgensen has seen a clear shift in the way senior management and the board of directors regard IT. From an operational focus to a broader perspective, where digitalization will be imbedded everywhere in the new strategy that will guide the entire airport towards 2023.

"In our current strategy, "Digital Airport" is one of four strategic focus areas and we have carried out a lot of initiatives in that context. But it has been like a program, something that only a specific part of the organization handles. Now, we are in the middle of a four-month process to wipe the slate clean and develop a whole new strategy. To set the agenda, I'm working with an external partner to demonstrate the potential of several new technologies. We have a clear vision of where we're headed: In the future, there won't be a single business element in the airport without a digital component."

The search for new digital revenue
Jonas Dan Jørgensen and his team are constantly on the lookout for new digital streams of revenue for the airport's commercial businesses. The financial numbers at CPH are healthy, but like the rest of the industry, the airport is under pressure from falling rates in the core business. And with around 700 different companies working in the airport, CPH has a unique platform that can be leveraged in several ways, including the vast amount of data that can be gathered about travelers before, during and after a trip. However, Jonas Dan Jørgensen makes it a point to remember that they are still an airport, not a shopping center.

"One of the things we're considering is to set up a digital products lab, and effectively become a software company. We have won awards as the most effective airport for 12 years running and some of our internal systems work extremely well. They could be modelized and sold to other airports. We're investing massively in data, but we need to pick our battles", Jonas Dan Jørgensen says.

Tech Office tests new ideas
To determine which technologies to pursue, Jonas Dan Jørgensen has established a Tech Office, where CPH examines tech such as AI, VR and IoT to asses which have the greatest potential for use in the diverse business.

"We regularly host Tech Office workshops with 25 stakeholders from across the business and make a heat map to illustrate which techs can be turned into a Minimum Viable Product or Proof of Concept with the least amount of effort. For example, we have tested AI in our baggage handling and security and are now experimenting with predictive maintenance of our air condition using IoT."

Max budget: 500.000 DKK
For a digital idea to get selected for testing, it needs a strong business owner who believes in the potential. The business owners must dedicate their sharpest subject matter experts to the project for a maximum of three months. That's the framework for all the experiments: A maximum duration of three months and a maximum budget of 500,000 DKK.

"The limited scope and budget make it easier to get approval to rapidly test whether an idea has potential. That also means it is OK to fail. And when we can demonstrate a 15% increase in baggage handling capacity, like we did with our AI project, management is very eager for us to launch even more pilots."

When considering which opportunities to pursue, it's important to prioritize, but also to spot if a rejected tech matures to a viable state. So CPH has set up a scouting function tasked with keeping a tap on the technologies the airport is not actively working with. Like drone technology, which has the potential to disrupt the cargo business, but does not currently fit into CPH's strategic focus.

Always ask: "Why not digital?"
Despite the widespread presence of digitalization, Jonas Dan Jørgensen won't describe CPH as having a digital culture. At least, not yet.

"We have a strong culture with an amazing level of professional pride. But we also have a very diverse group of both blue- and white-collar staff and a still increasing amount of colleagues we need to move with us to the next level. That is not always easy. For instance, a lot of people enjoy the routine tasks that IT is typically taking over. So, leadership is vital to emphasize that IT won't render the staff redundant, but instead support growth by making it possible for the same number of people to do more", Jonas Dan Jørgensen says and continues:

"We're moving towards a strategy where digitalization is going to be everywhere. No matter what your job function, we want you to think "why not digital". And strong role models are key in this. For example, we had a group painting the staging area with brushes and buckets. They were increasingly pressed for time, so they came up with the idea of a GPS-guided robot built out of a soapbox. They recognized that IT could solve the task not only faster and cheaper, but also more accurate, because the robot is better at tracing precise curves."

Jonas Dan Jørgensen's top tips for the agile driven CIO

Establish the right setting for quick and agile tests, such as a digital lab.

Test new technologies in small-scale experiments. That makes it much easier to get approval to scale the ones that work.

Push the mandate to make leadership decisions as close to the task as possible. The specialist working directly with a problem usually has the best insights into the optimal solution.

Digital facts about Copenhagen Airports

  • Virtual Reality holds a great potential for the training and retraining of the more than 45,000 people who hold a harbor pass, granting them access to the airports restricted areas. On an average day, much of the ground traffic is for training purposes only. CPH is working to move part of that training to a VR simulator.
  • Through the program "Bring our people into the future", CPH is working to provide staff with new digital skills relevant to their job functions, such as Skype communication or analytics tools.
  • The IT team has the option of diverting volunteer passengers to two of the airport's check-in security tracks specially reserved for testing purposes. This allows the team to quickly test new solutions in a real-life environment.