IT helps Toronto Airport Authority take flight


There may be three terminals and some 60 airlines at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, but there’s only one common-use IT environment.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) was one of the companies recognized last week at the Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA) for innovative applications of technology.

The big winner at the CIPA gala in Toronto was Industry Canada’s BizPal Secretariat, an online service that helps entrepreneurs find the specific permits and licenses they require to start a business, from all levels of government, in one place. The Canadian Air Transport Association was also singled-out for developing a more secure system to identify and validate facility access for airport employees.

Individuals honoured included Savino DiPasquale vice-president, information technology and CIO GlaxoSmithKline Inc. DiPasquale was named CIO Canada CIO of the Year.

Industry veteran Lionel P. Hurtubise was also inducted into the CIPA Hall of Fame.

The GTAA took home a silver award for excellence, efficiency and operational improvement, all of which were demonstrated in its three year-project to completely overhaul the organization’s IT infrastructure, from cabling to flight time displays.

Airports were traditionally built on many layers of proprietary solutions, noted Gary Long, vice-president and CIO, IT and telecommunications for the GTAA. He said back in 2000, with a new Terminal One set to open in 2004, there was an opportunity to deploy a modern, common-use architecture that could be utilized by not just the GTAA but by all its clients, from airlines to vendors and concessions.

Common use was more of a philosophy at that point, but Long said the Airport Authority was able to make it real, and the result was a cost effective, efficient and flexible infrastructure for the GTAA and its stakeholders. “This [covers] everything from the very fundamentals of cabling right up to what faces you as a passenger at a kiosk, counter or gate,” said Long. “Rather than disparate pieces of technology, it’s an integrated solution.”

From laying cable and fibre, deploying a secure wireless LAN, and installing a VoIP network to putting in hardware, and developing software applications, Long said more than 200 systems were involved in the project, at a total cost of over $100 million – which included hardware infrastructure.

Fourteen discrete proprietary networks were integrated into one across the airport site.

To meet their goal of being ready for Terminal One’s opening, Long said the GTAA went through a constant cycle of review and evaluation during the project, bringing in everyone from clients and vendors to financial backers to review their plans and offer advice.

“One of the things we knew, and it was hanging over all of us, was we couldn’t fail,” said Long.

Ian Grant, general manager, IT&T systems infrastructure, information technology and telecommunications with the GTAA, said the timing was right with the industry trend toward consolidation, converging different layers of technology on a single network.

Still, he said, it was a challenge bringing the GTAA’s many stakeholders onboard, and getting them to buy into the vision and the project. “With any change comes resistance.” He said a common objection is: ‘I’ve done it this way, so why can’t I continue on?’

“But with VoIP, for example, as we showed them how we could all benefit from the solution, we got the buy-in eventually.”

Major vendors working with the GTAA in the project included HP Canada, Cisco Systems and SITA, a Swiss software company that’s a niche player in the airline systems market.

Paul Tsaparis, president and CEO, HP Canada, said the GTAA’s “incredibly aggressive timelines” made for an exciting project for HP, which deployed a lot of its professional services consulting and integration services and was actively involved in developing the wireless LAN.

He said the GTAA was keen to take advantage of HP’s investments in R&D, and was always pushing the vendor to pitch new ideas and technologies fresh off the drawing-board that could improve the project. A good example of that, said Tsaparis, was the shared wireless infrastructure. The potential for RFID technology to be used at the airport is being currently reviewed.

“This team was always pushing HP for ideas and innovation; they didn’t want a standard kind of supplier relationship,” said Tsaparis. “They had very high standards.”

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