Flying High: Schiphol Airport’s New Mobile Workforce App

To put it mildly, airport operations are complex. From efficiently moving billions of passengers to coordinating the movement of 40,000-kilo metal machines, logistics in airports is hugely challenging. Because of this, airport employees must be able to perform their daily tasks efficiently. One simple but significant component of this is communication. Airport employees must be able to communicate complex information efficiently and simply.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, known informally as Schiphol, is providing their employees access to helpful technology that makes their day-to-day work simpler. An app they have created, called Schiphol Today, has made communication and shift changes easier for Schiphol’s floor managers, who oversee the daily operations of Europe’s third-busiest airport. To create the app, members of the digital team carefully researched already established processes and used low-code to build a solution that not only automated many aspects of the floor manager’s responsibilities but also improved their ability to communicate information about the airport.

We sit down with Maud Schijen, Product Owner, and Lennart Spaans, Senior Developer at Ordina Digital Services, on Make/Shift to talk about their research and development processes for developing Schiphol Today. Check out the podcast episode below to hear directly from them about their experience developing a solution that provides value to their users:

Getting Lost in Translation

One of the main responsibilities of Schiphol’s floor managers is to keep the terminal safe and clean for the millions of passengers who travel through the airport. To do this, they must report any incidents that may impact airport operations, such as maintenance work that will obstruct walkways, and passing along that information to the next shift. This transfer of knowledge occurred three times a day, each happening on pen and paper and in some cases, by word of mouth.

The floor managers have a briefing three times a day where they tell each other what happened and then they write it down… because of a lack of tooling, they mostly used their phone or pen and paper. A lot of information got lost in transition

The lack of digital documentation of information during these shift handovers caused a few problems. By relying on informal methods of recording this information, the floor managers would understandably have a harder time communicating previous updates from shift changes they were not part of. Additionally, this information can be unintentionally changed through the chain of communication, both instances lead to time wasted trying to figure out the reality of a situation.

The Schiphol Today app simplifies the floor manager’s communication between shifts

To start the project, Schijen and Spaans knew they had to keep their end users top of mind. “It all starts with [Schijen] because as a product owner, she likes to get to know the business processes inside out,” Spaans explains. Schijen interviewed the end-users, in this case, the floor managers, to understand how they operate. Once she had mapped the processes, she presented her findings to various stakeholders, again including the end-users to ensure that her approach would help to solve their problems. This allowed her to understand the business process at its core, and to use the core purpose of the process as a guiding light for their development. As Schijen explains, “[they] always try to implement new working processes that contain fewer administrative steps, reduce communication layers, or prevent data loss,” helping to ensure that their solutions are reducing operational burdens for day-to-day activities.

We prioritize based on the value for the user while keeping in mind the overall goal of the entire project

Once the stakeholders were on board with her approach to digitizing the process, Schijen prioritized solutions that enabled the floor managers to perform their work more efficiently. She then analyzed data collected from the processes to determine which had the best opportunity to provide additional value. At this point, Schijen engaged their UX designer to sketch the initial user experience. Then, scrum methodology took over, and throughout development, Schijen and Spaans included stakeholders who know most about the daily activities of floor managers, including the floor managers themselves.

After conducting deep research into the processes that the floor managers undertake, Schijen and Spaans delivered a solution that solved the challenges they were facing. Titled Schiphol Today, the mobile app is easy to use and provides the floor managers a way of centrally recording critical information that helps them do their jobs. The app updates each floor manager at the start of their shift and provides a digital record of any recorded incident.

Cleared for Takeoff

Now that the floor managers are using the Schiphol Today app, they can report incidents or unsafe situations directly to the relevant party, rather than performing a series of calls to share information. They have a clear overview of the incident in question and, as Spaans explains, “everybody gets a sense of control, that they never had before.” They can now update the incident through the app in real-time, keeping the other Schiphol employees up to date with the latest information available. These updates are stored in the app, so the floor managers can review previous updates and steps taken to resolve the issue. Information is no longer getting lost during shift changeovers now that they have a digital record of incidents.

First-class Development

As outlined earlier, Schijen and Spaans must keep several different stakeholders in mind when building solutions for the airport. To implement digital process solutions successfully, Schijen explains that it’s important to “have a very human approach” to understanding the reasoning behind certain activities within a process. As Schijen and Spaans discovered, there is usually a valid reason as to why a certain process is done in a particular way, so they needed to include the users in their development lifecycle. The Mendix Platform allows Schijen and Spaans to develop iteratively alongside the end-users who they are developing for.

Another benefit of a low-code approach to their process automation efforts is their ability to leverage the vast troves of data they have access to. Spaans explains that it is ultimately the “users that provide the input [into the Schiphol Today app] … they’re responsible for the quality of the data” that is collected. Because the floor managers are acting as the inputs of data, they must be at the forefront of how the app functions and disseminates its inputs. However, their end-users aren’t the only source of critical data. Schijen and Spaans have integrated with other systems within the Schiphol IT landscape, providing real-time updates, such as which airline will be checking in at which desk, or if there is construction that may impact the floor managers’ work. These other data sources are supplementing the information provided by floor managers.

Mendix fits in well with all these [innovative] technologies, because [the digital team] can just access the portal and use all the data available, and show it directly to the users

Schiphol Today was initially released before COVID-19, which meant Schijen and Spaans were tasked with making updates based on the impact that the pandemic brought like social distancing and other disruptive changes. Despite the sudden and significant changes, “[Schiphol] was able to respond quickly to those needs,” Spaans outlines.

Clear Skies Ahead

By keeping their users top of mind, Schijen and Spaans are delivering solutions that provide value. They started by understanding Schiphol’s business processes at their core and replicating their intended purpose into an app that enables the floor managers to spend less time on sharing information, and more time providing great service to their passengers.

The pair have ambitious plans for the future of Schiphol’s innovation. So far, they have only addressed the needs of the floor managers, just one of the many roles of the mobile workforce. Because they are leveraging low-code, they can reuse components they have built in the Schiphol Today app for their new projects. They plan to prioritize their future work in the same way they have previously: focusing on the needs of their end-users and adding value through automated processes.