Birmingham Airport tech on flexible flight path

Head of information services Wayne Smith talks virtualisation and consolidation...

...move to Windows 7, it might be turned to as an interim step.

"Some of the systems are quite old - some of the legacy applications - and there are now projects ongoing to replace those with more up-to-date, virtualisable versions of those systems to get them onto the virtual platform because it just gives us so much more resilience," Smith said.

There are six systems – on 12 servers – some of which the IS department is waiting for manufacturers to release software for, with others being used for larger scale projects.

One of these larger scale projects is an 18-month programme to implement the new flight-management database required to fulfil changes from the air-traffic control authorities, which requires a new system to be integrated from scratch.

Consolidation of tech suppliers

The other main focus of the IS team is consolidating the different technology contracts that are currently in place.

"We're now looking at ways of consolidating some of those contracts to make them an easier, simpler management task to manage," Smith said.

Birmingham Airport is heading for a simpler and more flexible tech infrastructure

Birmingham Airport is heading for a simpler and more flexible tech infrastructure in the futurePhoto: Birmingham Airport

Like the server estate, there are numerous contracts that have been signed over time for different servers and so the aim of the work is for fewer suppliers to provide the different services.

For instance, a single supplier could provide network services, such as firewall maintenance, antivirus and monitoring, under a single contract. This new approach should lead to economies of scale for the suppliers and reduced costs for the IS department.

The airport has a tender out for telecoms and data - currently five suppliers and seven contracts – and is working on tenders for check-in and gate management systems and a replacement for the airport operational database, the current version of which can't be virtualised.

"Three projects of that size for this size of department will keep us going quite nicely, thank you," Smith said.

The essential skills of an airport head of IS

Bearing in mind the projects that Smith is overseeing at the moment, he said one of the challenges of his job is being aware of airport-specific tech developments while also keeping track of more general business-related technology the organisation could take advantage of.

"They're both environments that change and progress very quickly... but I haven't got the luxury of being able to concentrate on one or the other. I have to keep up to date with both those worlds and that takes a lot of effort and a lot of time," he told

Smith also feels an important skill for someone in his kind of job is to work out which of these developments will actually provide real benefits to the business, "and aren't just all fluff and no substance".

Once a technology has been identified, the ability to build a business case and sell it to the board as well as to other partner departments in the airport is key.

"It sounds simple but it takes a lot of time," he said.