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Current Scenario

A recent news item caught my attention last week. It relates to the disastrous opening of a new  terminal at one of Europe’s leading international airport. Several flights had to be cancelled and passengers were left stranded. Passengers on in-bound flights had to wait for hours for bags to be unloaded. Even the flights that departed, were half full, carrying only those passengers who just had hand luggage. The cause of this chaos is being attributed to the baggage handling software that relies on bar-coding to identify bags and route them. The IT problems began when the new terminal opened and baggage-handlers experienced logging-in problems. As a result, carriers in the terminal were forced to sort baggage manually. The cost of the disruption of service to the carrier (so far) is estimated at about 100 million USD. Now the bags are being sorted and sent to their respective owners using FedEx. While the exact cause for this outage would be known in the near future, it is noteworthy that the carrier involved had chosen bar-coding over RFID for baggage tracking for the new terminal and is not a party to the RFID pilot being carried out at the airport. While employing RFID based systems may not have prevented this disaster, it certainly highlights the need for a much more robust IT backbone for ground operations at airports.

 

Lost baggage ,as such, is the proverbial dead albatross across all major airlines necks. It is estimated that misconnects and mishandled baggage lost the air transport industry in the region of USD 3.0 billion annually. Every missing or mishandled bag costs an average of USD 100 to replace or transport to its owner. To top it all, an airport operation has an average of some 30 disparate systems running concurrently. In addition to heavy-duty IT, the bag-handling systems at these airports are complex, highly-mechanized, computer-driven operations involving numerous physical components and subsystems. So, is there a magic wand out there that can ensure smooth handling of checked-in-baggage?

 

I guess, new technologies such as RFID and SOA can enable closer collaboration and a more orchestrated operation of  an airport, especially of baggage handling. SOA enhances information sharing between baggage and other airport systems. Linking systems can improve quality of baggage handling through more up-to-date and complete data, and connection of baggage information with passenger information. Already, Las Vegas McCarran Airport and Hong Kong International Airport have successfully implemented RFID luggage tracking and  handle around 70,000 bags a day.

 

At these airports, when passengers check into their flights at the airlines’ respective counters, airline workers affix passive UHF RFID labels onto each piece of luggage. The RFID printer encodes the label with an IATA “license plate” that includes the basic airline information along with passenger information and the flight number. RFID readers track the bag at various nodes: explosive-detection systems, baggage carousels, loading devices and conveyor belts, providing an audit trail and assurance that the bag is heading for its correct destination.

 

To-be State

Eventually, airline ID will be removed from the data written onto the tag. Instead, all airlines will use a common database in which each bag’s unique ID is associated with the respective passenger’s data and the airport ID. If and when, airports all over the world begin tagging bags, they will be able to link into this tracking system. This is where master data management (MDM) comes into the RFID support information architecture. In fact, RFID data is unrecognizable and meaningless without a master product dimension to cross-reference. This is quite similar to the GDS scenario of Master Data Management. The operational actions take place by transporting the RFID data into an operational data store like structure and combining that with operational MDM.

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Once this happens, airlines will be able to proactively inform passengers about the exact location of their checked-in luggage via sms etc.. 

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16 Comments

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  1. Deepak K Gupta
    Hi,

    That is a very nice and useful blog of a case study I have ever seen.Sukant please put some more light On MDM and GDs side terminology.

    Rgds
    Deepak

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  2. Anonymous
    The blog is an excellent sequel to previous one. It provides a space to our thinking to spread its wings other than the general business scenarios. It compels us to think beyond comfort zone of MDM application. Also Airline companies should approach for MDM!! after this blog.
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  3. Parul Malhotra
    The blog can be related to daily life scenario and I think it thoroughly defines the work of MDM which would be very effective for both the customers as well as the Airline People. Good piece of Work!!!!
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  4. Anonymous
    well atriculated like your previous one on the insurance ! however I dont see relevance of MDM being brainstromed here or even being highlighted here.

    Any industry will and can have MDM so long as there transactions – including non profit organisations  !  Would like to hear more MDM terms in this  – Tx again !

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    1. Anonymous
      Thanx for ur feedback. Point noted that my readers want more MDM specific terms in my blogs. There are numerous blogs by MDM experts on all things technical. Was just hoping that this blog could be an attempt to give a broader perspective of things in the real world. After all, every nerd, slogging it out in MDM, would feel great to know he/she makes a difference to his fellow human beings, in every walk of life. 

      Thanks again for ur comments. Would incorporate them in the next post.

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  5. Anonymous
    It is infact a MDM blog.

    Already many MDM solutions in the marketplace come equipped with entitities like product (incl GTIN number), Location (incl GLN number) and RFID tags.

    In fact, EPC contains GTIN and a serial number. where GTIN is a master data dimension. With implementation of MDM enabled RFID systems,airlines will not need to reimplement IT systems to accept and cross-reference EPC info via global pools.  

    Thanks for all ur comments. My next blog will talk of MDM in an unthought of application.

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  6. Zeel N
    Though tagging bags with RFID seems like a good idea actually maintaining master data for all the bags being carried around seems ridiculous. 
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    1. Anonymous
      The idea of storing transaction data in MDM is worthy of being ridiculed. But was that the motive? Let’s recap.
      When a bag’s tag is detected by an airport RFID reader , wouldn’t it be great, if one could know instantly which airline and which cutomer does it belong to?? This can be done by reading it from a MDM hub.

      MDM should be a vital constituent of any RFID network.  

      But then,that’s just what I think. Someone might even call the GDS scenario of MDM as RIDICULOUS.

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  7. Anonymous
    The idea of storing transaction data in MDM is worthy of being ridiculed. But was that the motive? Let’s recap.
    When a bag’s tag is detected by an airport RFID reader , wouldn’t it be great, if one could know instantly which airline and which cutomer does it belong to?? This can be done by reading it from a MDM hub.

    MDM should be a vital constituent of any RFID network.  

    But then,that’s just what I think. Someone might even call the GDS scenario of MDM as RIDICULOUS.

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    1. Michael Nicholls
      As the number of airlines and airports is static, this is not really an MDM issue. As “customers” are anyone travelling on a flight, this would mean holding all possible passengers. Once again, I feel this is transactional data…
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      1. Anonymous
        Airlines anyway hold all their passanger data as customer info and its master data for them.

        A flight booked by a customer or a bag checked in, are definitely transactions, but the same customer will travel with multiple airlines , will use the same airports again and will checkin same bags.

        Now, which dimension to be included in the global data pool can be debated upon, but MDM can definitely help.

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        1. Michael Nicholls
          I can’t really see airlines exchanging customer data! Yes, it’s master data for airline1, and they may pass across some unique id to another airline to help with bag tracking, but I don’t think there will ba one MDM database with all airline customers.
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          1. Anonymous
            This could be an option. I don’t think the diagram is potraing one MDM database for all airlines on earth.
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  8. Samson Peter
    It seems the author had the last laugh on this one…

    The US Government is about to undertake a massive nationwide Master Data Management program – the Secure Flight program announced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

    The Secure Flight program, at first glance, appears to be a well thought-out program that conforms to several basic tenets of Master Data Management, in this case for the “Customer” entity.

    http://intelligent-enterprise.informationweek.com/blog/archives/2009/06/they_better_get.html;jsessionid=01NADPEBTNURBQE1GHOSKH4ATMY32JVN

    So, MDM for airline passengers first, their bags next maybe….

    With many vendors launching/ collaborating on information exchanges (example:  informatica’s healthcare exchange for payers), its a metter of time before somebody launches an exchange for air travel related data.

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