With air travel increasing at a rate of 5 percent per year, and many
airports already serving 25 to 50 million passengers per year, one
expects corresponding growth and greater capabilities from the
information systems that are part and parcel of an industry that
operates much of the time at 30,000 feet.
A down-to-earth case in point is Smarte Carte of St. Paul,
Minn., a concessionaire of baggage cart, locker and stroller services
at airports, train stations, bus terminals, shopping centers and
The company first introduced the public to the convenience of
baggage carts at the Salt Lake City and Minneapolis/St. Paul airports
in 1967. Since then, the carts have become ubiquitous features for
overburdened travelers willing to pay a small fee for help with a heavy
Outsourcing of the management and overhead of carts and lockers
certainly has the potential for eliminating multiple sources of
headaches for airport managers. The job not only requires an obvious
infrastructure for rental dispensing, tracking and collection of carts,
but also tools for analyzing cart traffic, cart and locker usage
patterns, and revenue in order to minimize airport congestion and
maximize convenience for travelers.
The company's growth to more than 1,000 cart, locker and
stroller operations at airports and other facilities, or course, is
good news for company executives. Customers' expectations and the
overall growth of the business both present challenges to management
fundamentals such as having a timely picture of the supply and demand
on its car operations. What's a COO to do?
For starters, Ed Rudis, president and COO, began the process of
decentralizing its business operations in January. The idea was to move
22 regional managers from corporate offices in St. Paul to the airport
locations. While the managers are closer to the action, the move puts
them further from the company's IT group and source of information for
gauging each location's operation.
New role for IS
Decentralization is a fundamental strategy for improving cart
management. But it also necessitates corresponding tactical changes and
improvements to its management systems matching travelers' demand for
carts with accurate distribution or allocation of these resources and
ultimately optimizing profitable operations.
What was not immediately clear to Smarte Carte's MIS group was
how data could be collected from the remote reporting locations,
processed at corporate offices with an existing application, and then
formatted into various reports and, finally, distributed back to
You get an idea of how big this challenge was by envisioning a
stack of 1,400 reports processed, printed and distributed each month,
600 of these being profit and loss statements essential for an
intensive, cash-based business. All in all, it was an eight-day process
every month for the MIS group, which was, in the newly distributed
company organization, a far too lengthy cycle for giving managers a
timely view of cart management.
While this challenge was similar to that confronting many
businesses that have since gone on to re-engineer processes and deploy
new, next-generation planning and resource control solutions, Smarte
Carte's MIS team concluded their cart management systems could not
simply be replaced by new management software. With more than 200
custom programs in four unique modules and 10 years of historical data,
replacement of the software did not seem like a practical solution.
This is a cash business and for this reason is important to be
especially watchful of non-contributing locations and equipment and
focus on profitable locations through constant cash analysis.
The key to success in Smarte Carte's particular situation was
supplementing the legacy system with report formatting and distribution
capabilities to speed up the reporting and distribution cycle.
Moreover, this was the ideal time of making cost improvement as
managers envisioned goals for reductions in people hours, mailing
expenses and the huge quantities of paper required to get the reports,
out. Dramatic, industry-wide reductions in the cost of "pipelines" such
as T1, DSL and cable modems were making electronic delivery the most
Merging new technology
For 14 years, Smarte Carte used the Caelus Management System
(CMS) to interweave finite capacity schedules (FCS) and MRP for
real-time, fully integrated decision support, operational control and
financial management. This system is essentially an information engine,
comprising a number of custom modules supporting accounting, planning
and financial analysis for various Smarte Carte departments from a
common database that can be updated in real-time. Transactions recorded
in one area of the company immediately provide results that can affect
cart allocations and decisions of other managers.
The Caelus application itself is supported on an HP 9000 G50
Enterprise Server. This combination provided the requisite parameters
for high availability and performance for supporting the application
and processing cycles. An while Smarte Carte's managers had customized
and perfected their use of the Caelus application for very
point-specific needs during the years, it remained an open platform,
amenable to integration with applications as appropriate.
The MIS team reviewed several applications for report
formatting and distribution, ultimately selecting byREQUEST, an
electronic report distribution utility from Hillary Software Inc. of
Spring Lake, N.J. Specific capabilities were sought.
For one, the application was needed to integrate with Caelus,
processing the HP-UX reports and automatically transforming them into
familiar Microsoft formats such as Excel and Word. Distribution of
reports was highly automated. Compatibility with Novell's GroupWise
collaboration and messaging netware already in use at Smarte Carte
enabled e-mail or fax distributions of reports, thereby reducing the
number of paper copies printed and mailed. As such, the reports arrive
user-ready in managers' e-mail inboxes. Using familiar Microsoft
applications avoided potential user training issues while allowing
managers to easily share reports for collaboration and planning.
Backward compatibility of the Microsoft suite enabled file sharing
among mangers using earlier versions of Word and Excel.
With the same strokes greatly enhancing reporting efficiency,
system administration was made easier. Installation of byREQUEST is not
the client-side software, it is not loaded on remote desktops or PCs
and therefore saves administrators from updating the PCs and laptops of
every company manager.
The system is supported on an NT server to retrieve reports
from the HP 9000 Caelus application server and database. Using the
corporate Novell GroupWise server collaboration package, the reports
are then automatically distributed to Smarte Care's 22 regional
managers and more than 90 airport location managers.
At their desktop or laptop workstations, regional and location
managers can browse, copy/paste the original file (whether a Word,
Excel, data-based PDF or HTMO file) into new documents or proposals,
print and reply. The byREQUEST application accomplishes and automates a
number of steps for Smart Carte's MIS group. The first step is to
establish and organize output or "spool" files into pre-established
folders. The folders define the character and content of the reports as
well as the specific distribution throughout Smarte Carte's network. As
the data is collected an formatted appropriately into preferred file
types, the files are e-mailed or faxed to the company's managers e-mail
inboxes and to folders on the Novell networks.
Smarte Carte's implementation of byREQUEST and integration with Caelus and GroupWise began February 2000 with planning sessions.
There are eight types of management reports, covering activities
for both carts and lockers. Each report can be run for multiple
locations. The programs have been customized to create a separate
output file for each location, which is placed in that location's
directory for electronic distribution.
- Smarte Carte uses several reports to maintain a close watch over location and business efficiency:
- -Gross Margin report transaction detail for the gross margin report.
- -Customer Service report that details calls made to the customer service department during the month.
- -Location analysis report is an analysis of a location by unit for a month.
- -Location analysis mega report is a complete statistical analysis of a location in a 12-month format.
- -Monthly audit report compares usage and revenue.
- -Unit history report is a usage report by individual unit for a requested range of months.
- -Credit card usage and analysis report.
When the byREQUEST solution taxied out the takeoff in February,
a number of improvements immediately followed. For one, month-end
closings, previously a two-week process, were completed within just a
few days. The eight-day cycle of report collation and distribution was
cut to one day. All this despite increasing data volumes commensurate
with Smarte Carte's business growth on the order of 25 percent for the
last several years. This meant that local managers had fresh data and
were equipped to make decisions or take corrective actions when it
The application deployment also enabled the MIS group to set up
folders so that, for example, the various cart management reports used
by the location manager at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were
not only more robust than managers needed to support operations at
smaller airports, but touted to corporate managers as well as the JFK
airport manager for collaboration.
Smarte Carte's approach to collecting, slicing and dicing, and
then distributing information provides a consolidated view of
information and combats problems inherent to highly distributed
Helping managers focus on high-priority, business parameters by
delivering relevant information in a preferred format that managers can
process quickly and analyze closely.
Managers can work with familiar applications and collaborate
via GroupWise e-mail. Managers supporting several locations can access
reports no matter where they are. Information is downloaded as needed
for offline viewing and analysis.
Jim Meyer, Smarte Carte vice president of Finance and
Marketing, said the key, as it will be for many similar cash business
enterprises, is to put information into the hands of remote business
managers quickly and efficiently.
"Prior to using byREQUEST, we spent two to three days just
printing, copying and sorting before faxing and distributing the
reports. Now, with a push of a button, the reports are sent via e-mail
instantly," Meyer said. " This saves us considerable time and money and
gets the information into the hands of our business manager quicker."
Although administration aspects of Smarte Carte's reinforcing
of the information system aren't so obvious to travelers as a silvery
cart in the right place at the right time, ease of administration
clearly helps. For example, Hillary Software developers collaborated
with Smarte Carte's MIS team to facilitate administration of the large
number of spool files created and distributed each month. Hillary's
customization means that as files are created and sent, the large spool
files are automatically deleted. This capability saves Smarte Carte's
system administrator from six to eight hours of tedious, manual work
each month after the closings are made.
Airport managers can look at this as validation that Smarte
Carte's technology underpinnings are secure. Moreover, Smarte Carte's
own quality of service measures,
demonstrate availability of the management system on the order
of 99.984 percent. With uptime, timely report distribution and savvy
decision making, Smarte Carte's customer service group is dealing with
just 1.74 traveler complaints per 10,0000 customers and quarterly
surveys of airport managers indicate comparable satisfaction.
Although Smarte Carte dominated the baggage cart concessions at
virtually all U.S. airports, the company is sustaining a 20-plus
percent growth rate per year, primarily by building a strong presence
at international airports, of which there are more than 100 new
opportunities. Will the company have to look at another round of
information system upgrade or additional MIS staffing? This was, in
fact, an early consideration of the MIS group because the company's
executives had clearly described plans for an expanded and
For this reason, the capacity of the applications and the
capability for the application server to be easily extended went into
decision making. The byREQUEST application and distribution routine is
able to work with most hardware platforms and data types. By choosing
an HP 9000 Enterprise Server, Smarte Carte saw a straightforward
upgrade path for keeping pace with the increasing transaction and data
processing loads that accompany penetration of new markets.
Let the games begin!
Possibly the best test of Smarte Carte's progress and MIS
strategy will come as the Salt Lake City Airport gears up for the 2002
Winter Olympics. Smarte Carte is currently supporting travelers on 331
daily departures, some 42,000 seats per day. Yet, airport managers are
preparing for significant increases, especially on days when athletes,
country delegations and corporate sponsor groups arrive, pushing
capacity to 24,000 seats above regular capacity. Those are peak periods
when Smarte Carte's flexibility and ability to anticipate and react to
passenger demands will show how well founded its business and
information technologies are.
Yet, by anticipating numbers of travelers, making special
allocations of carts and optimizing the cart processes
minute-by-minute, Smarte Carte should help Olympic travelers have a
good first impression of the airport as they arrive and again as they