Denver International Airport: Visualizing Processes

Sarah McMurray, Process Improvement Specialist, Denver International Airport, City & County of Denver
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Sarah McMurray, Process Improvement Specialist, Denver International Airport, City & County of Denver

Sarah McMurray, Process Improvement Specialist, Denver International Airport, City & County of Denver

Workflow management systems provide the opportunity to measure and analyze the execution of processes. This is necessarily integrated with a philosophy of continuous improvement. The structure of the Denver International Airport is virtually a small city, wherein various workflow management processes exist, each managed differently depending on need and department. The validation of systems has become a crucial task, which is never easy. Systems management itself is an iterative process of analysis, trend-finding, monitoring and managing. A necessary factor of any development is experimentation. Especially in the early stages of development, quick experimentation and validation can move an organization very quickly in the right direction.

Workflow management systems currently focus on implementation and streamlining of complex business operations. The major focus, after obtaining meaningful data, is on accessibility, or data transparency. Data isn’t of much value to people if they are unaware of its existence. My current role is involved in the process to make this data accessible, and useful, on an enterprise level. Various sections of the organization are rising to this challenge in different ways. For instance, our Maintenance group has been doing a tremendous job in bringing their data to light using performance metrics and standing meetings. Our Operations group is rolling out business intelligence centered dashboards to get more precise insight into their work. This effort connects massive data sources to software, creating live connections and thereby ensuring that people are constantly getting updated information at their fingertips. Despite multiple approaches, a commonality is that data is becoming more accessible to broader stakeholders, and operations are becoming more transparent. Additionally, systems are becoming available cross-divisionally, so as to improve the overall efficiency of the organization. Making data visible from one division to another cultivates a sense of alignment that everyone has access to the same information and more importantly, to the right information. This integrated approach not only promotes smooth operation, it should reduce re-work and waste in the process.

  Data isn’t of much value to people if they are unaware of its existence.  

At the airport, there is a tremendous interplay of systems. For instance, our asset and financial management systems are widely used across every division in the airport and need to have a good flow of communication to stakeholders in every division. By integrating these large systems into a warehouse, and validating data integrity, using these single data sources in a unified approach resolves potential conflicts.

Current Trends

Every workflow exists to create knowledge, reliable processes and outputs, and the effectiveness of that effort is going to involve how we visualize and communicate our data. Whether it involves something as sophisticated as machine learning, or something as fundamental as an effective line graph, a good visualization essentially boils down understanding the data, and its implications, successfully. Helping people to make smart decisions quickly. Users are becoming savvier at understanding data visualizations, and that will continue to grow. The need to make data-driven decisions is crucial, and so packaging this data in an easily digestible form is key. This would mean transitioning from long, tedious reports, such as large tables or complex PDFs, to other formats that are quickly visually engaging and actionable. Our Finance division is currently working on creating effectual visualizations across various levels of the organization. This enables front line personnel to see their own performance, and can scale up to the Senior Vice President and CFO level. This method of quick feedback can be used to isolate pain points, and reduce unpleasant surprises, whether at the executive, operational, or individual level. 

Tackling Challenges 

When an organization is as large and diverse as the Denver International Airport, a big challenge (as well as a big opportunity) is the smooth integration of different divisions and working together harmoniously. Growing to maturity in data handling is a challenge in any organization. It typically involves significant culture change, and in a very large organization, change management practices become extremely important. Efficient cross-divisional communication helps to align the entire organization directionally. A friendly piece of advice to anyone working in structuring a data-driven organization would be to adopt the willingness to be transparent and vulnerable. Not only with the data availability, but about your challenges. This type of cultural change often churns up a lack of data, problems with data integrity, and sometimes brings to light performance issues we were formerly unaware of. This is natural. And it can also be scary for many involved in the process. Learning to appreciate that we now have eyes on the problem, as opposed to being in the dark, is vital. If we resist the urge to be excessively guarded, then we can see where to best point our efforts at improvement, and powerful change can move very quickly.

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