Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Invests in Data Management Upgrade

Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Invests in Data Management Upgrade
Jodi Richards
Published in: 

When Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) implemented operations management software a few short years ago, Safety Management Systems Specialist Adam Varo saw tremendous opportunities for broader applications. Varo and the Safety Management Systems team recognized the platform’s capabilities and knew it could be leveraged to provide benefits throughout the busy Washington airport. 

“I started working on building some things like data collection tools that would replace the way we’ve been doing it in spreadsheets to capture similar bits of information,” Varo recalls. “The more I worked with that, the more we found other ways to use it.”

Specialists at Veoci, the software developer SEA began working with in mid-2020, note that too often, large organizations such as airports store critical data departmentally, which means information is not easily accessible or usable enterprise-wide. “All the different departments have their own different types of software and processes, and everything becomes siloed,” explains Veoci Solutions Manager Alex Nguyen. “As an airport, there’s a lot of information sharing going on—or ideally, there should be.”


Airport-wide Data Management

Seattle-Tacoma (WA) Int’l Airport

Airport Operations Management

Project Timeline: Ongoing, beginning in mid-2020

Key Benefits: Facilitating flow of data between departments; providing access to real-time information; complying with new FAA requirements for Safety Management Systems

The biggest issue with multi-departmental airport functions, continues Nguyen, is that each uses special programs unique to its role. Veoci software provides tools that can be specified and customized to each department’s needs, while still being accessible to other users airport-wide. The company’s airport operations management software is a cloud-based solution designed to automate data collection, sharing and reporting in a seamless and secure manner. 

Since SEA started to work with the Veoci program, Varo and the Safety Management Systems team have developed new forms and uses, and they’re still finding new applications for the system. “We’re always tweaking and adjusting, adding new things all the time,” he comments.

Standardized Systems

Consolidating legacy platforms and processes into one management software system provides the airport with multiple benefits, including the ability to track Part 139 compliance, wildlife incidents, security operations and compliance, citations, pest management, dining/retail concessions and more. “We started using it for more and more things in the Safety Management Systems team, and now we use it for most of what we do,” Varo reports.

“SEA is a great example of an airport using our software/tools to modernize their processes across the entire facility,” Nguyen observes.

“Before we started using the platform, we had a lot of different locations where files were stored and different formats they were stored in,” Varo recalls, noting that data ranged from spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations to Word documents and old-school paper records. “It was kind of all over the place.”

Digitally collecting information allows the airport to centralize it and also standardize data as it is entered. Varo notes that various employees might refer to a vendor or stakeholder many different ways, and thus record its name differently. “Now, we can control that input so it’s always the same, and then use that as a data point for analysis,” he explains. “It’s a big, big plus for us.”

Throughout the airport, a standardized data collection program such as Veoci allows information to be shared in a consistent, collocated and current manner, Nguyen adds. Digitizing data in a single format allows SEA to produce reports, automate notifications and spend less time performing redundant tasks. “Having a standard system helps the entire airport interact and share information,” he summarizes, noting that data in the program can be filtered as needed and exported to reports with summaries and charts. “Being able to quickly pull information from existing processes reduces redundancy and ensures accuracy.”

Varo says that data continuity is important for SEA, and this platform ensures information is being captured in the same way and in the same location across the entire organization. “I know where to go for data,” he says. “I don’t have to go to multiple places to find the information I need.”

Having current information is also valuable. “When the team goes out to do inspections in the field, the data is going into the system in real time. That’s very useful,” he emphasizes.

Previously, airfield inspections and recording information about foreign object debris involved staff members with clipboards and cameras. After taking notes and snapping pictures, they would then have to fill out spreadsheets and send multiple emails to affected departments. Instead, Varo and the Safety Management Systems team created a form for inspectors to capture such data on a handheld device. “And they don’t have to send it to anyone—it is immediately available once they put it in the system,” he says.

The Veoci airport operations management software is designed to simplify and automate reports, forms and tracking from any device. Airports can eliminate paper operations by converting all inspection forms and processes into a secure, shareable, web-accessible digital format. Additionally, they can generate work orders and email notifications from completed digital inspection forms, and also use chat threads and automated shift reporting forms to connect teams in real-time and shift-to-shift. Automated notifications via texts, emails and phone calls can help keep necessary parties such as tenants, airport administration and staff aware of important dates and deliverables.

Tracking and Reporting

In the past, it was not always easy for SEA stakeholders to share data because some files were only accessible by certain user groups. In addition, formatting of data was inconsistent, making subsequent analysis problematic. “You may have had to go through hours of analyzing blocks of text to pull out data points,” Varo explains. “It took a lot longer and it was a challenge to come up with accurate reports.”

Having clean and current records is valuable for everyday purposes and historical references, but it can also save the day by providing proper documentation for legal or regulatory purposes. Capturing incident information and creating risk assessments helps produce reports that benefit both operations and budget teams. Varo notes that in addition to collecting new data, SEA has completed mass imports of existing data. Access to historical data is especially beneficial for running reports, he adds.

The airport tracks safety risk assessments so it can assign levels of risk to systems or conditions, and then track incidents and associated mitigation efforts. “That’s one example of a process where you used to have a lot of information stored in a spreadsheet or other document,” Varo remarks.

On a related front, SEA now has a program for conducting vehicle inspections. It also created a comprehensive database of airfield equipment—including ground handling vehicles such as baggage tractors and belt loaders, airline support equipment and airport operations assets. The database records each piece’s identification number, make, model, fuel type, owner information and operating information. That data is then tied to incidents, inspections and history of the equipment.

Varo explains that having this data at their fingertips helps SEA personnel proactively address areas of potential concern. For example, aging or defective equipment can be reported to companies who can replace it before it causes an accident, and unsafe employee behaviors can be communicated to companies so that they can take appropriate corrective actions to prevent injuries. Enhanced safety means less aircraft damage and other lapses that could cause operational disruptions and increase costs.

Tracking safety management especially comes into play with FAA AC 150/5200-37A Safety Management Systems for Airports, issued earlier this year. With the new advisory circular in place, SEA is using its software platform to ensure that the airport is meeting all expectations and requirements, including documentation, records retention and communication.

Varo notes that recent changes in data collection have allowed SEA to take a step back and think about the questions it asks and information it collects to ensure that the airport is gathering the most usable data possible. Airports will reap the most benefits by ensuring that they are collecting information in a way that yields the most useful data points, he adds. For example, in the transition from paper to digital forms, SEA added selection fields that offer users choices instead of an empty text field to fill in. Reengineering how the airport thinks about data and the uses for it is yielding better processes and reports, particularly when it comes to cross analysis and providing documentation for management.

On a practical level, Varo reports that transitioning from SEA’s previous processes to a web-based collection platform has been smooth. “It was pretty straightforward to just enter the information in a different place,” he says, adding that the new platform is flexible, intuitive and easy to use. “We weren’t necessarily rebuilding the wheel.”

Veoci personnel note that the company’s airport operations management software is highly customizable, so it benefits airports of all sizes and activity levels. Forms, workflows, tasks and dashboards that are tailored to each airport digitize asset tracking, regulatory compliance, inspections, lease management, emergency management and more. Additionally, the software can be adapted to meet changing needs as an airport grows and/or regulations change. “It’s easily modified to grow with their processes,” Nguyen says.

Parallel Tracks

At SEA, an important human resource complements the use of data management software. Safety assurance interns conduct field observations of pre-operation inspections, aircraft turnarounds, ramp safety audits and other operational elements. The interns work under the oversight of Juan Martell, the airport’s aviation safety quality assurance manager.

The internal internship program is part of a larger Port-wide initiative designed to build staff knowledge of specific professions and increase “bench strength” in many critical functions. The program allows employees to explore different career paths during three- to six-month internships outside of their existing jobs.


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