CATSA builds out national database for airport security

When CATSA began a comprehensive IT project 18 months ago, it had one advantage that most enterprises don’t: it was able to build a comprehensive data set virtually from scratch.

The Canadian Air Transport Security

Authority, based in Ottawa, was created in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A crown corporation regulated by Transport Canada, CATSA’s mandate is to ensure that passenger screening processes in 89 Canadian airports are as comprehensive and as safe as they can be. Those responsibilities previously fell to the individual airport authorities.

Shortly after its creation, the work began on culling data from those 89 airports and the 4,000 employees sanctioned to screen passengers. CATSA certifies those personnel but they work for third-party firms that contract with the various airports.

“We were under the gun to deploy very quickly. We’re also under the gun to be very accurate in terms of managing incidents,” said Mark Duncan, executive vice-president and COO for CATSA. Duncan was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, to present a case study on his organization’s IT transformation project.

About a year after CATSA came into existence, it became clear that some work had to be done to get everyone on the same page, said Duncan in a phone interview following his presentation.

“Everybody seemed to have a different database,” he said. CATSA was viewing different data in different lists from different airports. “We said, ‘We can’t operate this way; we have to be totally accurate.’ We were spending about $350,000 a day on screening services so we actually had to know the expenditures, etc. and the expenditures had to match with incidents.”

CATSA issued an RFP for a business intelligence tool that could handle all the necessary reporting. It opted for a BI suite from Cognos and designed all of its IT infrastructure with reporting in mind.

“We wouldn’t allow any of those other enterprise systems to have their own reports. The only reporting mechanism we have in CATSA is through BI. That way we’re then able to cross-reference right across our whole enterprise,” said Duncan.

CATSA sets the authorized work hours for the providers that supply screening employees to the various airports. BI enables CATSA to see a comprehensive view of those hours across the airports and generate reports – by airport, by region, by service provider, by time frame. “We can slice and dice that report,” said Duncan.

CATSA’s main concern is security and it can track the number of incidences recorded, then break out reports using the BI. As the organization ages and collects more data, those reports will be instrumental in terms of tightening security and predicting incidents ahead of time.

“We’ve got just over a year’s worth of data,” said Duncan, “but as we follow trends we want to become more anticipatory.”

For example, during the hunting season, hunters may be checking their guns before getting on a plane, but all too often they forget they’re carrying shotgun shells in their jackets. Based on data reports, CATSA could take out ads in regional newspapers to inform people that they need to check their ammunition as well.

Reporting could also help identify gaps in security training if a particular type of incident is occurring more often in one airport. “We’re able to monitor that and go back and correct our procedures and drive continuous improvement,” said Duncan.

There are a limited number of power users that have access to the entirety of the CATSA database, but all CATSA employees receive BI training. Access is granted depending on need, said Duncan, and airports are able to view their own data but not each others.

The airports’ concern is customer service, said Duncan. The predictive capabilities of BI can help identify peak travel periods at certain airports and resources can be adjusted to meet the busy times and allow passengers to be processed through security more quickly.

The advantages of business intelligence have been obvious to most large private sector enterprises for some time, said IDC Canada Ltd. analyst David Senf. At the high end, the market is practically saturated, he said. “There’s not a whole lot of growth going on there. It’s more in these broader applications – it’s in democratizing access to information out to a number of employees through reporting tools.”

Senf added that BI is often used in enterprises for a “red light-green light” approach to organizational management to spot trouble points. Duncan said CATSA is also looking at that approach.

“We’re at the stage now where we have very useful reports, but as an organization we’re now moving from deployment into ongoing operations,” he said. “We’re putting in scorecards. Now what we’re going to have is a better display.”

He added that CATSA hasn’t been able to set acceptable level of incidents per airport since it doesn’t have enough data to draw from yet. Over the next year it will set those levels and establish a dashboard system to locate problem areas, in some cases eliminating those problems before they can happen.

So far, BI has allowed CATSA to save five per cent on billing hours across the enterprise. “When we’re spending $120 million a year on that, that’s a significant return.”

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