Ready for takeoff: Heathrow prepares to expand by unifying HR and Finance
With teamwork and tenacity, Heathrow Airport pursued its strategic vision despite the pandemic, turning to Oracle Cloud to modernize its back office.
“Oracle Fusion Cloud has demonstrated why it’s the most competitive platform on the market.”
London Heathrow Airport has a clear vision: To give passengers the best airport service in the world.
A big part of achieving this ambitious vision is to win in the recovery from the pandemic and restart the airport’s expansion. Prior to the pandemic, Heathrow was one of the world’s busiest airports connecting the United Kingdom to Europe and the world, with more than 80 airlines flying to 185 destinations in 84 countries. As the UK emerges from COVID, Heathrow is focused on recovery and reclaiming its spot at the top of global league tables. Longer term, it has plans to expand and build a third runway to substantially boost passenger traffic.
But as any traveler knows, bigger airports aren’t always better. Heathrow needed to use technology to make things easier for passengers, from planning trips to navigating the airport and reaching destinations, and to give employees modern tools to unlock their full talent and potential. To achieve this vision, the Heathrow team needed to take care of something passengers never see. The team had to modernize the airport’s HR and Finance systems, the back-office foundation of airport operations.
Heathrow chose Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP and Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM to standardize the back office and let colleagues train their attention on providing outstanding customer service.
Destination: Oracle Cloud
In 2019, Heathrow launched Project Magenta, a major upgrade of the back office that would replace its software with cloud applications, namely Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP and Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM. Heathrow chose Oracle to automate repetitive tasks, ensure innovation through regular product updates, and give employees greater access to both its financial and people data.
When the pandemic brought air travel to a temporary halt, Heathrow was forced initially to put the project on pause to prioritize the financial protection of the business, but shifted its focus as soon as feasible.
“We felt the business case was still solid,” says Caroline Knight, Heathrow’s head of technology. “Though the airport’s expansion was paused, what would happen if our systems weren’t ready when we scaled back up? We needed to enable our colleagues to deliver for consumers.”
It became apparent that Oracle’s automation will help the airport improve operational efficiencies, key in an industry with high fixed costs and stringent regulations. The unified cloud application platform standardizes HR and Finance tasks, saving colleagues time and freeing them to focus on delighting passengers. Intuitive tools give colleagues access to more data and help them make decisions faster, work better as a team, and ultimately enjoy a work-life balance—crucial benefits when the pandemic had hit morale hard.
When the project restarted, Magenta team members had learned a lesson: when their backs were to the wall they could be amazingly resourceful.
Indeed, the pressures of delivering the project during the pandemic fostered cohesion. What began as a team of teams—representing Heathrow, Oracle, and Capgemini, the airport’s technology consultant—became a unified force.
“It didn’t matter where you came from, you were part of the Magenta team,” says Knight. “We went beyond the normal structure of customer and partners and all pulled in the same direction. Being in crisis mode created stronger bonds.”
“The crisis made the team more creative. We had to fundamentally rethink how we organize ourselves, make decisions, and keep everyone connected remotely,” she says.
Remote work and virtual project management turned out to be a blessing. “Even though some of us had never met in person, in some strange way I think remote working was easier,” Knight says. “If we’d been in the office, people would've come here from different parts of the country or the world, while some would have still worked virtually. Those sorts of logistics can slow you down. With everyone remote, it was easy to plan, be agile, and get hold of people.”
She likens virtual meetings to “inviting strangers into our homes. Although we were seeing people on screens, we learned more about each other, who we are, and what makes us tick.”
Knight points to the greater autonomy remote work provides, giving people more freedom to make decisions and creating a more agile team. “In the end, we were roughly twice as fast in delivering key tasks as before the pandemic, and the quality of our work improved as well,” she says. “Necessity was truly the mother of invention. We were forced to innovate.”
Upon implementation in October 2021, Heathrow gained a unified set of business processes across HR and Finance functions. Tasks as different as hiring new colleagues, procuring goods, and generating revenue are all brought together into one suite, allowing the airport to benefit from efficiency through automation and access to accurate, real-time data, spurring faster decision making. Oracle Integration Cloud provides an underlying layer of connectivity that unites the new platform with Heathrow’s wider digital estate.
With Magenta completed, non-operational teams are poised to partner effectively to face whatever the future holds for passenger traffic. April 2022 was one of the busiest months the airport had seen in two years.
“The Oracle platform does many things well, but simply put, it just works,” Knight says. “We now have a standard set of processes, where everyone knows where and how to get things done. We implemented a vanilla product with minimal customizations and a consistent look and feel, so it’s easier for employees to use and for us to maintain.”
In today’s business world, giving colleagues great enterprise applications is important to retain talent, in the same way a nice office makes a company a pleasant and efficient place to work.
“If you want to attract and keep the right talent, you need to provide a great work experience,” says Chief People Officer Paula Stannett. “I’ve lost people in the past who said they didn’t come here to spend their time on spreadsheets.” Before Oracle Cloud HCM, people managed performance reviews using a Word template, and they did annual salary reviews entirely on spreadsheets, with a whole team of people working through numerous versions. Those systems made it harder to build a world-class team.
“Oracle HCM has transformed all that,” Stannett says. “From what I’ve seen so far, almost everyone is able to perform these tasks quickly and on their own. Tasks that took 20 to 50 hours are done in a fraction of that.”
Besides saving time, the platform produces more up-to-date, accurate information. The HCM system is unified with ERP applications that encompass finance, accounting, and procurement. One such application, Oracle Billing and Revenue Management, supports Heathrow’s B2B transactions with airlines, managing multi million pound annual revenues. Heathrow is using the application to create new business models involving complex usage and subscription-based billing. The application also creates the opportunity to maximize the automation of new and existing billing streams such as Retail Concessions and Telecoms Infrastructure.
“Oracle Fusion Cloud has demonstrated why it’s the most competitive platform on the market,” says Heathrow’s Chief Financial Officer Javier Echave. “Beyond the technical advantages, what excites us is how everyone now has access to data, allowing them to innovate as they create new value for passengers—and for the world.”
Finance and human resources touch all Heathrow’s goals, from expanding and growing the business to doing so in a way that is sustainable. All of these efforts depend on having accurate information to make the right decisions.
“We’re passionate about improving our sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint,” Echave says. “How can we preserve the benefits of aviation while helping the planet? Better problem-solving is what makes Magenta a transformation. It’s the beginning of the journey. Tremendous things are happening.”
Heathrow partnered with Capgemini and Oracle Consulting to support project Magenta.
“The transition to the Cloud is a significant undertaking. It is a testament to the strong and collaborative partnership that has been built between Capgemini and Heathrow that we were able to modernize such a complex IT estate so seamlessly during a period of significant change for the aviation industry,” says Steve Baldwin, Account Director at Capgemini. “Since the program went live, Heathrow has already attained significant benefits through IT optimizations, including being able to deliver an improved user experience for its employees.”