The HCM Technology Journey at Heathrow Airport – LIVE from Oracle CloudWorld

Hosted by

Steve Boese

Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference

Trish Steed

CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

About this episode

The HCM Technology Journey at Heathrow Airport – LIVE from Oracle CloudWorld

Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane

Guest: Caroline Knight, Head of Corporate Technology, Heathrow Airport

This week, we met with Carline Knight live from the Oracle Cloud World Conference 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

– Heathrow Airport’s journey through Oracle implementation

– Challenges the travel industry were faced with during the pandemic

– Importance of a continuous improvement cycle

– Benefits of having the “right” HR Technology system


Thank you for joining the show today!  Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!

Transcript follows:

Steve 0:28
Welcome to the HR Happy Hour Show. My name’s Steve Boese and I’m with Trish McFarlane. Trish, how are you?

Trish 0:32
I’m good, how are you?

Steve 0:33
I am well, we are back or still, maybe I should say at Oracle Cloud World in Las Vegas. In our series of special shows we’re producing here at the event. We are super excited today we have a very special guest.

Trish 0:45
She came a long way. By the way, maybe the farthest at the event.

Steve 0:50
I’d imagine so, we are joined by Caroline Knight. She’s the Head of Corporate Technology at Heathrow Airport. How cool is that?

Trish 0:57
That’s my favorite airport. I’m not just saying that because she’s sitting here. It really is. Like when I go there, it feels like home.

Steve 1:03
So Caroline, welcome to the show. How are you?

Caroline Knight 1:05
Thank you very much. Yeah, I’m really good.

Steve 1:07
Very nice to meet you. And I can I say before we started recording in fact, you were not only on time you were early. You arrived early to this appointment. So that’s got to be kind of part of the DNA. Before we get into some of the what’s happening at the airport, what you guys are doing some of the people challenges etc. Maybe look, we all know London, Heathrow Airport. It’s one of the most famous airports in the world. But maybe give us a little bit of if you don’t mind a little color, a little bit of the scope of the size of the enterprise, because I imagine it’s quite a bit larger and more complex than even we think.

Caroline Knight 1:40
Yeah, we talk about Heathrow as a city. It’s a small city. If you think about the comings and goings, and the amount of passengers that will pass through Heathrow in any one day. We have about five and a half thousand direct employees and many 1000s more that work for our airlines and ground handlers and partners. So it’s quite a large setup at Heathrow Airport. And yeah, we’ve got two runways, we’d like a third. We have four airport terminals. And yeah, a very, very busy operation.

Trish 2:17
And how long have you been with Heathrow?

Caroline Knight 2:19
I’ve worked at Heathrow for 12 years now. But I’ve always worked in and around Heathrow Airport, because prior to that I worked for British Airways. So worked in there it function. So yeah, I spent my whole career at Heathrow. And there’s not many places you can work where you’d be setting the office and you see aircraft thundering down the runway next to the office. Right. It’s quite an exciting place to be.

Trish 2:40
I would imagine it’s always very vibrant. It’s sort of the vibe I get there. So what are there any secrets like something that we wouldn’t know, as people just sort of passing through? Like, what’s your what’s your favorite part of of Heathrow Airport?

Caroline Knight 2:53
Well, I think you get a lot of emotions at an airport, I think you get you get lots of people that are flying in. And then you know, maybe they’ve especially with the pandemic now. You see you walk past the arrivals gate at Heathrow, and you’ll see people that have come off planes and these big reunions or Yeah, I think that side of it, it’s quite an emotional place. Sometimes it’s interesting. And when you work there, I think you get used to watching people flying off to all these amazing places. But you can just look at the departure squad and think, Oh, if only I was going to Hawaii.

Steve 3:30
So I know, especially in a place like Heathrow, it’s probably every literally everywhere in the world, right? It’s up on my board at any one time, which is pretty amazing to think about.

Trish 3:38
I have always wanted to do that. Like we just go to the airport and just pick a city like what was the next flight? Have you ever done that?

Caroline Knight 3:43
You get kind of worked out working for the airline. When I worked for the airline, and you have staff travel. So you can you can get on there if there’s space on flight hours, long. So when I first started working and you know, in my younger days, we used to turn up on a Friday evening and say right, where can we go?

Steve 4:07
I want to ask you Caroline, you mentioned the pandemic. Of course, it’s hard not to talk about that somewhat. Right. We’ve heard a lot about that in the last couple of days here CloudWorld about this being the first very large Oracle event that’s happened since the pandemic, but maybe just give us a minute or two on your role at Heathrow.

Caroline Knight 4:23
So, I’m the Head of Technology for Corporate. So my team, we design we build and we run all of the technology that we use in the back office. So that’s the people team systems, the finance systems, the procurement systems, payroll, all those things that just need to happen seamlessly in the background. Right work. So yeah, and then I have equivalents at Heathrow who is an equivalent of me who looks after all the commercial systems and the same for all the operational systems.

Steve 4:57
Right. So the thing is, I tell you what your flight is what gate to go to etc, etc. Yeah. Well, which also needs to work, right?

Caroline Knight 5:03
And the baggage systems and all those things, you know and love as a passenger.

Steve 5:09
We mentioned the pandemic, Caroline, right. There’s no industry I can think of, well, I put maybe you could think of another that was equivalently impacted by pandemic, but certainly the travel industry, right. It’s a massive amount of disruption. You said you’ve been at Heathrow 12 years. So you’ve kind of gone through all of that, I’d love for you to maybe comment a little bit about some of the some of the challenges how the airport is sort of reemerged, if you will, right. From those challenges?

Caroline Knight 5:34
It’s been really tough because we were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic, when countries were closing their borders. And then we were one of the last to open back up again. And so much of that has been out of our control, because we’ve been very much dependent on governments and their rules about whether they’re going to allow international travel, and what the COVID testing regimes are. And so all of that was changing. So it has, it’s been very difficult, because it’s been really hard to predict when things will happen. And so we’ve had to be very agile, and cope with a really fast pace changing environment. But in the last few months, I mean, certainly over the summer, we’ve been back to a much more normal operation. It’s been difficult, we’ve had a lot of challenges, because the demand is very much there. People want to fly. But meeting that demand has been difficult, because we’ve had to grow very, very rapidly in a very short space of time, which is something that we’ve not had to do for many, many years.

Trish 6:38
How does that impact sort of your role with the technology? Did you have any layoffs? Did you have people just sort of national natural attrition during that time, where you’ve had to ramp back up? Or did your team kind of stay intact?

Caroline Knight 6:54
My team changed completely. So when the when the pandemic first hit, we went through quite significant organizational redesign. And then during the pandemic, we had something in the UK called furlough. So we furloughed a lot of our employees. So we were doing some rolling furlough where in our teams, we were perhaps taking a day a week off as furlough time. So it meant there was quite a bit of disruption, because people weren’t necessarily all around and working at the same time. It was it was difficult, it was really challenging. And people were obviously concerned about where their jobs secure. So we had to kind of face all of that at the same time as as running something programs.

Steve 7:38
And now fast forward, not really that long amount of time, right in terms of the calendar, but it seems like lightyears away in terms of what’s actually happening certainly in the world of travel. You mentioned the demand for travel is through the roof. Yes, especially through the summer. And we’ve seen story after story about just crazy. Every plane I get on fall, right for sure. Here in the US anyway. Maybe definitely to talk a little bit about just responding to those challenges. Have you had to call people back from furlough I’ve had Yeah, are the teams out there trying to hire new staff? What’s it been like trying to get back up and even surpass prior capacity and service.

Caroline Knight 8:16
That’s a real challenge. We have a huge recruitment drive going on. So we’re recruiting like crazy. So that in itself presents a lot of challenges. And we do something at Heathrow, we call it here to help. I’m ready to help. So in the summer, when we’ve been really, really very busy, and our operational staff have found it difficult to cope with the demand, we’ve taken staff from our back office, and we all wear these people, purple T shirts, and we go out into the airport terminals. And we help sort of queue combing and wayfinding. And we help at the security with the baggage trays and things like that. So we go out there and we we get stuck in we roll our sleeves up and we join in and we help. And that has the effect of just taking a little bit of a pressure away from the operational staff. It’s great for our back office staff because it means they can go into the operation and see what’s happening in our core business. And it’s positive experience for the passengers as well. So we do that.

Trish 9:18
It sounds like that would really build connection, I think just an appreciation for maybe some of the different roles and demands.

Caroline Knight 9:24
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, it’s a bit like going back to the shop floor to really understand the core business and what it’s all about.

Trish 9:31
Now, obviously, you’re an Oracle customer, because you’re here at Oracle CloudWorld. Could you maybe talk a little bit about how long you’ve been with Oracle and maybe some of the systems that you take advantage of and how that’s helping maybe as you’re going through some of these regrowth challenges.

Caroline Knight 9:48
Yeah, so we’ve been a customer of Oracle’s for many, many years, more than 20 years. We were back in 2010 I think it would have been, we implemented Oracle E Business Suite.

Steve 10:03
Don’t get me started. Join me on my other podcast E Business Suite, you know daily I could talk about that right now,

Caroline Knight 10:15
We were a company called BAA which owned some of the larger airports in the UK, the Competition Commission made us sell some of those airports.

Steve 10:28
They’re pesky that way.

Caroline Knight 10:31
We took the decision to sell all of them and just focus on Heathrow and expansion at Heathrow. So as a consequence, our EBS R 12, which we had customized within an inch of its life was no longer really fit for purpose. We used a number of other IT applications for things like talent, learning, recruitment for human. And we ended up with this Excel industry because our business processes just didn’t work for us any longer. So in 2019, we took the decision to move to Oracle Fusion, and we moved to HCM and ERP SAS. So we started that program of works to move from our random set of systems into there, we’d run all of our design workshops, we weren’t we were starting to think about implementation.

Steve 11:25
And then right…

Caroline Knight 11:27
So then everything went bad, we paused for a while to work out what wave was off. We’re going to do, what approach are we going to take? We weren’t planning a phased implementation. But with the pressures of the pandemic, we decided we needed to get on with it quick and go big bang, oh, my goodness. So we worked with a couple of systems integrators at that point, we were working with Capgemini, for ERP, and with Oracle consulting for the HCM implementation. And we accelerated them together so that we implemented in one big bang just over a year ago.

Steve 12:04
That’s a lot to take on, right, during a pandemic, but also, you’re you’re changing processes, you’re changing methods of working, I assume you’re sure I don’t want to assume I’ll ask them because we’ve all been through these kinds of implementations moving from older technologies, even older Oracle technologies, quite frankly, to to modern cloud technologies. How was the change management process where you had to convince I’d imagine certain folks certain maybe purchasing maybe accounts payable, maybe whomever? Right? Yeah, this is the new way we’d like to do things. Tell us about that.

Caroline Knight 12:39
I suppose we were going through a lot of changes of business anyway, as a consequence of the of the times. So in some respects, that helped us because it was just more, it’s just another change, as opposed to a big change that everyone focused on. Many of our business users had gone through that experience with a bizarre 1200 seen what had happened with us customizing that, and the negative side effects of that. So that helped. But clearly, we were always in a situation where someone will be saying, I’m special, I can’t do it that way. We would start all our design workshops with it. Tell us why you can’t use this out of the box process. Why? Why are we different? So we just ask why, why, why, why, why. And we set up a design authority who had to approve any deviations? We would always say no. And if that became a challenge, we had really strong exec sponsorship.

Caroline Knight 13:39
And so the threat was always we didn’t have to go to the exec and get them to agree. They would always say no, hardly anything ever went to the executive route, and we’ll get that for. So we we put some strong governance processes around it, we really, really made sure everyone was aware of the consequences of not following standard processing. And we just, you know, we decided we are not special, we have a back office in exactly the same way as in most other businesses. We pay people we pay our suppliers, we have a set of accounts. This is not special, we do not need to be putting the Heathrow standard on this. There are other parts of our business where clearly we are special because we you know, we’re different. But in the back office, we’re not special.

Trish 14:24
And now that’s in place, how are people dealing with that sort of standardized approach? Are they are they adjusting to that?

Caroline Knight 14:33
Yeah, it works very, it works very well for us. I mean, these processes have been designed and they’re used by numerous organizations all over the world. So they’re efficient. They’ve been thought through, you know, why would we know any better. So they do work well for us. There’s always things that you’d like to improve, but in the main they work very well for us. And the fact that we are now on this continuous improvement cycle with the quarterly releases that come on the Oracle about some of the new functionality that comes to us. Now our old solution, we put it live, it sits there, it doesn’t change every four or five days.

Steve 15:10
And maintenance and patching and repair. Right? I imagine I don’t want to take a guess. But I, the older system was self hosted, I’d imagined that.

Caroline Knight 15:19
The system we hosted at Oracle on demand. So we were kind of we’ve taken a bit of a step away. But yeah, we’re still effectively a hosted solution. Yeah.

Steve 15:30
I’d love for you to maybe Caroline talk a little bit about sort of, it’s been a little bit over a year, I think he said, since the big bang, if that was the term we use to the big go live weather from maybe two perspectives, right from you and your teams on the technology side, maybe some of the benefits, you’ve seen some of the things maybe that having these systems in places allowed your team to do that perhaps you couldn’t have done earlier, and then maybe a little bit of color, particularly around the HCM space, because that’s where we focus on maybe what those users and those teams are telling you about some of the things they’re seeing from the benefits of the new systems.

Caroline Knight 16:04
Okay, so from the technology side, it’s just so much more simple than what we had before. We managed to go from numerous systems and consolidate down into the box of Oracle, as we we would call it. And Oracle did a great job of just running this thing. It’s, you know, we’ve touched words, you know, we’ve had over a year now of Silent Running, it just works. We had things like there was that security issue came up on a Friday afternoon, Oracle contacted us on the Sunday morning, we’re taking your system down, we’re patching it done sorted. Other systems that we hosted ourselves, we went through a lot of late payments have sought that out ourselves. So it’s simple. And it works. It’s just, it’s just a very reliable thing. And the fact that we now get these regular updates, it’s constantly moving, it’s always up to date. We talk about that as being the sort of medicine that we signed up for. Yeah, it’s hard to get your head around that at first and how you cope with that, but it’s the right thing to be doing. So never again, more, we need to do one of those massive upgrade projects that everybody hates.

Steve 17:11
And then they were so expensive, so time consuming, and ultimately only delivered maybe incremental improvements, right? Because it was difficult, right? I remember from doing these, it was difficult in a big upgrade, to also uptake a lot of new functionality, you will really just try to keep it working the way it used to work. And that was just with code.

Caroline Knight 17:34
Whereas now we’re constantly every every two weeks we change. So we obviously have the quarterly releases, but in between the quarterly releases, we look at what functional new sort of functional changes that are optional. Which ones do we want to switch on? How do we want to improve our business processes? We’ve got big recruitment drive, what can we do in the system to tweak it, change it make it more efficient? You know, so we’re constantly evolving it. So that that is working very well, for us.

Trish 18:03
It sounds like it just makes your team more strategic.

Caroline Knight 18:07
We can react to things that are happening in the business. And, you know, given everything we’ve been through, our business is very susceptible to external threats. So we do have to be very agile and folks moving and yeah, change with the times.

Steve 18:23
Yeah, that works. How about your HR teams, and folks, or maybe even the individual people out there who work for Heathrow and you know, they’re using this system.

Caroline Knight 18:33
We wear unique hats and my team run the system, but also, I’m a big user of the shop, I’m an employee, I’m a line manager. I’m a cost center manager. So all those things I see you know what it’s like using the solution. It’s great, because it’s a one stop shop, everybody can see where we need to go to, to get things done. It’s very intuitive, it’s easy to use. We also have the Oracle guided learning product, which gives us that sort of context sensitive health and shows you which buttons to press. So that was great when we rolled out because we rolled out during the pandemic, when everybody was remote, we can go doing floor walking and showing people how to do things. So there were lots of videos and things there. And it’s good now when new joiners come in, because they can refer to that and see how to do things. And so yeah, it’s it’s it’s just straightforward. And we we wanted to put a solution in place that would allow business users to focus on running the operation. That’s what we do, we run an import. Our back office processes shouldn’t get in the way of that. So we wanted the back office to be seamless, and maybe it’s not completely seamless, but compared to where we were it’s a big step forward.

Trish 19:49
It sounds like I mean, you went through such such a big change so quickly, but it does sound like coming out the other side of it. It’s been really worth it. It has and the people that sounds like are even adjusting, which is always a good thing.

Caroline Knight 20:01
I think going from a bizarre 12, which looked old, different to us weren’t sure if your data was correct or not, you don’t know how to do things to something that just looks very modern. I mean, we have quite an mobile workforce.

Steve 20:19
Caroline, sorry to interrupt. Gotta believe more than half are probably deskless type.

Caroline Knight 20:24
Yeah, absolutely. So they can use their personal mobile devices to access the solution and do things like look at their payslip. So they will work shifts, they, my salary doesn’t change from month to month, but in the operational space, if they’ve worked overtime or early in the morning, or, you know, they get different payments for different working practices. So every month, they’re their paycheck is different. So they want to go and have a good check. Make sure it’s true. I think you do all that on their mobile phone. So yeah, it’s given a lot of flexibility.

Steve 20:57
Yeah, it sounds like it’s really through the path. That’s a really great story, right? Because you’re talking about an essential service, right, certainly to a nation, but honestly, to work more than just the borders, right of the UK, but also going through the pandemic undergoing huge change, right, massive systems changes moving from the system had been in place over a decade, right to something brand new, and doing it remotely for in large part. It’s quite a story. Like you don’t hear as many of these great stories, sadly, you know, as you’d like, with these big enterprise projects, because they’re very different.

Caroline Knight 21:29
Now they are they’re incredibly difficult. We had a very strong team that delivered that and that was a team that had a lot of Heathrow people, we brought in some contractors to work on our behalf who had done this sort of thing before. we surrounded ourselves with experts, we used Capgemini, javelin, Oracle consulting was our systems integrators. And they were others. So we had a diverse team. But I think, working together through the pandemic, we came together as a team, probably quicker than we would have done. If we were all in this one, you’d be on screen looking into people’s houses. We’re seeing, you know, the baby sat on the lap, the homeschooling the cat walking in front of the screen, you got to know people really quickly. And I think given everything that was happening in the world at the time, we sort of we had something to focus on something to aim for. Yeah, I think that really helped us in a funny way.

Steve 22:27
Yeah. It’s a great story. Well, congratulations to you and the teams right for pulling all this off. Last one for me, Caroline will be well, I’ve got two one is like sort of a on top of question, one’s off topic. Here’s the on top of question, what may be coming next? Is there something you’re looking at in something with Oracle, maybe something outside of that?

Caroline Knight 22:46
Features to adopt the analytics cloud we’ve dabbled with, but we’re certainly not exploiting anywhere near as much as we could. So we want to do more with that. And we’ve still got a few small systems that sit around the edge that we want to get rid of and put into the box of Oracle. When you do these implementations. You’ve got to decide how much can you get your arms around, because if you bite off more than you can chew, you may never deliver anything. So there’s a few other things that we want to consolidate. But yeah, that’s where we’re going.

Steve 23:20
Can I ask the last one Trish? Okay, so going back to some of the talking the beginning. You’ve walked into Heathrow Airport one morning, and you’ve decided it’s today’s the day I’ve got some time off. You look at that board, Caroline, you see all the destinations. Which one are you picking?

Caroline Knight 23:35
Tokyo. Japan is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s It’s different to many other places in the world. I’ve been quite a few times.

Steve 23:47
I only been there once. I had a great time there myself. But I’d love to go back.

Trish 23:51
I would pick Shanghai. But that’s probably because I haven’t been to Tokyo. It’s true.

Steve 23:56
Wow. This was great. Caroline, so nice for you to take some time out of your schedule to join us today to tell us a little bit about the story of Heathrow Airport. Congratulations again. Trish, you can attest to operations back up and running.

Trish 24:08
We’re appreciative that even going I think the next time I’ll really be paying more close attention. Right now the employees are working awesome stuff.

Steve 24:18
And if you happen to be in the Heathrow Airport area and you’re looking for maybe some opportunities, I think you should check out what’s happening at Heathrow there. Apparently there’s a big recruitment drive going on. All right, good, good stuff. Caroline, thank you so much. Carolyn Knight from Heathrow Airport. Great to see you. Thanks for joining us at Oracle CloudWorld. Trish, great to see you again of course, a couple more shows to do in the series. But we’ve been so excited to be here and thanks to our friends at Oracle for hosting us. And that’s it for the HR Happy Hour Show for today. My name is Steve Boese. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you next time and bye for now.

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