Ross Johnson, assistant director for finance (essentially the CFO), figures the airport has saved $120 million since the common-use systems were deployed in 1998 because the airport avoided building 10 additional gates. (The common use systems cost about $60 million to install, he says.)
It also helps McCarran stay nimble. When National Airlines suddenly went out of business last November, McCarran's IT staff was able to move another airline into its counter space in mere hours. If the airlines were using proprietary systems, this process might have taken days.
From a financial perspective, McCarran also has some advantages over other airports. It pulls in about $40 million per year in slot-machine revenue--does your airport do that? All that money must go to capital projects, such as new buildings. This frees up funds for other nonbuilding projects. (About eight percent of the airport's some $200 million budget goes to IT, and IT represents about 40 percent of the airport's nonbuilding capital budget.)
The airport has some other creative avenues to fund IT projects, too. As I write, McCarran is undergoing a $1.8-million network upgrade to Gigabit Ethernet. The vendor, Enterasys, accepted a barter in lieu of cash: McCarran will give Enterasys 15 percent of its unused signage in exchange for the gear. The airport will still pay the $95 thousand for installation and about $110 thousand per year for maintenance, says Gerard Hughes, senior network analyst and our main host during our two-day visit. (Even with the barter, McCarran was concerned enough about the health of Enterasys that it insisted on seeing the vendor's books.) McCarran has a similar deal brewing with Computer Associates (CA) for the vendor's Unicenter network management package. McCarran is replacing its Hewlett-Packard OpenView software with CA's.
McCarran's aggressive IT culture comes straight from the top. Walker made it clear when he arrived at the airport in 1990 that he viewed it as nave to skimp on technology. At the time, the IT department was barely a department--there were 10 PCs in the whole place. Administrative assistants used CPT word processing, a terminal-based system that required a connection to the server.