Project Category: Development

Introducing Biometric Technology at O’Hare International Airport

At the airport, there is no shortage of lines to stand in and guidelines to follow. Catalyst’s biometric exit application works to reduce passenger wait times to board planes while enabling airlines to comply with congressional mandates regarding international travel.

A Brief History Lesson: Why Biometric?

Discussion of biometric technology at a legislative level in the US dates back to 2002, prompted by the September 11 terror attacks. The Department of State (DoS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were authorized to use biometric technology to screen non-American citizens entering the US to ensure they could legally step foot in the country. Shortly after, additional legislation permitted DHS to collect biometric data from non-US citizens exiting the country, citing the 9/11 Commission Report’s affirmation that a dual biometric entry and exit program was “an essential investment in our national security.”

It took years for this biometric entry and exit program, as documented in legislation 8 U.S. Code § 1365b, to be fully fleshed out nationwide. While the use of biometric technology in airports initially focused on non-citizens in response to national security concerns per DHS and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has also advocated for its use to improve the travel experience of passengers – American citizens and non-citizens alike – by reducing the wait time to board planes.

In 2019, the team at the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) consulted Catalyst’s software engineers to build a custom biometric exit application for use in terminals facilitating outbound international travel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. At this point, the Catalyst team had already delivered custom application development and infrastructure services for over a decade at CDA, and CDA stakeholders trusted our expertise to develop this critical application that fulfills a congressional mandate and enables the boarding process to move in an expedited fashion.

How it Works

tablet-image

The tablet is attached to an adjustable arm to accommodate passengers of different heights.

Catalyst’s biometric exit system supports a one-step and two-step verification process to determine whether an individual can proceed to board an outbound plane to an international destination. The system’s build was informed by the CDA’s correspondence with CBP, as well as our team’s discussion with American Airlines to successfully integrate our system with their traveler database. Our system is powered by Microsoft, and the primary piece of hardware involved is a Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet.

Two key elements are examined when a traveler tries to board: 1) a boarding pass that confirms they are entering the correct flight and 2) a person’s identifying information to validate they are indeed the boarding pass holder.

From a Passenger’s Perspective

Let’s meet our international traveler, Theo, an American visa holder originally from Spain. Theo is departing Chicago O’Hare to visit family in London and waits at his gate to board.

In the two-step process, Theo walks to the airline agent manning the desk and standing next to a passenger-facing tablet. This tablet takes his photo – essentially a headshot – and will display either a green checkmark or blue “X,” denoting whether he can continue boarding the plane.

If Theo is cleared to board with a green check, the agent will also scan his boarding pass using the technology at the gate, and he’s on his way.

A blue “X” will appear if additional information from Theo is needed prior to boarding the plane, at which point he will need to be manually processed by an agent. In the most severe cases, law enforcement may enter the scene if concerns about his ability to legally leave the country escalate.

In the one-step process, Theo again walks to the agent and passenger-facing tablet to have his headshot taken. If the green check mark appears on the tablet screen, indicating he can board the plane, the passenger-facing screen also displays his seat number on the flight, eliminating the additional step in which an agent scans his boarding pass. If a blue “X” appears, an airline agent will manually process Theo.


The passenger-facing tablet will display whether the international traveler can board the plane. In the one-step process, the “You may proceed” display will also return with their seat number.

In both two-step and one-step scenarios, the verification process that returns a green check or blue “X” takes place within three seconds to keep the queue moving as effectively as possible.

What’s Happening on the Backend in Those Three Seconds

This verification process happens in the blink of an eye from travelers’ perspective, but there’s a lot that happens on the system’s backend in that time.

In both the two-step and one-step verification scenarios, the biometric application is integrated with a CBP database to execute facial recognition processes. Unique to the one-step verification process is its additional integration with an airline-specific database.

Let’s return to our example with Theo.

In the two-step process:

  • Integrated with CBP databases, Catalyst’s biometric exit system will match Theo’s photo taken at the gate with photos of him in a CBP database through biometric facial technology. CBP collects photos of non-citizens previously taken for government documentation, such as visas. On average, the agency holds about 5-6 photos per non-citizen. A blue “X” may appear and bar Theo from boarding the plane if no historical photos matching him could be found in CBP’s records, which may indicate a slew of other problems related to the legality of his stay in the US.
  • Recall that Theo must have his boarding pass scanned to board the plane as part of this two-step process. Prior to boarding passengers, agents manually load the correct flight information onto the tablet by entering an airline code, a flight number, and its departure date. This way, the system knows which list of passengers it must cross-reference upon reading the boarding pass to validate all folks trying to enter the plane have indeed booked a seat.

In the one-step process:

  • The system takes Theo’s photo, which again is matched to photos of him housed in a CBP database via the integration mentioned above. Identifying information about Theo, which is brought forward through photo matching, is then sent to an airline’s database to validate Theo is indeed a passenger on the flight at a given gate. If he is cleared by the CBP integration and confirmed to be a passenger on that flight, Theo is given the green light to board the plane while the passenger-facing tablet displays his seat number.
  • Currently, the one-step process is used by American Airlines at O’Hare, as Catalyst was able to integrate our biometric exit system with American’s database housing traveler information, hence its ability to display passengers’ seat numbers.

Protecting Privacy

Notably, if folks prefer not to have their photo taken at their flight’s gate, they can notify an airline representative that they wish to opt-out of the biometric program. Their verification process will then be completed manually by an airline agent. Photos of those who do opt-into the biometric process are deleted immediately from Catalyst’s system, and no personally identifying information is ever stored in our application.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Catalyst is currently expanding our biometric exit system’s presence throughout O’Hare as we gain access to integrate with other airlines’ databases housing traveler information. This way, we can implement one-step verification processes for additional airlines besides American.

Likewise, we are testing voice recognition technology for the airline agent manning the gate. In its current state, the system mandates the agent to tap a button on the tablet screen in order to prepare it to take a new photo as they move through the boarding queue. After passengers complete their headshot and receive the green check, blue “X,” and/or their seat number, the agent can say, “Next person, please” to reset the camera to take a new picture of the next passenger. This technology has been requested due to COVID-19 to minimize the need for agents to touch the tablet screen to queue up the next passenger.

Digital Transformation that ‘Steels’ the Show

The American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) confers certifications to American and international architectural and construction firms, validating that these agencies are authorized to use structural steel in their development of buildings, bridges, and other structures. Garnering these certifications boost firms’ credibility, enabling them to acquire new business.

Catalyst implemented a Salesforce case management and staff-facing portal to support the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) in keeping all data related to certifications – from firms’ initial application to audits validating they qualify for certification – centralized in one place. We also integrated the case management backend into the AISC’s website so data regarding certified firms is readily accessible to the public.

The Certification Process

The certification process begins as the interested firm submits an application and application fee to AISC. Upon receiving the application and payment, the AISC then sends an auditor to meet the applicant on-site at their office to go through a certification checklist. The auditor takes their findings back to AISC and makes a determination that will inform the “decision package” to be mailed to the applicant.

If deemed eligible, the firm will receive a certification, while those deemed ineligible will receive a breakdown of problem spots to rectify to improve their chances of certification in the future.

AISC holds the awesome responsibility of ensuring the firms it certifies construct with caution and integrity. For this reason, it typically takes between 5-6 months from the moment of submission to certification, and the firms are audited once a year for certificate renewal.

The Technology Behind the Certifications

Pain Points in the Legacy System

Catalyst began working with AISC as they planned to sunset their legacy software used to house data about certified firms. The software was outdated and did not encompass the full breadth of the certification process listed above. The legacy system only managed the status of application payments and audits; it did not create or maintain auditors’ schedules, nor did it receive the firms’ applications. As a result, AISC turned to Google Sheets, Google Forms, the Microsoft Office Suite, emails, and physical Post-It Notes to supplement the legacy system, minimizing the possibilities for internal collaboration and leaving data strewn about in disparate platforms.

New Workflows, as Facilitated by Salesforce

AISC Web form new

This web form for applicants sits on the AISC website and is fueled by Salesforce’s web-to-case functionality. All submissions will be routed into Service Cloud.

Throughout seven weeks, we worked with over 30 AISC team members, conducting interviews and facilitating discovery sessions to identify gaps in legacy processes and how Salesforce could close them. The Catalyst team implemented Salesforce Service Cloud and Community Cloud to replace the functionality of the legacy platforms, along with an on-brand and mobile responsive web form that sits on their website to accept firms’ applications and funnel them into Service Cloud. We also installed the Nintex Drawloop document generation tool so AISC could generate certifications and confirmation of payment receipts directly from Service Cloud.

The web form on AISC’s website is dynamic, enabling interested firms to apply for the Fabricator, Erector, or International certifications based on the interests they specify:

  • Erectors more broadly install, repair, and maintain steel buildings and structures.
  • Fabricators bend, cut, and mold steel to create beams and columns during builds.
  • International certifications verify the firms meet the standards needed to build with steel abroad.

This web form routes submissions into Service Cloud, creating a record on the Service Cloud backend for each interested firm.

Salesforce products do not currently manage the actual application fee process, but each applicant’s record on Service Cloud does list a unique payment number. AISC staff manually change the payment status to “Received” and use the Drawloop doc-gen tool to email the applicant a PDF’ed confirmation of receipt directly from Service Cloud.

AISC-application-record

After an application is submitted using the web form, it’s details populate in a Service Cloud record and inform AISC’s follow-up email to the interested firm.

AISC-audit-portal

The Auditor Portal is accessible exclusively to AISC’s auditors and enables them to check what appointments they have scheduled, submit their audit findings (to be synced into the pertinent Service Cloud record), and review past audit reports.

AISC staff also use Service Cloud to manage auditor appointments and schedule their on-site visits. When on-site, auditors use a private portal built on Community Cloud called the “Auditor Portal,” through which auditors can submit their findings.

All data inputted on this Portal syncs to the applicant’s record in Service Cloud, enabling AISC staff to make a final determination about the firm’s eligibility using one platform: Service Cloud. To further reinforce Service Cloud as the new, sole source of truth, Catalyst also migrated data for existing contacts, certified firms, and over 15,000 audit records from the legacy systems into the backend.

If deemed eligible, the firm will receive a certification in the mail generated from Drawloop and housed on their Service Cloud record, as well as information about completing yearly audits to maintain their certification. If deemed ineligible, they will be mailed information about repeating the audit and a breakdown of problem spots as recorded on the Auditor Portal.

AISC-account-history

The Auditor Portal is accessible exclusively to AISC’s auditors and enables them to check what appointments they have scheduled, submit their audit findings (to be synced into the pertinent Service Cloud record), and review past audit reports.

The Catalyst team also integrated Service Cloud with the AISC’s website for its Find A Certified Company feature, which allows the public to search for firms within a certain zip code who are certified as at least a Fabricator, Erector, or International Builder. If the firm is listed as an active, eligible certified firm on Service Cloud, it will appear as a search result on this map.

AISC-certification
AISC-certified-companies

All results pulled back from this search are active certified firms, per the Service Cloud backend.

What Comes Next

The Catalyst team has just commenced Phase 2 with the AISC. We are building a firm-facing Portal through which certified firms can log in, find information specific to their firm’s profile, such as what they are certified in and when each certificate needs renewal, and access exclusive resources the AISC publishes just for members.

Illinois Tollway

The Problem

Established in 1953, the Illinois Tollway system is composed of four major toll roads that stretch across 286 miles of Illinois. On a daily basis the Tollway handles millions of transactions, totaling close to a billion or more annual transactions. They serve over four million customers bringing in over $1 billion in annual revenue. Currently, electronic toll revenue is the core of the business system comprising 85 percent of the Tollway’s revenue. This number will continue to grow exponentially as the Tollway continues to implement all-electronic roads and interchanges.

In the spring of 2014, the Illinois Tollway realized a replacement for its customer service and violation processing system was necessary for this continued, successful growth. The 2005 system no longer supported their goals of reducing operational costs, improving customer service cycle times, and embracing improved customer service policies such as shorter violation notice cycles and dynamic management of fines and settlements. To scale their business both vertically and horizontally, the Tollway received a “best of breed” enterprise back office solution developed by SAP and Accenture called the Accenture Tolling Solution (ATS). With their new solution ready, it was clear that to ensure proper implementation the Tollway needed a solution integrator with technical and business experience implementing and running enterprise-level business applications like the ATS. Without proper implementation, the Tollway’s ability to collect electronic tolls would be jeopardized, leaving their core business and operations at risk.

Our Solution

The Tollway awarded Jacobs Engineering Group (Jacobs) the System Integrator Services contract in conjunction with Catalyst. Together Catalyst and Jacobs provided the Tollway with technical and business experience implementing and running enterprise-level business applications like the ATS to provide oversight and to monitor the post go-live System processing, operational characteristics, user experience, and performance. At the onset of the project, Catalyst placed multiple senior-level consultants and management staff at the Tollway to first learn the ins and outs of its business and establish a strong foundation. Once the team was comfortable with the Tollway’s business operations, they applied their experience in risk management to ensure proper identification, mediation, mitigation, and escalation was applied to any and all issues that arose within the project. Project documentation and meetings implemented by Catalyst on a weekly basis ensured all teams were frequently updated on the status of all project work streams. Catalyst’s flexible customer engagement style established a strong foundation of trust and allowed for the team to easily collaborate with the Tollway to achieve critical project milestones.

During the design, build, and testing phases of the project, Catalyst utilized its most senior infrastructure and application technical resources to provide ample guidance. The team utilized its knowledge of PCI compliance to ensure all network setup and implementation was completed properly and to the highest industry standard. Specifically, Catalyst provided guidance and assessment on the configuration of the VmWare ESX Host and Citrix XenApp. On many occasions the team provided key research, feedback, and knowledge of past experience as it related to database, server virtualization, operational configurations, and maintenance considerations. Specifically, the team provided guidance and assessment on the configuration and implementation of SAP Netweaver, Oracle Golden Gate and 11g/12C, and ATS NetApp and Cisco UCS. Often times this feedback was crucial to the success and continuance of the project. 

In providing proper communication, resource utilization, transparency, and collaboration, Catalyst proved to the Tollway it is a trustworthy and long-term partner. Through this engagement, the Tollway and Accenture have both looked to utilize Catalyst in future endeavors. The ATS went live August 2016.

“Catalyst is a wonderful partner for any organization going through significant technological evolution. Their team represents a deep and diverse set of skills and experiences that ensures we always have someone to rely upon for guidance, even when the questions and challenges we have are esoteric and complex. We are grateful for the input and leadership of our Catalyst partners every step of the way”

– Shana Whitehead, Chief of Business of Systems at the Tollway

Chicago Department of Aviation FlyChicago

The Problem

In August of 2011, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) sought support related to IT Application Development and Maintenance as well as IT Networking and Infrastructure. The previous consultant had left the project abruptly, requiring the CDA to issue a Task Order Request (TOR) to find a new company to assume support immediately. Many applications and tasks were included in the TOR, but the largest and most pertinent aspect of the TOR concerned Flychicago.com, the CDA’s public-facing website for O’Hare and Midway International Airports.

The City of Chicago is one of the few metropolitan cities in the United States that has not one, but two airports: O’Hare and Midway International Airports. Both airports are managed by the City of Chicago through the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA). Together O’Hare and Midway generate more than $45 billion in annual economic activity and create 540,000 jobs for the region, making it an integral part of the City of Chicago. On a daily basis thousands of users access Flychicago seeking important information regarding Chicago’s airport system. With such high traffic, Flychicago is one of the main platforms used by the CDA to communicate with its customers regarding real-time flight delays, traffic alerts, parking rates and availability, recent news, and much more. As such, it was imperative Catalyst assume control and support of the website immediately.

Our Solution

Catalyst developers got to work and began acclimating to the CDA’s environment by learning its main business processes, acquainting themselves with CDA staff, assessing all existing applications, and familiarizing themselves with Sharepoint, the Content Management System (CMS) used to manage Flychicago. In just six weeks the team had assumed full control of Flychicago and began making improvements toward a refined user experience with newly developed applications as well as the development of an updated mobile site. In June of 2014, the CDA requested an overhaul of Flychicago’s content. Catalystcombed through each page within Flychicago and updated the content to include accurate, current information, search engine optimization (SEO) for increased public access, and a consistent voice across all pages.

In November of 2014, the Catalyst team updated the existing mobile site. New pages were added to aid the CDA’s communication with mobile passengers, a new design was implemented for improved user experience, and Google Analytics was set to track all mobile traffic. As a result of the new mobile site’s success, as well as a global increase in mobile use, the CDA contracted Catalyst in January of 2016 to develop a fully responsive, fully redesigned Flychicago. Prior to the redesign the CDA maintained two separate sites, desktop and mobile, making content management difficult and cumbersome. By implementing industry standards and developing a fully responsive website, Catalyst improved maintenance efficiency and overall end user experience. Additionally, the team developed new in-airport maps for both airports integrated with Google Maps utilizing Blue Dot technology. The new maps improve passenger wayfinding within the airports and allow the CDA to promote its many concessions directly to passengers, increasing overall revenue. The new site launched in March of 2017. 

Impact & Results

The 2014 content overhaul increased inbound traffic on the desktop version of Flychicago by 50% or 15,000 hits in one year.

The 2014 redevelopment and redesign of Flychicago’s mobile site increased mobile traffic by 633% or 306,144 hits in one year.

On average, Flychicago receives 10,000 visitors a day.

Chicago Department of Finance IVR/OFPC

The Problem

In 2012, the City of Chicago Department of Finance Utility Billing and Customer Service (DoF), in conjunction with the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) issued a TOR for a re-write of their Online Full Payment Certificate Application. The City of Chicago requires a Full Payment Certificate (FPC) for all real estate transactions. An FPC confirms that the seller of a property has paid their utility bill in full, and its issuance formally moves the seller out of the property utility account and moves the buyer in.

 

The DoF and DoIT sought to modernize their existing, outdated platform while also making utility data available to title companies and city processors through a web-based platform with incorporated analytics. The outdated application components did not account for future compatibility with multiple browsers, mobile devices, and tablets, and it was not developed using the basic core JEE services compatible with future Java Runtime Environment (JRE) versions. The legacy environment had major flaws and an obsolete technology stack.

Our Solution

Catalyst engineers got to work learning the ins and outs of the real estate transaction and utility billing process, partnering with team leaders to develop an application that not only fit the DoF’s needs, but had the scalability to ensure longevity. The team used Java best practices and application development standards to ensure that the application could be successfully deployed to the City’s WebLogic JEE environment and seamlessly integrate with other City systems.

In addition to developing a responsive bootstrap-based application, Catalyst developed three web services in order to interface with the City’s Banner database and eCheckout application. These integrations facilitated a smooth completion of each FPC application. The completed application utilizes approval paths between title companies, DoF processors, and Water Department

Field Reviewers, and includes the ability to attach supporting documentation to each application, which sped up the application process and removed manual process triggers between the departments. The completed OFPC application was the first application to reside in the City of Chicago’s new Exadata environment, an environment set up to streamline the use of big data in order to better serve the City’s constituents.

Impact & Results

The OFPC application increased the amount of applications completed online from 15% to 87%. The average number of days to process an application reduced from approximately 10  to .93

Approximately 550 field reviews are completed each month through a previously nonexistent field review portal