NATS Case Study

Although the name NATS may not be a household one, everybody knows what they do. As the largest provider of air navigation services in the UK, if you’ve flown in or out of the UK in your lifetime, you’ll have been guided by NATS.

Of the 4,500 people who work for NATS, the majority are Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) and Air Traffic Control Engineers. With most of the control coming from their bases in Swanwick, Southampton and Prestwick, Scotland, NATS look after the airspace surrounding the UK, before and after the aeroplane is in the airport’s airspace.

Despite the focus on air traffic control, half of the NATS workforce work outside of that space, and they underwent a huge digital transformation.

The Challenge


Despite using cutting edge technology to control the skies above us, a lot of the NATS estate was outdated and causing problems for staff.

The intranet was built on a heavily configured SharePoint 2010. The search didn’t work, the pages weren’t mobile responsive. Content was duplicated and out of date.

Staff were working on a Virtual Desktop running Windows 7. Load times were slow. Various applications couldn’t be updated. The operating system wasn’t cloud ready.

On that Virtual Desktop, staff were forced to use Microsoft Office 2010. Staff were frequently locked out of files as their colleagues were using them. They were also having to work on 10 year old software that wasn’t designed for the demands of modern working.

And lastly, the majority of NATS documents were stored in SharePoint 2010 sites. Given Microsoft’s recent re-think of SharePoint design, UI and UX, and architecture, the NATS SharePoint estate felt very out of date

So in 2018, they undertook an ambitious project to rectify all four of these streams.


NATS Facts


  • Handle over 2.5 million flights a year.
  • That’s over 250 million passengers.
  • The Swanwick Centre takes care of 6,300 flights each day. Prestwick looks after 3,500.
  • In 2016/17 they saved 55,903 tonnes of CO2 emissions through airspace design.

The Solution


We worked with NATS, using our unique adoption approach, to find out what they were trying to achieve with this project. Of course, there were cost savings galore, but what would their end user get from it?

Over a period of just a few months, we developed a training plan and materials to help users understand what they were getting from their digital workplace. We then attended meetings, presentations, and market place events to showcase the digital workplace and everything that entailed.

Then things got technical. NATS had been heavy users of InfoPath within SharePoint to customise forms and to bring different data sources together. At the time, this was an impressively innovative use of the available technology. Unfortunately with Microsoft announcing end-of-life for InfoPath, NATS were in an unenviable position.

Despite InfoPath support existing until 2023, NATS decided to get proactive and Pi Digital worked with teams across the organisation to modernise their InfoPath estate. This included the creation of various PowerApps with Flow, but also leveraged Microsoft Forms.

Moving into 2019, Pi Digital are working with the NATS Communication Team in transistioning their intranet from SharePoint 2010 to a Unily based platform. No small task, given that they have 27,000 pages of content…

The Impact


NATS have now moved into the second phase of their digital transformation. Windows 10 is established and the majority of staff are now using Office 365.

The SharePoint migration is underway, with the InfoPath to PowerApps project running alongside. Pi Digital’s expertise is being sought in everything from web part migration to modern hub sites.

As for the intranet and those 27,000 pages. We’ve worked with NATS to take a features based approach, analysing the traffic to understand what it is that people use. Using this technique we estimate that we can migrate content that accounts for 80% of intranet traffic in just a few weeks.

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