Unifree Success Story

Unifree Success Story

The largest duty-free area Unifree is digital end-to-end!


Unifree IT Director Osman Ayhan, who informed that they designed all duty-free spaces at Istanbul Airport from scratch” continues his speech so: “For 1.5 years, we have realized all our plans and designs about the largest duty-free in the world. We fulfilled all our plans in difficult conditions in a short time”. Ayhan informs us that the area which they have won the tender for 25 years was given them empty, as Unifree, they were responsible for the design of the stores, construction applications, mechanical and electrical infrastructures and they raised IT system rooms of 100 thousand square meters, its cabling, server & storage, network infrastructure, security systems, and all the client systems from scratch.


A young, confident, disciplined IT Director welcomes us. Unifree IT Director Osman Ayhan realizes many innovations with his ambitious team members in the IT infrastructure department, which he took over three years ago. They are proud to realize a duty-free area equipped with new generation technologies and aim to provide a unique shopping experience for the customer after their 1,5-year design/plan and 1-year construction adventure. We spoke about this ambitious project, which we had the opportunity to see in person with Osman Ayhan at Istanbul Airport.


Osman Ayhan, who has been in the IT sector since 2004, has been working at Unifree for 3 years. Ayhan continues his speech by informing us that the IT unit, which operates under the CFO, consists of two main disciplines, IT infrastructure and Business Applications, and they work with great care and meticulousness to form their own team. He underlines that one of the most important factors that led them to be successful in such an important and big project is to work with a very good team that always supports, respects innovates, teaches new things to each other and knows how to engage in difficult conditions. He emphasizes that individual performances lead teams to small goals, while team performances are the best way to tackle big responsibilities.


Osman Ayhan stated that he had rented the duty-free spaces at Istanbul Airport with Unifree Dutyfree for 25 years in January 2015 with his 35 years of experience in the Turkey retail industry and his partner Gebr. Heinemann’s 135 years of international experience, with Unifree, which spread its name to every continent all over the world thanks to its deep experience in the duty-free sector, and ATU, a joint venture established with TAV,  operates 134 duty-free shops in 24 different airports operated by TAV including Dalaman Airport and Pristina Airport in Kosovo in 9 different countries in a total area of 32,000 square meters.


Completely redundant and assertive security systems in 49 IT system rooms covering 100 thousand square meters


Referring to Unifree’s self-sacrificing work at Istanbul Airport, Osman Ayhan explains this work as follows: “We made 1 million meters of copper and fiber optic cabling inside. This is a distance from Istanbul to Ankara and back. You can imagine that most of the interfaces of our systems installed in these quantities are those that get in touch with customers. Therefore, we had to pay great attention to its security and business continuity. Our data centers work actively, and all our infrastructure systems own a fully redundant system. We have 49 IT system rooms connected to each other in redundancy in the area and 2 of them are in the main data center. There is a physical level of security in and out in all of them. In addition to fingerprint recognition systems, we also have card access systems. We have a CCTV security room, which we constructed and implemented its IT infrastructure ourselves, monitors all of our stores, head offices and warehouses 24/7. In case there is an unauthorized entry or exit in the areas under Unifree control, the cameras in the system instantly generate a pop-up alarm to teams in this CCTV room. Artificial intelligence also works in the back of these systems. According to the algorithms carried out in the system, the camera which is the closest one at the point of the event is focused on that point and prioritized alarms are generated in the CCTV room. It is the physical security aspect of this business… We also have a high level of security infrastructure. It is clear all the equipment registered in the Unifree inventory can access which zones. It is not possible to get access to an area out of any hardware authority. In areas where passengers can get accessible equipment easily such as at airports, it is necessary to prevent unauthorized connection of any equipment from outside. Related to it, we have implemented a sophisticated NAC (Network Access Control) application.”


In addition, Ayhan also underlines by stating that they will observe the systems on 7/24 in the SOC (System Operation Center) and NOC (Network Operation Center) rooms they have established very recently. “There are principles of proactive observation up to its structure from POS systems to security cameras, from servers to network sub in an area that is in front of everyone and operating 24/7. Ayhan continues by stating: When there is a problem in the systems without affecting business units, they interfere with the problem with very fast SLAs, find the main reason and create the monitoring systems that provide resolution, “There is offensive security in our basic cybersecurity perspective. We cannot think that something can happen to our systems someday. We have to check our systems out proactively every day. ”


Improved reality applications to maximize passenger satisfaction…


Osman Ayhan, whom we asked about the innovations at Istanbul Airport unlike the systems at Ataturk Airport, states that the duty-free spaces at Ataturk Airport are equipped with the best infrastructure and technologies of the period, but the duty-free spaces at the current airport are in advance in the adaptation of developing technologies.



Ayhan informs us about the ‘Retail Solutions’ Project by stating that many innovations will be available from in-store touch information screens, retail-specific augmented reality (AR) applications, queue management systems and pre-order systems in order to maximize passenger satisfaction in our duty-free areas at Istanbul Airport: “This Project provides us to follow the number of customers entering our stores, the temperature maps occurring in the store, queues waiting in front of the cash register instantly. We know that our customers do not want to wait for more when they line up at the checkout. The system can analyze it and when it is necessary it can provide information to the relevant units to open a new checkout. The number of store personnel who are interested in our customers in the store is monitored instantly and new personnel planning is provided to the store if necessary to use the space efficiently”


Ayhan also states that passengers will be able to place their orders via the Unifree pre-order system and provide the relevant orders quickly with the tablets to be placed in some lounge areas. Osman Ayhan says: “We have always thought about this tender time which is 25 years; Let’s design such an IT system infrastructure that we can keep up with this growth without the need for a new installation like infrastructure, server, storage, network. In a nutshell, we have created the most suitable and flexible infrastructure to provide our passengers with a unique shopping experience with the latest and exclusive products in our technological and innovative applications. ”


Osman Ayhan cannot finish the innovations in the duty-free areas at Istanbul Airport.


Ayhan mentioned about 4 different technology stores on the arrival floor and says, “With the innovative products that will be exhibited in these stores, we will provide the opportunity for passengers to experience the latest technological innovations before everyone and to get access to design products. The products of the world’s leading and trend-creating brands in technology will be exhibited in specially designed concept stores” and continues: Passengers will be able to experience make-up and cosmetics products both physically and indifferent AR applications, and receive information about the stores and products from robot assistants in the interactive area where digital applications could be presented in the store. On the other hand, the LED screens that we have applied on the facades and interior areas of our Istanbul Airport Duty-Free stores have attracted the most attention from our guests who visited our stores since the opening process on 29 October 2018. Our 800 square meters LED displays are managed by content management software that we can dynamically change the content of it. Our goal in almost all of these digital applications is to differentiate our guests’ shopping experience at the airport and make them more enjoyable for them.”


“IAS provided an available solution with physical servers and hyper-converged systems to the topology we want”


Ayhan emphasizes that they follow a very rigorous process when they select the server & storage hardware and software to be used in the applications in the duty-free areas at Istanbul Airport and he continues his speech with the preparation of tender technical specifications, distribution to companies, the participation of companies in tenders, PoC studies, e-procurement process are followed carefully, the integrator and the products to be worked together are chosen attentively during the technical and financial scoring. Ayhan states that “At this point when we made our technological investments, we evaluated the capacities that our stores and warehouses could reach, the maturity, safety, and quality of the product”. 


Osman Ayhan informs that before all e-tenders, the integrator companies pass the necessary processes, then the companies that possess the technical criteria are invited to the tenders with the technical specifications that they wrote in accordance with the international standards, in the tender results, not only the best price is defined, but also the experience of the integrator behind the proposed product, the mastery of the project management methodology, the adequacy of the product and the products that meet the cybersecurity criteria are preferred. At this point, Osman Ayhan explains the collaboration with Information Accumulation System (IAS)as follows: “19 different e-tenders were realized during the IT project process we conducted for Istanbul Airport Unifree duty-free areas as the Unifree IT infrastructure team. We aimed to use virtualization intensively in our Server & Storage auction. At this point, we included not only server virtualization but also network and application virtualization in our topology. IAS offered an available solution with physical servers and hyper-converged systems for the topology we want. We evaluated the company’s financial structure individually or in a team considering its projects, references, technical master about the issue, number of certified employees in the implementation, project plans, and preparations during the tender process. As a result of it, we decided to continue our way with Information Accumulation System which got the highest score. IAS won the tender with a solution using DELL EMC hardware and VMware virtualization layer end to end, VMware NSX on the security side, and VMware Horizon in application virtualization. ”




“It is exciting and proud to take part in the process of transition from scratch which is the

 largest duty-free area in the world! ”



Osman Ayhan states that “When I entered this company 3 years ago, we had an organization chart and I almost participated in each team member’s business meetings in this organization chart personally. I especially emphasized how critical was to take part in such a big project during their business life. Here is the largest duty-free area in the world. I was also informed that it was one of the biggest investments in the history of the Republic of Turkey, we had to confront together the possible challenges without compromising quality, and it was necessary to equip the infrastructure with high-tech fields. We chose our teammates considering their experiences that could always 

take us one step further. When the airport was still under construction, we entered the construction site at a time when even cars had difficulties entering, and cranes and tractors were walking around. We implemented the IT Infrastructure that we planned its project was designed from 

end to end in these areas. It was a very exciting and proud experience for me and my teammates to make it available for the world’s largest duty-free areas”. 


Duty-Free areas with advertisements at Istanbul Airport


IT Director Osman Ayhan expresses that Unifree Duty-Free, which was realized with a total investment of 1.2 billion TL, half of which is covered by its own capital, hires approximately 3 thousand people and is responsible for all the “retail” areas at Istanbul Airport. He says that they will perform an operation in a large area that has 45-thousand-square meter main duty-free shops, 17-thousand-square- meter domestic and global brands rented stores, a 33-thousand-square-meter warehouse and 5-thousand-square-meter office spaces in total. After having stated their responsibilities of providing an uninterrupted IT infrastructure covering all these areas, Osman Ayhan exemplifies their projects in this context:


– 1 million meters of copper and fiber cabling infrastructure

– 1700 pieces of camera systems

– 600 pieces access control systems

– Digital Signage systems consisting of 800 square meter LEDs and 200 LCDs

– 10,000+ network ports

– 47 pieces IT System Rooms, 2 pieces of data centers.

– 163 pieces POS case systems

– 2 Petabyte Storage Area