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Aviation Week – “Slow Adoption” of Digital Technologies, Despite Vast Potential for Value Creation

In the February issue of Aviation Week, aerospace corporate performance thought leader Dirk de Waart comments on an ongoing trend in aviation: airlines have been slow to adopt digital technologies, despite the promise these new approaches hold to improve equipment uptime and squeeze new efficiencies out of day-to-day operations. The digital focus, he notes, has been largely centered on customer experience matters by leveraging the surge of smartphones to offer what is perceived to be a more personalized level of service. Understandably, airlines are locked into the business of winning customers over, given the tremendous choice air travelers have, and the cutthroat competition that now exists over cost.

Dirk goes on to highlight several specific issues that are holding digitization back:

  • Fragmentation among operational functions and lack of singular, focused ownership to define and implement a cross-functional digital strategy.
  • No articulated return-on-investment in terms the finance organization can understand.
  • Change management challenges that stand in the way of productivity improvements.
  • A perceived chasm between OEMs’ digital promises and what they can deliver. Airlines are asking manufacturers to collaborate more tightly on the digital challenge, hone their understanding of airlines’ operations and develop downstream, value-add solutions that will “talk” to the legacy airline infrastructure.

It is his final point that really caught our attention. At Tego, we have worked with aerospace OEMs for years to digitize information, data and records directly on the parts and components of an aircraft, turning them into smart assets. Such digitization is already allowing for tighter, more accurate supply chain collaboration and pre-delivery inspection upstream, as well as much more efficient maintenance programs downstream. MRO organizations are thus able to effortlessly, digitally read and add data to OEM parts as those parts move through their lifecycles. MROs use these digital records to speed up overhaul processes, drive significant efficiencies and cost savings, and get better visibility into the service life of a plane’s parts and components, thus maximizing their useful life. (Early asset retirement is a perennial drag on the bottom line).  Airlines also take advantage of these digitized smart assets. They are now able to digitally inspect and monitor components and parts to drive significant process efficiencies and address compliance, safety and operational requirements.

There’s a larger inference to be made here about what it is that’s creating barriers to digital technology adoption: basing the IoT discussion on the “I” in the IoT, as opposed to the “T” seems to be one of the major stumbling blocks. A fully connected infrastructure requires large-scale, expensive systems roll-outs and could very well be fueling much of the “where do we start” mentality that Dirk references. We see it as bit ironic, however, when you step back to realize the value from digitization does not require sensors or IP connections. Instead, an approach that focuses on the “T” (i.e. the “Thing”), and turns the parts and components into smart assets carrying their own information, does not require constant connectivity or complex integrations. It enables real transformation from simply making information and intelligence available for consumption by humans and various systems at the asset level, without the significant investments or process disruptions.

What we have seen occur by way of personal computing in the past 30 years for people and processes, is now happening to Things. Embedding information and documents directly into things creates smart assets and distributed intelligence, where data can freely flow to — and be pulled off — of objects. This is the real linkage toward enabling people to do their jobs better, faster, and with greater situational awareness. When that happens, the concept of “disruption management,” where airport, fleet, crew and passenger data come together simultaneously to fully optimize airline operations, may just start to see the light of day.

Read the full Aviation Week article here.

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