The Uptime Blog
Tags: MRO, aviation, aerospace, ATA, S1000D, PDF, Tablet, John Snow, aviation maintenance, InService MRO, iSpec2200
The 2012 ATA E-Business Forum was held in Phoenix this week and drew in almost 300 attendees consisting of airlines, OEMs/vendors, and technology providers. Phoenix was a great location with perfect weather and the topics being discussed—tablets, specs, 3D and RFID—were for the most part well-presented. The two most popular topics seemed to be: tablet opportunities in aviation maintenance; and the continuing conflict between S1000D and every other data spec.
Consistent with every aviation event this year there was a lot of talk about tablets. To listen to the technology providers, tablets represent a tidal wave of opportunity and airlines need to either buy their products to catch the ride of a lifetime or be lost under the crushing power of ridicule by being labeled old-fashioned.
Needless to say, talking to the airline attendees about the opportunity for tablets yielded a different story. Once you dig into the details you realize that each airline faces multiple potential issues/concerns including:
• IT support of multiple tablet brands (especially for BYOD)
• Security of airline and personal data that resides on the tablet
• Data synchronization and update schedules (revisions vary by content type)
• Digital signatures (most airlines aren’t yet authorized)
• Suspicion from maintenance unions (is this a ploy for more work with less pay/fewer mechanics)
According to the airline executives I spoke to, there’s a lot of interest in tablets but how soon they’ll be willing to implement is an open question.
Enigma delivered a presentation called “Tablets on the Tarmac – More Than Mobility” that introduced a benefit that’s been largely overlooked and offers significant ROI for maintenance executives.
The other hot topic was the slow-motion collision that’s unfolding between the S1000D standard and every other data standard used for aviation maintenance and operations. Most presentations were promoting S1000D and vendors were promising to convert an airline’s legacy SGML data into the latest version with low-cost and high accuracy. (Notably lacking was any discussion about converting PDF into usable XML.) In fact, one vendor tried to explain that they were “transforming” old data into new formats vs. “converting” old data into new formats. Despite this vendor’s best efforts, most in the audience were left asking, “You’re changing the data, which causes concerns about speed, quality and consistency, so who cares what you call it?”
Enigma also delivered a presentation called “When Standards Collide – A Unified MRO Process Across S1000D, iSpec2200 and PDF” that described challenges and offered solutions for working with multiple standards within a single MRO technical library. Many attendees claimed this presentation helped them understand why OEMs refuse to comply with standards and what airlines should do about it – STOP complaining about the lack of compliance and START owning the solution.
Based on attendee participation and detailed subject matter this was one of the better ATA E-Business Forums of the past several years. However, the ratio of airlines to vendors/suppliers is still somewhat disappointing. It may indicate that many airlines still don’t understand that controlling their data is critical to controlling their future. Since technical content is part of every MRO decision, and MRO is the second largest cost center in an airline, it’s time for airlines to get serious about managing the MRO technical library without relying on the OEMs.
Tags: MRO, Airbus, aviation, Boeing, technical documentation, ATA, S1000D, SAP, PDF, Tablet, Enigma, John Snow
Last week, the Danish Defense Forces sponsored SUGAIR 60 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The SAP Users Group for Airlines (SUGAIR) is a bi-annual conference for experts, executives and managers of MRO operations in the airline, aerospace and defense industries. Enigma was invited to describe the challenges associated with moving to the S1000D data standard and to discuss the opportunities for tablets in the hands of technicians. It was also an opportunity to update SUGAIR members on the SAP-Enigma integration strategy. (The deep integration with SAP has made Enigma the de-facto standard for delivery of technical information in SAP projects for A&D.) SUGAIR 60 had an impressive list of airlines and defense organizations in attendance and the feedback Enigma received was very positive.
SUGAIR attendees found the S1000D discussion very enlightening. The audience came to realize there is a lot of cost and effort required when implementing a functional S1000D environment; more than previously understood. Many of the “features” touted by S1000D vendors and consultants require custom implementation because OEMs (Boeing, Airbus, et al) have implemented the standard in different ways. (New standards often seem to make matters more complicated, as vendors try to establish or retain a perceived competitive advantage.) The attendee’s reaction reflects the concern expressed by airlines at last year’s Aviation Week MRO IT in Chicago. It turns out that because certain S1000D attributes are considered optional, or vary by OEM, most airlines and MROs won’t be able to reap the benefits of S1000D without a customized solution. However, Enigma did demonstrate some of the potential benefits of S1000D including:
- Fault isolation decision trees – dynamically generating the next information set based off the technician’s inputs, and recording the user’s path to feed a symptom/resolution knowledge base
- Truly interactive maintenance operations – where each maintenance step performed is passed back to the system of record
The next topic generated a huge amount of interest, which is the ability to make PDF data behave like XML...no conversion required. Enigma demonstrated the extraction of text fragments from PDF documents and the dynamic (on-the-fly) creation of job cards based on that PDF content. Furthermore, Enigma demonstrated the ability to link back and forth between XML and PDF documentation so that PDF functions essentially the same as XML. Given the amount of PDF that resides in aviation technical libraries (and the amount of PDF continues to grow) this capability helped many in the audience wake up to the opportunities to leverage existing data (without a complete data conversion initiative).
As in the past, the topic with the greatest “cool” factor was Enigma’s discussion and demonstration of a tablet-based solution. This is not a special tablet-only implementation of Enigma; it is standard InService® MRO using style sheets that have been tailored to the unique requirements and capabilities of a tablet device. The demo showed how single source access to the complete technical library can support routine maintenance as well as non-routine maintenance disposition and correction, and seamless, enhanced maintenance turnover events. By this point in the presentation, Enigma had run over the allotted time but the attendees readily offered more time to complete the demonstration/discussion.
For many attendees, the social highlight was a boat tour of the canals around Copenhagen, which was sponsored by Enigma. It was a great opportunity for members of SUGAIR to connect in an informal way, and for the many defense and airline organizations to get acquainted and compare notes.
Throughout the three-day event Enigma reinforced the strong bonds we've developed with many SUGAIR attendees, and we extend a heartfelt thank you to the members of SUGAIR and to the Danish Defense Forces for their gracious hospitality. Enigma believes that participating in SUGAIR 60 allowed us to help solve today’s (and tomorrow’s) aviation maintenance challenges, and from the feedback we received the airline, aerospace and defense attendees gained valuable insight for how to leverage SAP and partner technology to create success.
In late October, Aviation Week hosted an event in Chicago called MRO IT. I saw about 150 people in the opening keynote speech, with the audience consisting of software vendors, airlines, manufacturers, consultants and analysts. (It looked like the software and consultant audience outnumbered the airlines and OEMs but I may be mistaken.) In some ways this event felt like the game “musical chairs,” where a few people in the audience would walk to the front of the room to give a presentation, and when they were done they would sit down and the cycle would repeat. One issue that may have limited attendance was the timing; AvWeek scheduled MRO IT during the same week that Aircraft Commerce held a similar event in Singapore. For anyone already committed to the Singapore show, that made travel logistics difficult. (I only met one person who attended both.)
Jim Keenan, SVP of United Technical Operations delivered a strong opening keynote address. United is currently focused on getting their single operator certificate (SOC) and integrating systems, processes and labor forces. He laid out a general plan for United covering 2011-2015, aimed at overcoming fragmented data, systems and processes that still exist within (and between) United and Continental. One area where he has concerns is preserving/supporting United’s 3rd party MRO business. Speaking in general terms, Keenan estimates there is $45B in annual waste within the MRO industry. (This was just an estimate, not a scientific analysis.) Furthermore, he estimates that 50% of the waste is due to processes, and 50% is due to systems and data. Fixing a $45B problem requires some creative thinking and powerful software (and Enigma has both).
There were a number of other interesting and thought-provoking presentations, but the one that generated the most discussion and comments was a panel of airline execs titled, “Enterprise Content Management: Planning for the Future while Supporting the Past.” The panel had representatives from American Airlines, FedEx Express and United Airlines. They discussed many topics, from the persistence of PDF, to breaking the paper paradigm (i.e., “pages”), to more flexible data formats, to end users needing a consistent UI (workflow and experience). One panelist pointed out that to reduce IT costs airlines must have systems that support multiple data formats and specs. Another suggested that PDF is used because it can be viewed on any device, but also noted that PDF is difficult to leverage within the maintenance and IT environment (for add-on value).
However, the topic that drew the greatest response from the audience and panelists was S1000D. According to one speaker, to really improve the MRO IT environment—now and in the future—it is critical to separate the debate about S1000D into its component parts. The first and most important issue is to get all technical content into XML format (i.e., no SGML, no PDF, etc.). Once the data is in XML, the panelists felt airlines are smart enough figure out the integrations they want/need to extract value. They felt that compliance with S1000D is a secondary issue that must be examined on a case-by-case basis—tied to business value—and that for a large number of use cases converting to S1000D cannot be cost-justified. (i.e., for the cost involved there’s simply not enough value.) Given that over half the MRO IT audience appeared to be in the business of converting airlines to S1000D, these comments made a lot of people unhappy.
To address this topic head-on, for ECM the only way to plan for the future while supporting the past is to provide tools that do both. Enigma InService MRO works really well with iSpec 2200, S1000D or just about any other standardized or customized spec you may choose to employ. Airlines and MRO shops around the world have selected Enigma because it supports the past and the future, allowing them to control their own destiny rather than having it forced upon them by an aircraft or engine OEM or software vendor. The debate that MRO IT raised regarding S1000D wasn’t so much about whether the spec was good or bad, it was about asking the real-world questions of how much data should be converted, by whom, when, where and why? Data that conforms to S1000D is a good thing, but if airlines and MROs aren’t careful they could spend a lot of money and yet gain very little.
Aircraft Commerce held their Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference—APAC in Singapore this week. It was the second year that the publication has hosted part of its MRO conference series in Asia; last year’s event was in Bangkok. It seems the change of venue was a wise move, as attendance this year was considerably higher. More than 30 airlines and MROs sent delegates (except for the Chinese airlines, who seem not to attend these events unless they are held in the PRC). Floor “traffic” throughout both days was lively and the conference proceedings were also well attended.
Many of the speakers talked about the importance of “data cleansing” and the “data integrity” in the various MRO IT systems. Sharhabeel Lone of SAKS Consulting opened the proceedings by highlighting “key strategic mistakes in MRO technology implementations”, and provided examples of failures in this domain and their consequences (a news item about a CFO losing his job due to an IT systems glitch drew some audible gasps from the audience). The fact that he kept returning to the obvious need for “clean data” might have seemed unnecessary to an IT crowd, but it says a lot about the persistence of this problem in MRO IT implementations.
A different, and also well-known issue, came up in the case study presented by Cathay Pacific, who presented their lessons learned in the implementation of an MRO IT system (Ultramain): the crucial need for proper management of process change. A survey conducted after the system went live found that many engineers were having a hard time adapting to the new way of working and found “clever” ways to continue working as they were used to. Some were exporting data from the new system and using it in “private” databases and spreadsheets. Insufficient and inadequate change management procedures are another obvious trap that everybody keeps talking about but many keep falling into.
But the presentation that most caught my attention, and not in a positive way, was the one given by InfoTrust Group’s VP of Sales, Jason Duffey, who spoke about the new documentation standards: S1000D (for technical publications) and Spec2300 (for flight operations). Mr. Duffey lauded the new standards as “consolidating” existing standards and enabling airlines to re-use and distribute content as they please. S1000D in particular was portrayed as heralding a “new age” in the industry, one in which airlines will be free to do as they please with technical documentation. Documentation nirvana is just around the corner.
When the time came for questions from the audience two people spoke up. The first, a representative from Lufthansa, asked how the new standards would set the airlines free, especially when OEMs are forcing them to use proprietary viewers. He went on to question why the OEMs won't provide the data in standard formats that allow airlines to make real use of it by integrating into their IT systems. (As an example of this policy, he mentioned the A380 content, which may only be viewed with Airbus’s application and incorporates tags in a way that cannot be re-used by Lufthansa.) The second comment came from a software vendor who asked (sarcastically) how one could talk about “consolidation” of standards with S1000D when technical documentation for all existing aircraft will continue to be provided in ATA iSpec2200 (or older standards) and PDF for decades to come; only new aircraft (B787 and A350) will use S1000D. Mr. Duffey could only concede that he agrees with this statement. If most aircraft rely on data that is not S1000D compliant, and new aircraft use S1000D data that cannot be integrated with existing IT systems, then where exactly is the “huge business benefit” for the airlines?
These two comments highlight the problematic situation in which airlines and MROs find themselves as a result of the OEMs’ anti-competitive policies regarding technical publications. Instead of allowing the airlines to make best use of the technical content for their MRO operations, Boeing and Airbus are adopting policies that restrict airlines by forcing them to use proprietary systems that limit airlines' IT choices and infringe on their ability to realize technological advantages and savings. Airlines are thus unable to leverage the wealth of information contained within their current technical publications to enhance their maintenance operations: work scheduling, job card generation, parts list synchronization, inventory cleanup, etc.
While this may not seem like a major issue for a small, single-fleet airline, it is. Airlines that get “kidnapped” by the OEMs will find themselves with few options when it comes to reducing maintenance costs, optimizing inventory and sourcing alternate parts (PMA). This trend can already be seen as Boeing has become a competitor in aftermarket MRO (see Boeing Shanghai) and their S1000D policy will further reduce the ability of independent MROs to develop efficiencies that are possible only with proper data ownership. This seems to be an effort on Boeing's part to take MRO shops out of business and to compete directly with airline maintenance organizations. In the words of the Lufthansa representative: “this is a disaster for the airlines”.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out between the OEMs and the airlines/MROs. Hopefully, the strong message that came out of this conference—that “content is king” when it comes to successfully implementing MRO IT systems—will prompt the airlines and MROs to adopt a more independent approach vis-à-vis the OEMs and take control of the content that shapes and determines the efficiency of their maintenance operations.
The 2010 ATA e-Business Forum, held a few weeks ago in Seattle, was a great success. Of course, being close to Boeing's facilities presented its own benefits. As my taxi passed their plant, just off Interstate 5, I got to see one of the 787 test planes taking off, and it was climbing out at a serious rate. (Watching airplanes do their thing never gets old for me.) The agenda for this event was well balanced, touching on a combination of S1000D, RFID, EFB and MRO topics. This was a well-executed conference, with over 250 attendees from 120 companies, including airlines, MRO shops, OEMs, consultants and technology providers.
The presenters were clearly interested in advocating emerging data standards, like S1000D, and the impact those standards would have on paperless maintenance and flight operations. And while many presentations focused on overcoming the challenges of implementing new data standards, only a few talked about the current maintenance and tech ops environment and how to improve the lives of mechanics today—rather than sometime in the future.
During the Enigma presentation, I shared some sobering numbers about the prevalence of PDF in airline maintenance and the challenges of getting PDF and XML to coexist in a way that helps mechanics' productivity. (Depending on the airline you talk to, 30-70% of OEM manuals are provided in PDF format.) This is a critical issue because for all the great ideas and good intentions around new data standards, without making the PDF content interactive most of those initiatives won't benefit airlines and MROs.
In the GE Aviation presentation, they highlighted the ability to publish full maintenance revisions of engine manuals in about 70 days, and incremental changes almost immediately. However, GE also stressed that a large number of airlines are 1-2 full revisions behind for implementing those new manuals. GE even admitted that at some airlines, engine manuals are as much as 12 months out of date.
GE's presentation could not have been timed better for Enigma. We followed GE and addressed the very topic they were discussing, which is the persistent challenge that airlines face trying to accelerate the implementation of OEM revisions and integrate tech pubs with ERP/MRO. This problem causes an airline's tech pubs and engineering planning systems to get out-of-sync, which results in discrepancies between how line and base maintenance is performed. GE had no answers to this problem, which is understandable because they simply publish maintenance revisions and let the airlines implement them. Enigma, on the other hand, does have answers because we work with airlines to make them more efficient and consistent.
For many attendees, this was the first time they learned that airlines can now implement a fully-integrated maintenance department that ties together tech pubs, engineering, maintenance planning, inventory, line and base maintenance. This is the key to faster maintenance, lower costs and improved compliance. Based on the large number of follow-up questions and comments, it is clear that airlines are having a difficult time managing all the different data formats and standards they are forced to support. Furthermore, it is clear that Boeing, Airbus and all the other manufacturers will continue to have different interpretations of the relevant specs and standards. It is also clear that the new standards are being phased-in by aircraft model and by type of manual, so existing aircraft will be waiting a long time for the new data formats. While this problem is not going away anytime soon, Enigma reduces the impact it has on the airlines' and MRO shops' business.
As the conference in Seattle came to a close, we were encouraged by the high level of customer interest in solving the challenges of airline maintenance. Having many airline customers, Enigma understands the importance of addressing the growing concerns—economic, regulatory, safety, productivity, quality, retirement, etc.—that have come to dominate today's aviation business strategy, and we can help you address them.
I just returned from the 2008 ATA E-Business/ S1000D Forum in Budapest, Hungary. This was the first year that ATA (Air Transport Association) combined the E-Business and S1000D meetings. The resulting event concentrated more on authoring/tech pubs than on the aftermarket service and support focus of past years. Almost 300 people attended, which is larger than either of the two individual events in 2007 but smaller than the combined total from last year. It wasn’t clear to me if this drop-off was because of the location, the topics, or the economy.
This year’s event drew fewer airlines than last year (14) but those that attended were serious about improving maintenance processes and job cards. There were also many OEMs in attendance trying to learn how to implement the S1000D spec but a few wanted to learn how to improve customer support and field service through electronic catalogs. Enigma stood out as one of the only exhibitors solely focused on making service information usable to mechanics and technicians, and a number of airlines sought us out for a demo. Each one expressed an urgent need to reduce maintenance costs. So while the quantity of attendees was down, the quality seemed to be up.
One change from last year was an increase in the amount of competitive eavesdropping. I often noticed Boeing and Airbus people hovering around as I gave product demos. This was particularly amusing from Airbus because when they presented the A380 information system during one of the open sessions it looked a lot like the Enigma solution from 2002. However, during the presentation Airbus mentioned some problems around incremental updates so I guess they haven’t copied everything.
Regarding the event itself, ATA did a fantastic job planning and coordinating the location and the topics. The hotel was first-rate and the city was very pleasant, despite the fact that the Communists were marching to commemorate the failed 1956 Revolt and protesting all things democratic. (Perhaps that’s why my bag arrived home two days after I did.) For me, the whole event was a worthwhile adventure. I learned a few things that could improve our products, and I was able to meet potential customers and partners to discuss the business opportunities in the aviation aftermarket. Kudos to Brad Ballance and the ATA!
I’m looking forward to my first visit to Budapest, Hungary, not only to sample the goulash but to attend the ATA e-Business Forum in October. If your company has any responsibility for aircraft maintenance, it’s worth sending someone to this event. I’ve been focusing on aftermarket service and support technology for eight years, but last year was my first ATA e-biz show and I have to tell you, the people that attended impressed me. They knew their stuff and were very involved in the technical sessions. What I really liked was that they wouldn’t let the speakers give easy answers to hard questions.
Of course it wouldn’t be an aviation technology event without the inevitable hype regarding S1000D and how it’s changing the world. There were plenty of vendors trying to convince airlines, MROs and OEMs to buy their solution and get a jump on the competition in moving to the new standard. But in between all the hype, there were a lot of people talking about how to improve the use of information they already had, without S1000D. (For the record, Enigma is a strong supporter of S1000D but we think airlines, MROs and OEMs need solutions that work with legacy data as well.) These people understood that at the end of the day, even though the new standard holds a lot of promise, it will take years (decades?) to get all the relevant information converted. After all, we’re talking about Terabytes (Petabytes? Exabytes?) of information and in the meantime the airlines, MROs and OEMs have businesses to run.
With that in mind, many of the people attending ATA e-biz were more interested in how to improve their business processes today…with the assurance of supporting S1000D tomorrow. These people wanted to accelerate job card processes, to ensure maintenance crews have the right information all the time, every time. They were looking for ways to improve non-routine job card processes, so that aircraft maintenance could stay on schedule, or ahead of schedule. They wanted to improve the efficiency and consistency of one of their largest workforces.
The people I met were realists who understood that, for their current fleets, it will be a long-long time before all the maintenance manuals, repair manuals, engine manuals, component manuals, illustrated parts catalogs, service bulletins, technical revisions, planning documents, equipment lists, schematics and other configuration information is converted to the new format (if ever). All the airline folks agreed that S1000D was gaining acceptance with the 787 and A380 (some, not all of the manuals will be S1000D) but that didn’t help them with the rest of their Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, ATR, Fokker, BAE, GE, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, CFM, IAE and Honeywell fleets.
The best thing about ATA e-biz is that a lot of really good issues, that seem to be hidden but have far-reaching consequences, are brought under the microscope, inspected, discussed and in some cases resolved. What I learned from last year’s ATA e-biz was that it’s a bunch of smart people having honest discussions about applying technology to current maintenance issues and future business opportunities. I hope this year’s event is just as good.