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.