The Uptime Blog
There’s a lot of buzz about social media tools today, especially since Facebook recently filed to go public, but do maintenance engineers, planners and technicians currently use social media tools to help them perform their jobs? Will social media become more embedded in the daily operations of maintenance professionals, or will it always be something people use only in their spare time for news, networking and educational purposes?
I was curious to find out what others are saying on this topic, so I searched online to see what’s been published. The search yielded few results. One of the articles was titled “People Power,” recently published in Air Transport World. But it was mostly about how airlines are using Facebook on the operations side, to support customer relations and drive ticket sales. It seems that most commercial airlines or transit agencies use Facebook only as a sales or ridership promotional tool.
If you are a maintenance planner, engineer or technician, which social media outlets do you turn to for news, tips and discussions that help you accomplish your professional objectives? Below is a brief summary of three major platforms—LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook—and my observations about their value to maintenance professionals in the aviation and transit industries.
In the past couple of years LinkedIn has become an important network for plenty of maintenance, planning and engineering professionals. Look around for a LinkedIn group in various industries, and you’re sure to find one that’s relevant, with educational discussion threads that are pertinent to your profession. LinkedIn is not a tool that one uses to actually perform one’s job (unless your job is to research best practices in your industry), but it’s becoming a go-to source for industry knowledge and networking.
Twitter serves as a source of micro-blogs; it’s a handy way of hearing the latest buzz from industry experts, vendors and colleagues. Compared to LinkedIn, however, it is more difficult to 1) find the most relevant Twitterers for your industry and 2) scroll through all the Tweets to find ones that are relevant to your job.
As of this writing Facebook offers some pages and posts that are pertinent to the maintenance profession, but it can be hard to locate them. (This may be a function of Facebook’s search engine, and/or the lack of pages and posts.) A brief search on Facebook for “aircraft maintenance” yielded a substantial number of results; most were for MRO shops, aircraft maintenance schools, and interest groups. Many, if not the majority, of aviation-oriented Facebook pages exist to promote products or services rather than sharing useful information. That could be changing, however; some pages contained numerous posts/updates that were indeed educational; for example, look up “Aircraft Maintenance General Knowledge.”
Are these trends likely to change? Are there other social media platforms that are gaining traction in the maintenance profession? Please post your thoughts/comments on this topic. And, of course, feel free to follow Enigma on Twitter and LinkedIn.
If your company relies on a Web portal to distribute service and parts information to service technicians, consider the disadvantages of that approach. Although web portals are one way to eliminate the need to track and update DVDs and paper manuals, there are several problems with portals:
- Service portals are typically nothing more than large repositories of similar documents (manuals, bulletins, part lists, drawings, etc.) with little in the way of user guidance.
- There is little or no search functionality in a portal; technicians must look at multiple repositories and folders for relevant titles and open each document to determine if it’s applicable.
- Web portals cannot help the technician when there is no Internet connectivity.
Service technicians often have to work in areas with limited or no internet connection; access may be blocked due to electronic interference, low bandwidth, lost signals, weather outages, spotty coverage or a variety of safety/security rules. Technicians that work in field locations and/or isolated environments, without the internet, still need access to technical information.
When making offline service visits, technicians must pick and print the manuals they’ll need, and hope that those will cover the job. Without the right information they’re forced to call customer support to diagnose problems, order parts and perform repairs. Every call to the hotline delays the repair and drives up the cost of the service visit, which decreases profits and brand perception.
To address this challenge, technicians need all product, parts and service content—a complete technical library—to be available online and offline (also referred to as “standalone” or “disconnected”). Enigma InService® EPC responds to this need, providing the same navigation, search and selection capabilities whether online or offline. Technicians and parts managers can install InService EPC on a PC, laptop, tablet, etc. and be fully productive in a standalone environment with no network connectivity. Enigma, rather than someone in customer support, provides the answers the technician needs.
With Enigma, all the ordinary offline concerns have been addressed: diagnosing problems, identifying repairs, keeping data accurate, finding and ordering the correct parts, sharing best practices and up-selling parts and services. Even if a portal could do all these things, which is rare, if the network is down even the best of them is of no value.
Without a standalone/offline parts and service application, technicians spend valuable time printing documents, calling customer support, and ordering parts after they leave the job site. It takes more time, and results in more errors.
Enigma’s offline parts and service application improves the speed (MTTR) and accuracy (FTFR) of maintenance and repair. For more on this topic, download the fact sheet, “Service Self-Sufficiency: Online and Offline Service and Parts Information.”
Aviation Week reported that the FAA is entering the debate about instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA). Specifically the FAA is trying to define what is, and is not, included in the definition of ICA. According to the article, “FAA proposed the policy to clarify its position on the availability of instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA), saying it was not acceptable for manufacturers/design-approval holders (DAHs) to limit the distribution of ICA by placing contractual requirements or adding restrictive language to control the use of the instructions.” The article goes on to say that the FAA’s attempt to clarify ICA has generated a lot of resistance from a number of sources.
At the heart of the problem is Boeing and Airbus (and probably others) who find themselves in a price war, with profits becoming scarce even as they roll out expensive new airplanes. In response, they are trying to generate more revenue by controlling the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) market. Their strategy is based on restricting access to service and parts information, which is considered to be ICA by the airlines, MRO shops and FAA. The OEMs restrict information in two ways: 1) by making ICA available only via their own proprietary software applications; 2) by imposing highly restrictive contract language that limits what airlines can do with ICA. As a result, airlines that purchase the newest breed of aircraft must agree to these terms or they won’t be able to keep those fleets airworthy. (The whole situation is quite ironic because the OEMs have been advertising S1000D data compliance but the purpose of the S1000D standard is data exchange and re-use across multiple software systems. Prohibiting airlines from re-using ICA eliminates the very basis for S1000D.) If they submit to the OEMs' demands, airlines are then forced to learn new software systems and integrate those systems into their own maintenance and engineering (M&E) environments, both of which cost a lot of money. (This assumes the Boeing and Airbus systems work as advertised.)
The reason the FAA is getting involved now is that any restriction on ICA is detrimental to safety—not to mention fair competition. There seems to be a fundamental conflict of interest when the DAH (Boeing, Airbus, et al) has the ability to decide what information qualifies as ICA and what information is proprietary. Any OEM trying to dominate the maintenance business would consider all forms of service and parts information to be proprietary, which is exactly what Boeing and Airbus have done.
Boeing and Airbus' strategy has been emerging for years. It all started with parts, which are typically sold at a big markup (>300% in some industries). To help fight price gouging, the FAA authorized alternate parts (PMA) as a way to lower airline operating costs (and ticket prices) without sacrificing safety. However, that hasn’t stopped the OEMs from (mostly) eliminating PMA through restrictive warranty and lease agreements that prohibit the use of PMA. They now appear to be doing the same thing for maintenance services by controlling ICA and creating restrictive contracts.
This Aviation Week article supports what Enigma has heard from a number of airlines, that Boeing and Airbus are now moving past their (near) monopoly on parts and are starting to dictate which organizations can maintain their products and when the work must be done. The new contract language defines who may access, use and modify the airline’s manuals, bulletins, catalogs, etc. From what we’ve heard, if an airline comes up with new ways of repairing those aircraft then Boeing and Airbus claim to own the new procedures. If this OEM strategy is successful the result will be a complex environment where airlines are responsible for maintaining safe aircraft but Boeing and Airbus will define how much it costs to be “safe.” In other words, airlines will hold all the responsibility and OEMs will hold all the authority.
As described in Aviation Week, the FAA now believes that certain manufacturers have gone too far. FAA Order 8110.54A Chapter 2 Paragraph 3 says, “As stated in paragraph 1 of this chapter, we require DAHs to furnish acceptable ICA to product owners per 14 CFR § 21.50(b). We also require that they make the ICA available to any persons required to comply with the ICA.” That is a clear statement that the people responsible for keeping aircraft flying must be given the information necessary to do their jobs. Since airlines are responsible for airworthiness, how can OEMs restrict critical information? Apparently, Boeing and Airbus are putting their lawyers to work debating the meaning of words like safety, instructions, maintenance, airworthy, etc.
None of this bodes well for airline profits or ticket prices. Monopolies are illegal because they create an unfair business environment. If the OEMs restrict access to ICA then they control the supply chain and can dictate prices. Although we’ve heard that airlines are fighting the Boeing and Airbus strategy, it’s unclear what kind of short-term incentives the OEMs might offer to make the airlines surrender. However, as stated in a previous blog airlines should realize that short-term savings often turn into long-term costs. The OEMs will probably even lean on government politicians to slow down the FAA, but if this isn’t resolved soon only two things are sure: 1) lots of lawyers will get rich; 2) the flying public will get poor.
As radiology departments contend with constant pressure to reduce costs, OEMs and independent service organizations (ISOs) are upping the ante with new offerings to lure customers in a highly competitive market. --- Healthcare Technology Management, December 2011
When it comes to servicing CT scanners and other complex equipment, healthcare organizations can either pay the OEM to fix it, fix it themselves or hire an independent service organization (ISO). Healthcare Technology Management magazine wrote an interesting article about the changing services landscape for diagnostic equipment: “CT Service Contracts: In Flux.” According to the article, over 60% of healthcare organizations have a service contract with an OEM. However, the economics of healthcare is driving these organizations to cut costs and so OEMs are facing increased competition from ISOs. As ISOs start to offer more aggressive terms and pricing, OEMs must find ways to keep (or win back) their customers.
Medical device OEMs spend lots of time and money finding ways to optimize field service operations. They often pursue lean and six-sigma practices to provide faster service and improve first time fix rates (FTFR). And by implementing remote diagnostics with automated dispatch and parts planning systems, they can start to maximize uptime and improve customer support. However, these approaches are only part of the solution. The article quotes Jason Kreitner, administrative director of diagnostic imaging at Hackensack University Medical Center as saying, “You have to look at the caliber of staff that services your site. You want a seasoned individual who is comfortable with the technology...Service is all about people, bottom line."
Is service all about the people? Yes and no. Although it’s crucial to have talented service technicians, even the best of them are handicapped if they don’t have accurate parts and service information. Thus OEMs need to resolve two major issues:
- Keeping parts and service information up to date. OEMs often grapple with managing and publishing technical content. Technicians expect all service bulletins, maintenance manuals, parts lists or other technical data they use to be accurate. Software like Enigma InService® EPC can automate OEM tech pubs processes, eliminating delays in getting updated parts and service information out to the field.
- Making all information available, and easy to find, at the point of service. Service technicians spend a lot of time looking into multiple data sources (paper catalogs, online repositories, DVDs, etc.) for the service and parts information they need. Multiple systems, multiple data formats and multiple user interfaces all conspire to reduce productivity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some companies, like Toshiba America Medical Systems, have implemented Enigma InService EPC, which combines all product, service and parts content and delivers it online, offline and mobile. As a result, TAMS technicians have a complete and accurate technical library at their fingertips, wherever they are.
Providing complete and accurate service information, improves the OEM’s bottom line. Eliminating delays around service and parts lookup (and procurement) helps technicians work faster and deliver higher quality, which allows them to service more customers and equipment in less time.
In addition, better OEM service strengthens customer relationships and brand perception. Service contracts are easier to negotiate and renew when the OEM has a history of providing excellent product support.
These are just two of the many ways that Enigma’s solutions give medical device OEMs a competitive edge; for more information, click here to download the Enigma medical data sheet, and read a series of our previous blog posts on this subject.