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.