Aircraft IT MRO – May/June 2014

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Name Author
Also a business process – Air Works Case Study Ravinder Pal Singh (Ravi), CTO and CIO, Air Works View article
Lost in Translation? – Data Warehousing Tim Alden, Commercial Director, Rusada View article
Case Study: Facing up to the IT challenge of offshore helicopter operations Brian P. McDonald, Principal & Managing Director, SFS Aviation Thailand View article
Mobility Deep Dive – Future Mobility Platforms Paul Saunders, Global Product Manager, Flatirons Solutions View article
Column – How I see IT Michael Wm. Denis View article

Also a business process – Air Works Case Study

Author: Ravinder Pal Singh (Ravi), CTO and CIO, Air Works

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Also a business process – Air Works Case Study

IT, explains Ravinder Pal Singh (Ravi), CTO and CIO at Air Works, should be part of the fabric of the organization and subject to the same improvement initiatives.

The business of Air Works
Before diving into how Air Works uses technology and why I believe that it has to be much more than an appendage to or support for the business’s processes, it would be useful to set the scene, to explain a little about the business. Air Works is a group of likeminded entrepreneurs who each run specialist businesses within the group but whom, while they are individually experts in their respective domains, share core values. The group has grown with the addition of capabilities to a strong core business (see figure 1). It is that integration of capabilities for our customers and of values for our own business that is both our biggest asset and, at the same time, a significant challenge. In this context, technology is our strategic glue; it is what we use to connect things, people and processes within the hanger, across functions and across our constituent companies in multiple countries. It enables us to have a global reach and ambitions as diverse as our capabilities (see figure 2).
Figure 1
Figure 2
We believe and practice the philosophy of ‘Small Giants’, businesses that are value focused and who aspire to be great rather than merely large: in that sense, we aspire to deliver the highest quality and to be the world’s best in every task that we do and, from that perspective, we utilize technological innovation as an engine driving our business and as the enabling glue that maintains the overall continuity and integrity of that business.

We find that bringing together the leadership of likeminded partners to attain a common goal and vision is far easier than integrating individual companies into a common fabric while still retaining their individuality. Information technology is the medium which we apply to make integration happen in processes and practices while still retaining the qualities and characteristics of each individual brand. This realization of ambitions as meaningful business outcomes generates expectations of the technology and of its practitioners; people like me.

Our foundations for the future are built on Air Works globalization and our use of technology developments…

  • Cloud;
  • Digitization;
  • App. Market.

… along with a culture of co-creation and collaboration to ensure optimum accessibility and operational capability for the largest number of users on whatever platforms they are using.

The technology road ahead

From an information point of view, aviation as a domain is still catching up with other domains, such as financial and retail services, in the adoption of technology which is currently readily available in the consumer space – mobility, social and wearable technology – and in the enterprise space – the Cloud, integration and intelligence. The information technology trends on which I’m betting for the medium and long terms are…

  1. The internet of things;
  2. 3D printing;
  3. Gamification.

There is only one challenge that I see for the sector, again from the information technology perspective, and that’s an open secret. It is to convert the desire for data standardization in aviation to a firm intent and practice, or else we will only see isolated sparks of innovation while the overall industry will still be behind more forward looking domains… such as those cited in my opening statement. There are great examples in other sectors (retail, banking, insurance, information technology, etc.) of how data standardization has helped to improve their overall health in spite of fierce competition and rivalry amongst the organizations within each sector.

Developing value beyond the technology

Taking all of the above into account, my view on trends in aviation technology, again from a medium to long term perspective, is for the development of…

  1. Unmanned platforms;
  2. Cognitive avionics;
  3. Natural language search.

We are continuously building our technology portfolio to reflect the trends. I’m personally involved in building multi-cultural communities within Air Works which contribute to the generation of ideas and innovation with direct visibility to the leadership of the business. Our innovation culture is more akin to a startup mentality, i.e. informal and fearless but community oriented, like a global corporate which is structured and goal driven. As Air Works’ innovation leader, it is my task to convert each idea generated to a 90-day project. If it’s successful, it becomes part of the fabric of the organization and is scaled up to be applied wherever appropriate: otherwise there is no funding and that means there is no second guessing or second chance. Hence, just talking has no value and noise is modulated very quickly.

Innovation in problem solving is also not confined within the boundaries of individual parts of the business… for instance in a recent case, young colleagues from CAMO, Planning and Engineering came together to help the supply-chain team in solving a complex problem. We have identified technology and innovation champions across Air Works as part of a community that works together and encourages others to participate in solving simple and complex problems… and in the creation of future ideas. Hence my designation of CIO encompasses not only ‘information officer’ but also ‘innovation officer’.

Similarly, as CTO, my responsibility is not only to undertake a traditional evaluation of technology but also to ensure that capabilities are transformational: hence, like my CIO responsibilities, my role as a CTO also has dual meanings and thus responsibilities.

Harnessing the power of partnership and community

In the last year and a half we have built a foundation for the future including design and technology (network readiness, performance and information hooks). Through this we have connected the business outcomes of Air Works to digitization, the Cloud and the App market via the culture of co-creation and collaboration. One thing I have learnt is not to bet too much on methodology or underestimate the culture of social communities; community is a very powerful engine of change.

We welcome folks who want to co-create with us, i.e. partners not vendors (past experiences have taught us good lessons).
Air Works – the business
  • The largest and only EASA certified business aviation MRO in India.
  • India’s first EASA certified airline MRO.
  • Undertakes avionic retrofits and upgrades in India (Scandinavian Avionics JV).
  • Undertakes aircraft painting and refinishing in Europe and India (Air Livery and ATE).
  • Offers aircraft management services in Middle East and India (Empire Aviation)

Air Works – the system and the numbers

  • 40 plus locations.
  • Multifold (more than 2000%) increase in usage of IT over the past18 months
  • An average of over 900 calls and/or tickets in a month.
  • 700%+ increase in BW (bandwidth) across 20 locations
  • Two small (new) facilities recently provisioned for IT; we are now working on two small and two large which will mean seven new facilities in the past 18 months.
  • We have introduced Cloud capabilities with IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service) and seamlessly moved the existing app portfolio; also provide automated backup on Cloud.
  • Server and services infrastructure uptime in excess of 98%.
  • Network now 20 or more times faster than it was 18 months ago.
  • More than 200 business alerts, reports and tools developed.
  • 500 minutes or less UI [user interface] response time.
  • More than 800 product defects closed.
  • More than 50,000 configuration data points.
  • More than 450 users 1st training and 2nd training; created user champions.
  • Zero downtime (since July 2012, with no involvement of any external player).
  • Passed 250,000+ logins in last 200 days.
  • Community of more than 50 comes together every week to improve, sustain and co-create so they are used to it now.
  • No extra budget implication: we aim to do more with less.
Lessons learned from experience

Air Works’ IT and its ERP vendor collaborated in 2006 to implement a new product but, unfortunately, the project seemed to have failed and was abandoned. In early 2013 we decided not to buy the next version of the same ERP but, instead, created a virtual team from across the business which successfully implemented the previously abandoned system. Since then we have trained over 450 users at least twice to ensure that their skills improve continuously. We learned a lot from this exercise which can be boiled down to:

  • The importance of clarity of thought and its communication.
  • The value of collaboration across organizations, it’s not only an IT program.
  • The importance of hardcore ground-level execution… it can’t be done in silos at HO or in one location, or in one hanger.

Unless I can automate IT and demonstrate it to others, why would anyone trust me to automate other processes? Most importantly our five key IT stakeholders are normal IT people: they are all very young and none has a degree in computers or aviation. But they are learners and extremely dedicated to their craft. With help and a shoe-string budget they have accomplished enormous achievements on their own. These five young people manage the whole IT function for Air Works: this is what automation is capable of achieving. It is surprising that, while everyone looks to IT for automation, very few CIOs do the introspection to make IT itself lean (in a true way) and simple (to be effective). Inspiring leadership and automation can do wonders for the discipline of IT in any organization; Air Works is a good example of that in practice.

As I said above, IT success today is all about the power of communities and co-creation; my portfolio is not restricted to traditional IT but welcomes a ‘new world and definition of CIO’ wherein everyone who is the smartest consumer of technology becomes part of the IT community. This is the only successful mantra to bring change and make it effective and sustainable.
Figure 3
A young colleague at a hanger in India once asked me; “Ravi, what will be your legacy in Air Works?” I was immediately able to answer, “Design”. If there is one thing of which I’m proud and still working on it tirelessly, so that it can become permanent Air Works culture, it is the importance and virtue of design. When I joined Air Works I found people not using technology; either they feared it or were avoiding using it out of frustration. Both conditions pointed to poor design and usability of IT. Hence by virtue of creating a unique (under patent) app market framework we have brought app definition and design to the user rather than the developer or IT dictating what could be done.
Figure 4
Integrity by design

Shareholders and stakeholders are impatient in today’s volatile world, so quick results are the key for successful IT funding; hence my theory of 90 days projects as mentioned above. One thing that I have learned is that it’s better to work with partners or with no-one at all. Working with vendors who are not aligned with your vision, especially if it aims for a rapid transformation and simultaneously rapid growth, will result in wastage of time and material. In Air Works, IT provides the literacy, i.e. the definition of the work and its architecture and the breadth or scope of the project, while we engage partners for world class execution.

Figure 5
Air Works Values

These guiding beliefs bind us on a foundation of unyielding integrity.

  • Customer focus and customer care with profitability – without profitability, customer care is of no use to our business.
  • We grow when our people grow.
  • Only results and delivery count – we will measure ourselves by what we deliver and close, not by the effort we make or by the number of emails we send.
Figure 5 above is an example of design wherein, just as a retail bank consumer can view his bank statement, our customers can view the status of their aircraft and related inventory throughout its end-to-end lifecycle via our ‘customer info app’ which is multi-platform and multi-device… in other words, available anytime, anywhere through whatever technology the user has to hand. Also notice that we have combined transparency of information to our (Air Works’) core values so that integrity of information also reflects our integrity: can there be any better example of IT being a true fabric of an organization?
Contributor’s Details

Ravinder Pal Singh (Ravi), CTO and CIO, Air Works

Ravi Ravinder( Pal Singh) is the Global Chief Information Officer at Air Works – India’s largest independent aviation MRO and India’s first EASA certified MRO. Ravi is strategizing and leading Business Digitization & Automation; IT Transformation; Culture change to create future business technology avatar aligned to Air Work’s Vision and its various business goals including non-linear growth. Ravi has lived and worked in 3 continents and his global experience covers broad disciplines ranging from strategy to execution. In recent past he has been associated with a leader in technology and a big 4 management consulting firm to help their Fortune 100 customers and government institutions in IT transformation.

Air Works

Air Works is an independent provider of aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services in India and aircraft paint and refinishing in the UK. Founded in 1951, Air Works has successfully transformed itself from a family run business focused on providing maintenance services to business aircraft into a professionally managed organization providing a full suite of services to customers across aircraft management services, aircraft painting and refinishing, avionics, business and general aviation MRO, commercial aviation MRO and parts distribution.

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