To answer the ‘what it takes’ question requires answering several more detailed questions which are often specific to an organization’s business model:
Before one can define the value, processes, regulations, internal and external participants, or anything else, the scope of how paperless the organization currently is and desires to be must be defined, documented and agreed upon.
Most technical reference documentation comes in electronic format, including AMM, AIPC, MEL, EMM, TSM / FRM / FIM, SRM, CMM, CRM, eieioM. This statement immediately identifies the first scope issue – the differences in content data format. Technically, a pdf is an electronic digital document and therefore meets some capability maturity level for being paperless. But as everyone knows, even the most robust pdf is not supportive of full paperless operations relative to XML content management. Normally, airlines and MROs are looking to include routine tasks, authorized release certificates, non-routine tasks and repairs, and logbooks in their scope for achieving paperless operations as this constitutes the bulk of paper documentation that negatively impacts effective and efficient operations.
The value of defining scope becomes obvious, since each of the documents listed above have regulatory, intra-organizational, technological, return on invested capital (ROIC), business to business, training and sequencing impacts. For instance, MEL/MMEL and aircraft logbooks would require flight operations coordination, whereas routine task cards are wholly under the control of the maintenance department.
As a result of scoping the degree of what the organization wants to move to a paperless environment, the ‘who’ – which entities will be involved – is readily defined. At a minimum, there will be coordination with your OEMs, regulator, MRO providers, lessors, technology providers, and internally with operations, IT and finance.
Putting a value on going paperless
The value proposition for moving to paperless operations is one of the highest in the industry and building the business case is straight forward. I’ve seen sufficient ROIC based solely on physical paper cost reductions. If we then add in labour productivity, turn time reduction, supply chain efficiency, technical dispatch rate improvement, lease return savings and regulatory compliance, getting an initial and final approved budget is easy. Obviously this is a scaling function, that is, more aircraft and a longer period results in higher returns. Planned properly, even small airlines can achieve good results in short time periods.
What entities are involved?
And don’t forget that other entities get a return on your investment too. This includes third party MRO providers, lessors and OEMs. A paperless solution can drive down their costs of operations; so the question should be how much they are willing to invest in your initiative. If the answer is nothing, then maybe it’s time to find a new MRO provider or lessor! And with respect to OEMs, operational data is very valuable; don’t share it unless there is a quid pro quo.
Regulations and the regulator
Regulatory guidance for acceptable means of compliance for electronic manuals, electronic recordkeeping systems and electronic signatures is given in FAA AC 120-78 (dtd 2002) and TC AC 571-006. Depending upon scope, when you get to making the flight deck paperless the following are governing regulations: FAA AC 120-76C (re-written in 2014), AC 120-64, AC 120-74, or EC 859/2008, EC 956/2012, AMC 20-25/2013 and JAA TGL 36.
Bringing your regulator into your solution village needs to be properly timed. Too early in the process and it will appear that you don’t know what you are doing, whereas, too late in the process and you may have to change your solution, which will result in delays and cost overruns.
The technology that makes ‘paperless’ possible
So this brings us to the technology side of the village. Don’t be afraid of IT but also don’t let a business initiative turn into an IT led project. IT departments are well trained in Enterprise Architecture (EA). EA encompasses four domains: Business Architecture, Solutions Architecture, Data Architecture and Technology Architecture.
By assigning the right people to each of these architectural domains, your teams will move expeditiously and coordinate more efficiently in building the village. Of the four architectures, the one that gets the least attention but is the most critical to both getting to a successful solution and getting regulatory approval is Data Architecture.
Data – Data – Data, there are multiple data standards (iSpec2200, S1000D), multiple data formats (manuals, tasks, forms), multiple data hand-offs / integrations, so the sooner you come to the realization that no one in the industry has a single solution to the data (and content) interoperability issue, the better.
Document – Document – Document, if you can draw a line from receiving authoritative data, normally in the form of content, through each system and application, to final airworthiness records, then not only are you assured of getting a successful solution, your regulators will be assured too.
The path to your paperless work environment
There are multiple systems involved in getting to paperless. A common mistake operators make is trying to save capital investments by having software that isn’t designed to perform a certain capability do those things that it wasn’t designed to do. The most common of these mistakes is attempting to have an MRO IT system manage content. Let me be blunt here – in my 27 years of experience, I’ve yet to see a MRO IT system reconcile and parse XML schema documents.
There are a lot of partial solutions on the market from different OEMs, software vendors, and airlines that have gotten into the software business. Take a bit of time to play the field, see what each of them have to offer and meet with their customers; this is the best indication of the quality of their products and services. Also invest a little time and money in an independent advisor who isn’t selling software or a solution.
‘We’re all intelligent and experienced engineers or technologists, so given enough time and money we can figure this out – right?’
Wrong – an aviation enterprise architect with hands on experience in paperless mobile MRO solutions will more than pay for their costs. If nothing else, their knowledge of solutions pricing and contract negotiations will return dividends.
So, what does it take to go paperless?
It takes a village that is unique to your operations and business model.
About Our Expert
Michael Wm. Denis, President, Aviation Wikinomics, Inc.
Independent advisor, author and speaker.
With twenty-seven years’ experience in aviation, aerospace, defense, software and high-tech industries, Michael has held positions of responsibility across diverse functions including corporate strategy, market analysis, scenario planning, mergers and acquisitions, enterprise architecture, technology implementation and process re-engineering. He founded the Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) Forum for the global open mass collaboration of industry issues, with over 6000 members.
Michael is currently focusing his practice on servitization strategies and collaborative outsourcing business models combined with disruptive technologies.