Aircraft IT MRO Issue 60: Summer 2024

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Aircraft IT MRO Issue 60: Summer 2024 Cover

Articles

Name Author
CASE STUDY: Transavia Netherlands upgrades to the latest MRO IT solution Gerard de Bruyn, Product Owner of the technical department, Transavia Netherlands View article
CASE STUDY: Canadian North took control of its device fleet Gail Campbell, Senior Manager Maintenance Information Systems, Canadian North View article
CASE STUDY: Affinity reaps the benefits of a new IT solution. Grahaeme Colledge, Technical Director at Affinity Flying Training Services, and Tim Alden, Strategic Partnerships Director at Veryon View article
WHITE PAPER: A step into the future for an MRO software solution Andrew O’Connor, Head of Product Management, Aviation and Paul Lynch, Group Managing Director, Aviation, both at Aspire Software View article
WHITE PAPER: AI is Powering Growth of Lifecycle Optimization Tools Dr Ip-Shing Fan, John Maggiore and Professor Anna Smallwood, all at Cranfield University View article
WHITE PAPER: Gains for MRO from digital solutions Remon Sweers, VP of Products, QOCO systems View article

WHITE PAPER: A step into the future for an MRO software solution

Author: Andrew O’Connor, Head of Product Management, Aviation and Paul Lynch, Group Managing Director, Aviation, both at Aspire Software

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Andrew O’Connor and Paul Lynch open the bonnet of the latest iteration of OASES: how it evolved and what it can do for today’s MRO users

OASES from Commsoft is already a well-established, widely used MRO software solution; so, why change what already works well. We’d like to share with you the reasoning behind OASES Release 11 and how, by engaging the latest technological advances, it will make your work so much better

Paul Lynch:

REASONS TO UPGRADE OASES.

To put into perspective the reasons that prompted this OASES upgrade, we first need to take a step back for a broader view of what’s going on in the industry as OASES has not been alone in this ‘upgrade’ approach. We started by considering what we did historically, what we now needed to do differently and how best to meet the challenges of those new realities in the industry. Historically, we had started with on-premises customers: we sold them licenses and they bought their own hardware; the licenses ran on that hardware and, to a large extent, they were free to do whatever they wanted with the software. We responded to their support calls and change requests but what it meant was that, if we had forty customers, we could potentially have forty different versions of the software as each customer tailored the system to their own requirements.

That model didn’t fundamentally change when we moved into the next stage of development which was hosted systems. However, while OASES was now hosting the software, instead of on-premises hosting, the customer was still customizing their own version, albeit in our datacenter rather than their own hosting environment. Our datacenter could still potentially be hosting forty different versions of the same system, albeit running in one place rather than in forty different places. That’s how the evolution of software development has gone over the last ten or fifteen years, from on-premises to hosted. Post-Covid, the big challenges that we foresaw two big challenges emerging and accelerating as a result of Covid: they were data and digital.

What has happened around data is that aircraft have become increasingly data capable, generating terabytes of data in real-time. The expectation for ground-based systems such as OASES, as well as the whole aviation IT ecosystem, is that those systems are going to be able to respond in near real time to those terabytes of data being sent down from aircraft. There are clearly some issues to be addressed such as communications and their global deployment, but that will sort itself out in the next couple of years, by when many aircraft will be streaming data to the ground in real-time and in vast volumes. The only way that we can cope with that technically is by putting in place a cloud base.

All of the data has to be in one data repository, in one place, for all the systems that use it; the data also has to have a common look and feel in order for the system to be able to react to the data coming at it. The fundamental architecture changes, moving from forty different versions of the same system to one version of the same system in a Cloud environment. Our release policy is in response to that accelerating market change and, to new digitally enabled aircraft being deployed at an accelerating pace due to Covid. That has been a real inflection point in the last two years which has mean that we’ve had to sit back, look at our development methodologies, look at what we were delivering to customers through the way that we were doing releases, and do something very different in response to this strategic development that had accelerated over those last two to three years. That’s the strategic context for data.

The other theme, also accelerated by Covid, is the expectation of users that whatever their systems are telling them to do, it will be in a digital format. People don’t want paper; they don’t want to have to walk from one end of the hangar to the other, fill out a form and put it back in the right place. They want to be able to use a mobile device, be actively told what to do through that mobile device and make all the responses through digital technology. That has also been accelerated through Covid from a user expectation perspective – people now meet online to an extent that would not have been the case five years ago. Digital pervades every workspace; it isn’t just that Covid accelerate expectations but also a different workforce has come in to the market, younger people who’d laugh at a piece of paper or a fixed terminal. That digitalization can only be done through a Cloud-based provision of services utilizing data in near real time.

Those two key themes, the growth of data and digital, were what decided us to change our strategy and develop releases which are Cloud based and, in that, we are on a journey. Release 10 was our first Cloud-based iteration moving from a hosted environment to Release 10 which is a full blown cloud services-based environment with still some of the established functionality but being delivered on a new technical platform. Release 11 is the first time that we have incorporated new functionality, exploiting the cloud-based environment so that we can start to deliver digital content. We can start to utilize the data in a better fashion with things like dashboards, workflows and new API (Application Programing Interface) frameworks, none of which could have been done in the old-fashioned hosted environment, let alone in an on-premise environment.

That is what we are trying to do with OASES strategically; there will be future releases and one of the other things that we will able to do, once we’ve done that first step of getting into the Cloud environment, is employ a different development methodology. Development will be accelerated with all of the coding using the same code base. It will also be possible to accelerate the deployment of new functionality through agile development techniques which could not have been done for those forty versions in the historical environment.

What’s finally worth mentioning is that while AI wasn’t the force it is today when we set out on this journey, it is a force now. This new Cloud-based environment allows us also to cope with AI as it becomes mainstream. Again, you can only do that when you’re working in one environment with one code-base and a single data source; you can only apply AI techniques and tools to that core single capability and we’ve also started doing that at OASES. So, you’ll see in Release 12 and subsequent releases that AI will be built into the roadmap. That’s the overarching strategic direction of the company and that was triggered during Covid because we saw all of this happening.

People also expect mobility today, so our first mobile app was developed three years ago although probably not what digital natives might expect, so we are looking to develop apps and functions that will sit comfortably in a digitally native environment and will probably appear with Release 12, when the mobile app will be re-purposed to make it far more intuitive as digital natives expect.

WHY AN UPDATED SOLUTION?

Evolution rather than revolution.  OASES is a safety critical piece of software that we supply to a rightly conservative environment; people seldom want rapid change but they want to know that there is planned evolution against agreed outcomes. We did consider stopping the old solution and starting again in the Cloud environment but, with that, there would have been the question of how could the migration to the new solution be achieved. That decided us that it had to be an evolutionary approach which is what we’ve done.

DEVELOPMENT HISTORY OF OASES

Suppliers of software to companies will evolve their software based upon customers’ requirements; so, as customers’ requirements grew, as something new was identified, that would be plugged in to the next version of a software solution. For OASES, there are on-premise versions still running with 15 to 20 of our more than 80 customers but each of those cases is a subtly different piece of software because they’ve plugged in other software solutions or we have, over time, built plug-ins for them, or they’ve got a different reporting structure or whatever. That pattern was very common to software companies; they responded to customers’ needs through a change request process, they produced add-ins for the product and, to the extent that was possible, built those add-ins into the core product. As a result, you’d end up with, of those 15 to 20 customers in our case, 15 to 20 different versions of the software. That provides a support headache and a development headache, but moving to a hosted environment, that headache doesn’t get any less because the different software evolutions have simply moved from one environment to another.

It really has to be a step to say, no, we’re going to get onto one common platform and one common dataset; that’s not an uncommon history among software companies and it’s what happened with OASES.

THE EFFECTS OF THE CLOUD ON OASES

With the first move to the Cloud, it was just a matter of taking the hosted version and putting it into a Cloud environment. The features and functions all looked the same and it’s accessed the same; it’s just operating in a different environment. This latest release is significant because it’s the first time that we’ve started to change the look and feel, and the functionality, which had not happened to a large extent in release 10. By Release 11, we have been working in the Cloud for a couple of years, we’ve got a really good development plan, and we’re able to incorporate new functionalities with a different look and feel. To a digital native, looking at the screens that we delivered ten years ago would have made them laugh at the likes of Excel. We now have a well-defined road map of what we’re going to deliver and we have delivered that content in Release 11 plus there will be further new things coming out in future releases, predicated on our ability to deliver it all from one place.

Andrew O’Connor

With systems like OASES, people expect to be able to integrate third-party systems with them more easily now. That’s an IT trend common to all software solutions, and part of our motivation for moving OASES to the Cloud with the latest technologies has been to ensure that we’ve also been able to more easily adopt new technologies for integration with third-party systems. That’s important; people talk about APIs quite a lot and that is something that we’ve also integrated with Release 11 so that those third-party systems, such as eTechLogs, that quite a few of our customers might use for very specific purposes, are able to now plug those in in quite a standard way. We’ve also come up with a workflow tool for simple integrations which uses a ‘click and point’ process for simple integrations and with which people can plug in and connect another system with our systems.

That is one kind of thing that we’ve been enabled to enable because of the new technology.

There are some other interesting things around adding on more of a business intelligence capability. We have a new feature call Insights which offers a very visual, dashboard view.

We use a tool called Metabase to deliver the very graphical sorts of views with charts and pie charts, and showing trends over time, showing the performance of the maintenance operation, that senior managers might want to see and similar information (figure B).

Figure B

We now have the capability to create those very visual views of what is happening in the system and, again, because we’ve upgraded the whole technology stack and are using the latest capabilities, we’ve been able to plug that in and are now able to offer it as a consulting service to our customers going forward. With the ability to offer those interesting views on the data, it’s opening up a whole new area of opportunity that wasn’t there in the existing product.

Those are main new functionalities that are very outward facing; there are other important things that are more behind the scenes including those related with the trend for cyber security and the security of the system; this is a very safety critical system. So, again, because we’ve updated the whole tech stack, we’ve been able to enable things like more secure ways of logging in such as multi-factor authentication.

The whole thing you get as a user of banking systems is the double layered checks to ensure whether it’s really you, to prove your identity. So, all those kinds of things have been enabled in OASES and we’ve been enabled to do that because of the refresh of the technology stack. It fits with the expectations of their apps that young digital natives have these days and multi-level security is something that people are used to.

HOW TODAY’S OASES WORKS

OASES today supports the whole process from planning and scheduling an aircraft maintenance event to when that aircraft is signed out as ready for service again. As already stated, the latest release is an evolution rather than a revolution so we’ve not built a brand-new product or risked removing any functionality or anything like that. Everything about the new release has all the capabilities in line maintenance and CAMO that were already there; but we have refreshed the way that works and how it looks so it looks a lot nicer and it flows better. We’ve added the new capabilities like the Business Intelligence reporting and that kind of thing: but it does everything on the core tasks that it’s always done, just in a nicer way.

We have also added the Maintenance Control Module (figure A) which allows users to do planning in a visual way.

Figure A

It interfaces, through an API, with the Flight Operations system so that users can see where the aircraft are and, with a visual interface, you can drag and drop the aircraft into a maintenance schedule based upon where it is, the stations it’s scheduled for and the availability of parts and people to undertake the maintenance. That’s all through a nice new visual interface and, again, that’s another new module.

The evolution of OASES is a continual process and future releases with include plugging in things like of AI capabilities; we’re already using AI internally and will next be employing it in customer environments.

At the time of writing, just after the launch Issue 11, there were already four customers live on this latest version of OASES.

OASES ACADEMY

As part of OASES Release 11, we have also included the ‘OASES Academy’. With any business-critical system, it’s vital to get your team up and running as quickly as possible and, with a powerful solution like OASES, there’s a lot to learn. That’s why we’ve created OASES Academy. It’s the best way to turn your people into OASES experts, whether they’re new starters or experienced team members.

OASES Academy has also created a powerful network of aviation experts, from whom to learns more about OASES and the industry as a whole. The Academy includes helpful networking features, where you can get to know the OASES team, and others in the industry. It’s like a social network filled with industry and product experts. As you explore, you’ll find answers to our most frequently asked questions and the ability to ask a question yourself. Answers might come from the OASES team or from others in the community. Having so many others with the knowledge to help means you’ll get an accurate answer fast.

The Academy helps you learn and master the OASES system with a series of courses, covering different parts of the platform and many of the ways that different functions and roles will use it. The introductory courses are for everyone and explain the basics of getting into OASES and getting set up with an account.

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