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WHITE PAPER: Leveraging data for digital aviation success
Author: Sander de Bree, Founder & CEO, EXSYN Aviation SolutionsSubscribe
Sander de Bree, Founder & CEO at EXSYN Aviation Solutions unpacks the importance of managing aircraft data as part of the digital transformation journey
We want to make sure that data is properly maintained and managed as the foundation for digital success but, to bring that about, we must first understand the business’s past to inform decisions and actions in the future.
THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION JOURNEY
Because of the complexity of demands on, processes in and expectations of airlines, the old ways of working are no longer adequate to the job. Increasingly, airlines are moving to digital processes which are really good at harvesting, organizing and using the data in the business; at the same time, new aircraft joining the fleet generate huge quantities of data. So, it makes sense to harness all of that data through new digital systems to leverage the best possible ways of working.
At EXSYN Aviation Solutions, we are often called upon to help an airline make the journey to digital; after all, while it will almost certainly be the first time that airline has tackled its digital transformation, it is a process with which EXSYN is very familiar and for which we have good experience-based understanding and have developed some really good tools.
MAKING THE DATA STRATEGY WORK
Figure 1 illustrates the key transformation areas on which the success of any digital transformation will rest.
People will always be the first consideration because they are at the heart of any business and it is they who will have to carry out the digital transformation and work together to achieve the corporate goals.
At the start of any digital transformation journey, we will be asked by the airline’s Executive Leadership Team, ‘what will it need for us to get the basics right in order to be where we want to be?’ The first thing that usually comes to mind is that the data needs to be cleaned (figure 2) dependent on the age of the fleet, usage of the aircraft, and the systems that might be at the starting point of that digital transition journey.
Data has to be cleaned because, over time, it will have been entered by users and mistakes will have been made, ranging across common issues such as incorrect zeros, dashes and dots, but also including the more crucial part of data cleaning where it starts to potentially impact the data of the aircraft. This is mostly an unsung topic; however, data cleaning is not just looking at incorrect zeros, dashes and decimal points but. It also means, for instance, looking at the historic accumulation of utilization for the aircraft and how does the historic accumulation of flight hours and flight cycles add up to the current listed hours and cycles of the aircraft. They might not necessarily agree over time: data entry mistakes might have been made which have not been corrected and, before long, there will be a discrepancy between the actual hours flown by the aircraft and what is reported in the system. Uncovering any such discrepancy is an important part of data cleaning and one of five important steps towards getting the basics right.
When that first step is out of the way, the second consideration is often that a customer is moving to a system landscape which is far more data intense and data hungry than what had been before. Coming from a landscape that is far simpler in terms of data also means that, in order to properly use the new systems, data needs to be enriched from other sources; not only from the data sitting in the MRO system but also using additional data sources to enrich the aircraft MRO data sets. This is when it becomes necessary to start thinking beyond current systems or legacy systems to look at alternative sources such as the AMMs (Aircraft Maintenance Manuals), the IPCs (Illustrated Parts Catalogs) and other OEM manuals that you might need to refer to in order to start enriching the data before it is actually moved into systems where it might be needed as part of the digital transformation.
That brings additional challenges when it comes to getting the basics right because, if you are going to take data from multiple sources to make sure that it fits the model of the systems where it is needed to support the digital transformation, people will need to start thinking about getting those data aligned in the data sets. You cannot simply take several different data sets, throw them together and then try to push that into whatever system you might want to use it for. That is the third item in figure 1, the technical part of getting the basics right, alignment of datasets so that the data will fit the purpose for which you want to use it and you won’t be introducing new problems into the system that you want to use.
In addition to the four items identified in figure 1, when it comes to getting the basics right, there is an unsung hero which doesn’t get emphasized enough, and that is, ‘thinking of future intentions’ while you go through the exercise. What we often see happening is that airlines need to migrate data, need to get data into a certain status in order to implement a system and get something up and running and we try to think of solutions to get that data into that system. However, once that has been achieved, we need to think about progressing on to something else: to start using analytics and/or to connect additional applications to it which, on its own, might drive further data cleansing requirements as well as more enrichment and alignment needs. It’s at that starting point where you want to get the basics right that it is useful to think about future functions and include those in the data cleaning and data enrichment activities that you want to do because now you are actually actioning that data. The start of the digital journey is the right time to introduce that because, if you don’t do it then, once you have migrated into the new system with everything up and running, day to day processes and activities become the priority again and there’s a chance that you’ll end up with the same challenges and issues that you had a few years ago but just with a different system. So, at the start when aiming to get the basics right, also think about your future intentions that you want for the data, the place that you want to give it in your organization and the systems that it will ultimately need to drive, not just from an airworthiness compliance perspective but also from a business efficiency perspective.
And last but not least, as a data business, we always like to think about the technical aspects; however, within maintenance and MRO management, a significant proportion of data is actually generated by users. In contrast to flight data which is generated by the aircraft itself and is fairly structured, most MRO datasets and maintenance datasets are generated by users every day. It’s not just about the data itself, it’s also important to start thinking about the underlying processes, the people, their skills, training, knowledge, etc., in order to maintain a certain level of data standards in the organization and to avoid that, if you have gone through all those different exercises, further down the line, you’ll find yourself again in that same situation.
Another element is, from a cross-organizational perspective, to also learn from each other. The ideal long-term data strategy vision would be a state where a cross-departmental platform has been established in the business. If use cases can run right through the organization, that will unlock the full potential of the data. In this, we’re thinking of additional data such as load factors and customer satisfaction, but also financial data.
Many of the airlines with which we work are already making some use of data even before any digitization program but in a sporadic and vertical manner. However, to get the best results, we encourage customers’ people to work in a cross-functional manner in order to learn from each other and work towards a cross-organizational flow of data.
WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP FOR THE GOOD OF ALL
Thinking of a recent customer, when they approached EXSYN, they stated from the outset that they wanted to collaborate with particular industry-leading partners and to involve EXSYN in that. How this will look in the context of day-to-day collaboration with what both the airline and EXSYN will bring to the table, can be structured in two specific areas. There is technology from EXSYN being used at the airline and there is a managed service element: it is the accommodation of these two that fuels the partnership. So, lets deep dive into those two elements (figure 3).
Looking at technology: the data process starts with data coming from different systems into a particular system. To integrate that data between various different systems within the airline’s IT landscape, those data flows need to be facilitated – getting the basics right around data. This is where the technology that EXSYN brings to the program comes into play. It is a full platform that connects to the different systems in use at the customer airline as well as external systems such as OEM portals, in order to get the data that was identified from exercises like getting the basics right. Also, this is the time for enrichment and alignment. Then, using that EXSYN technology to have an integrated process, to extract that data and apply certain transformation rules that might be needed, alignment rules that might need to be applied to it plus cleansing that might need to be applied to that data. In short, all of the different technical workings with the data itself and ultimately moving them into systems and data warehouses where the data is needed.
As you can imagine, with a large fleet you’ll need a powerful piece of technology in order to facilitate such a process in a cost efficient and safe manner. But just having the technology itself wouldn’t do justice to a partnership because it’s not just about the technology that needs to be brought into a collaboration: it’s also about bringing a particular service to the partnership in terms of the methodology that we apply, several elements of which have been shown and discussed above. That includes experience not just in terms of systems but also on the data bits themselves and on the different aircraft types. Different OEMs follow different data strategies and all of that comes across when you engage in a data migration activity.
If we now talk about the methodology, figure 4 illustrates the exercise that EXSYN went through with the customer airline but which would be typical of any customer.
It starts with something very simple, a base line, taking all the data that needs to go into the architecture at some point. At this stage, there is no need to apply any complex transformations or rules, but just load the data in and see how things look in that future context where the data has to be. That identifies different gaps that need to be addressed as well as additional data sets that might need to be added and cleaning requirements in order to make sure that the data is fit for purpose. All of this is not only to run whatever system you might want to run at this point but also taking into account the future intentions for that data and those systems.
From that point, we get into an iterative cycle of amending the data, enriching the data, cleaning the data, applying additional transformation rules, etc., to achieve a certain level of data readiness at which point we could say that, having gone through that entire integration and migration exercise, the data is ready not just for today’s purposes but also for our future plans and intentions. That’s the point where you move into a go-live scenario and then start managing the data according to the process every day.
With the customer airline in question, it took seven different iterations to get the data into a state of readiness for the business to continue working with it and, through that iterative process, all of those different elements are covered. These include the different cleaning rules, the different transformations that the customer might want to apply to the data even the different corrections that might sometimes need to be done, corrections that can have critical impacts on the aircraft data itself. In this process, you could uncover some things that might have happened in the past to that data and could have referred to maintenance events such as task over-runs. These are all elements that you need to expect if you undertake such an exercise. It’s nothing to be afraid of but just something that needs to be managed as part of the overall process, part of the journey that you go through to get to that state of data readiness.
That said, this exercise is not done solely in order to have a particular level of data readiness; you go through this technical exercise of getting data up to a certain standard as part of a bigger picture. That might be because of a digital journey which the organization is on, it might be because of the implementation of a new system, it might be because of the arrival of a new fleet into the airline… it’s always part of a bigger overall picture. What is important is to look at the process itself, next to managing it properly from a technical aspect and the alignment of all the migration, all the data transmission activities with the overall business implementation project. This is never a stand-alone activity with its own goals; it’s something that is fully integrated into the entire business implementation process.
Sander de Bree
Sander de Bree is founder and CEO of EXSYN Aviation Solutions; focusing on aircraft data management solutions for aviation. Sander is heavily specialized in the field of IT systems for aircraft maintenance and data management. He oversees all R&D projects within the company and is main focal point for all business development activities. Sander holds a degree in aeronautical engineering and holds specializations in human factors, continuous airworthiness management, aircraft maintenance and IT business systems.
EXSYN Aviation Solutions
EXSYN’s aircraft data management platform and its various solutions are deployed with more than 20 different airlines and MROs across 20 different countries globally. Overall, it has already integrated with more than 10 different MRO software’s and 29 different aircraft types. Combining EXSYN’s aircraft data management platform with any MRO software provides airlines and MRO’s the ability to not just record airworthiness and maintenance data but also drive value from their data thru business optimization, maintenance costs reductions and higher fleet availability.