The pace of innovation is far exceeding the rate of adoption in aviation technical operations. As original equipment manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus start making major upgrades—like integrating internet of things (IoT) technology into aircraft and engines—the impetus for change in the maintenance, repairs, and overhaul (MRO) space is stronger than ever.
While a plethora of new and improved solutions offer great possibilities, operators must face the daunting task of finding and implementing the right tech across large, complicated organizations. The industry must overcome hurdles such as training hundreds of workers on new systems, compatibility with client technology, and ensuring that a specific software vendor can support broad, complex scale.
Hesitation to pursue updated technology is, of course, quite understandable. But, the traditional systems still in wide use—which served the needs of the past very well but won’t serve the needs of the future—are limiting productivity and efficiency gains.
It’s time to find a path forward. As MRO leadership strategies advance technical operations, the following factors will be pivotal.
1. First mover advantage (and risk tolerance)
There are excellent, proven methods for advancing technology across other industries. The aviation maintenance and overhaul space stands to benefit from following such examples. But to fully reap the rewards of being a “first mover,” organizations must prepare to tolerate a certain level of risk. After all, success is built on a series of failures.
Fits and starts are a natural part of the process. Ultimately, the learnings from these controlled failures are what drive progress. Risk cannot be entirely eliminated from any evolving tech project.
Tactics like beta programs keep failure at an acceptable level without slowing innovation. Once the kinks are ironed out, the system can be scaled. Organizations that leap into new tech using methods from major firms outside of aviation will still encounter risks, but will also be positioned for massive dividends.
2. Change management
Technological evolution is quick and prolific. But, realistically, organizations cannot move at the same speed. A typical project will range from six to 18 months. It’s possible that the technology introduced may be perceived as outdated by the time a project goes live, but that’s okay—the primary goal is progress.
A good change management strategy creates a balance between advancement and project scope. It ensures that the “next big thing” on the horizon doesn’t distract from completing the task at hand since there will always be exciting, new tech released along the way.
It also facilitates internal buy-in to keep tech projects moving forward. Adjusting to change is difficult for any organization and inevitably there will be some resistance. Each stage of an initiative needs to be mapped out in an achievable way, and leadership must encourage a culture of adaptation. Through these efforts, positive improvements will accumulate and MRO operations will get closer to (if not quite on) the cutting edge.
3. Continuous improvement frameworks
Innovation should be part of a “brick-by-brick” approach (i.e., continuous improvement framework) and not standalone. In other words, there should always be at least one active project driving technological change to keep the company focused long-term.
A continuous improvement framework makes the process of digital transformation less intimidating. When looking at the full field of possibilities—machine learning, blockchain, robotics, mobile, and so on—the idea of introducing new tech becomes overwhelming and impossible to navigate. But once a specific solution is picked, bringing aboard MRO technology step-by-step becomes manageable.
4. Currently available products
At last count, there were at least a dozen “best of breed” MRO off-the-shelf software systems, more than seven enterprise resource planning (ERP) styled packages, and 40 or so niche and add-on applications available in the market. The list keeps shifting over time as solutions come and go.
With so many choices, figuring out the right products for your company—and whether to develop custom software or not—adds another challenge.
An organization needs a clear definition and understanding of its desired future state before shopping for new systems. Being prescriptive will help narrow down which options have the most potential.
Systems evaluation and selection is akin to baking a cake, where the recipe represents the “how” and the ingredients represent the “what.” The recipe dictates the ingredients to use—not the other way around. When examining choices, the right staff, experience, and tools are critical to reaching an understanding of “how” in addition to the “what.” An educated lens of what tools are available and how they rank is crucial.
Why pursue new MRO technology now?
There is much to be gained by introducing robotics, IoT, collaboration tools, and other technology to MRO—just look at the impact on other industries. The business case for each organization will vary and research is required to estimate exact benefits, but rest assured that investments in modernized systems will yield results.
Closing adoption gaps is also a top priority due to original equipment manufacturers using new tech. For example, every aircraft has sensors reading performance of its components, like a wearable smart device that prompts people to exercise or respond to emails. It needs to communicate to the ground if something is wrong. With aircraft (like the 737MAX) becoming more reliant on such technology, the traditional ways of resolving issues will not apply. Instead, the repair team must be able to run a software diagnostic and see if an update is necessary. If they can’t, the problem will go unaddressed.
Because this is how aircraft are now built, the aftermarket must catch up. We are on the precipice of a technological revolution in MRO. It’s only a matter of time, but the big question is: which organizations will lead the way?