AUTHOR: SANDER DE BREE

It’s a chilly Thursday afternoon in January 2019. People are excited as this afternoon their VP Engineering & Maintenance will outline the airline strategies and objectives for the coming years. Obviously, the VP will also share his insights on how the wider Engineering & Maintenance department will contribute to these objectives. It starts of with the usual, “we are a unique airline”, “last year was tough due to fuel prices”, “new airplanes”, “new routes”, “sustainability”. Gradually people are starting to look on their phones and check their social media feeds, whilst the VP continues to talk and share even more. All of a sudden its there. BOOM. The “Digital Transformation” bomb is dropped. The VP continues, “we need to look at new ways of doing things with a digital first mindset”, “technology development is happening with an increasingly higher pace”, “we want to be recognized as an innovative airline”. Because its such an important objective, it even gets a substantial budget assigned to it and HR has already started to recruit Innovation Managers and starts organizing pitch events for every possible digital start-up that wants to sell their product to anyone willing to listen. Its not long before the newly hired innovation managers start pushing out internal memo’s with update on all the cool stuff they are doing. It’s filled with buzzwords such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Blockchain, AI, machine learning, deep learning and they even have some VR equipment laying around to play with on a Friday afternoon.

In my blog series on the digital airline DNA (Full article here - PDF Version) I explained the 3 different types of digital DNA an airline can have when it comes to successful adoption of new systems or digital technology and its role in digital transformation that many airlines are embarking on these days.

Looking at the current early outcomes of these digital transformation efforts within Airline Engineering & Maintenance, one really needs to raise the question; is it transformation for the sake of transformation or are the initiatives really adding value to the business, its processes and employees?

At most meetings I had with people involved in digital transformation of an Airline Engineering & Maintenance division, I asked when they last spoke to a ground engineer or have participated in a C-check. Mostly I get a glaring stare back from my counterpart and a mumbling answer that translates to “never” or “it’s been a while”. A clear sign that most people involved in digital transformation at MRO’s and airline Engineering & Maintenance departments do not have the business users in focus when working on their innovation projects. The result being that new technologies are introduced for which the actual business benefit could be considered questionable.

When embarking on digital transformation initiatives it is important to understand which business process within the Engineering & Maintenance chain drive most value and to understand what the top line value drivers are for your MRO or Engineering & Maintenance division. If it is aircraft availability, having a VR app is not really going to help you add value to that top driver. However, a simple application focused on aircraft turnaround might have a huge effect. If a top value driver is billable man-hours, doing a structural inspection faster with a drone seems only useful if the recovered time can be utilized on another piece of work that can be invoiced to your airline customer.

The 3 things to keep in mind when pursuing digital transformation:

What are your companies top value drivers?
Which business process contribute most to these top value drivers?
When redesigning these business processes, how can digital technology be utilized to positively affect these top value drivers?

 And keep in mind, the answer is not always “it saves costs”. In you need the summarized article of Digital Transformation in Airline Maintenance & Engineering, have a look here: Airline Digital DNA and its role in digital transformation