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Are airlines becoming ‘process locked’ over eEnablement?

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner.In this guest feature, consultants Closed Loop argue that some airline cross-departmental eEnablement projects  are doomed to failure.

Observations by more than a few airlines at a recent conference was that technology supports what airlines want, yet they (the airlines) complain that they can’t achieve, or even get started on their eEnablement programmes.

We believe that this is the manifestation of a phenomena that will have dire consequences for some airlines.

Prior to the recent shift to information-driven processes, the flow of data around airlines was slow and coarse-grained.

Systems tended to be standalone and provided a narrow band of functionality. For that reason, they were owned departmentally or even by units within the department.

Projects were almost always late and didn’t deliver to expectations, but once the project owner and the supplier agreed on the narrative, there was unlikely to be much scrutiny beyond safety considerations and basic fitness for purpose.

Contributing to this malaise was the ongoing promise of industry data standards that failed to deliver decade after decade. The success rate of technology adoption programs was abysmal, but enough benefits were delivered to keep limping on.

These days, terms like “eEnablement” and “IoT” are shorthand for recognising the value of information-driven processes and the need for technology to support them exactly as designed.

The processes aren’t restricted to a department though – they’re commonly organisation-wide involving multiple departments and increasingly even industry-wide.

These are fantastic initiatives and the technology providers are supporting them as they unfold, so everything should be rosy, right?

Well… no. While valuable, close collaboration of multiple departments on information-driven eEnablement processes is difficult to implement. In short, airlines are failing to provide an environment that supports the cross-departmental cooperation, resulting in a condition that we have termed “process lock”.

Imagine three departments sitting down to design a set of processes based on their collective requirements.

Unimpeded by product preferences or implementation timeframes, they could come up with a fantastic set of processes demonstrating a very high degree of cooperation and excellent value for the airline. You can picture the Venn diagram of the processes by department as being significantly overlapping circles.

Now imagine each department trying to procure a system that satisfies its own requirements and has appropriate stubs for those of the other two departments.

Now imagine that the replacement of the three systems will have to occur over a period of five years or more. Despite the intelligent and cooperative design, a strongly positive business case, and the existence of appropriate software, the project slams to a halt.

There are too many dependencies, variables, and contingency measures required for the departments to commit – their appetite for risk has been exceeded.

This is process lock – the inability to progress a programme that looks perfectly sound.

Our initial investigation suggests that airlines most vulnerable to this are those that have been experiencing rapid growth or other disruptive change.

Technology upgrades are often deferred by these airlines until stability returns, but stability is subjectively measured. Besides, by then the problems have compounded and catch-up can result in poor decisions motivated by panic.

Resolving process lock requires leadership from the senior management of the airline.

There’s no single fix as it depends on the circumstances at the airline, but at the very least robust, organisation-wide data management strategies will need to be designed and the departments provided with real support.

Process lock is an organisational problem, not a departmental one and most certainly not a technical one. Solving it involves giving the three departments the means to reduce the risk and proceed with the programme.

Process lock over eEnablement won’t hit every airline, but some that get hit badly will lose tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars and years of opportunity.

Perhaps most interesting is that process lock transfers responsibility for programme failure from departments to the senior management of the airline.

There are some massive failures on the horizon and they will dwarf those from the old days.

© Closed Loop, 2017 All rights reserved

The opinions in this guest feature are solely those of Closed Loop and not GetConnected.aero

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Are airlines becoming ‘process locked’ over eEnablement? was last modified: September 25th, 2017 by Steve Nichols
Filed in: e-Aircraft Tags: ,

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