Way back in September 2007, I had traveled to the USA to visit my friend Ted. As part of travel gear, I carried four different devices - a Motorola V60 cellphone, a Canon digital camera, a Garmin navigation system and a PSP portable - plus cable, chargers and batteries.
Mobile Communication Standards and the Process in 2007
Back in 2007, the mode of mobile communication was GPRS and the maximum size of digital pictures was 3.2 MP. The process of sending a photo from USA during my stay there, to family and friends was as follows:
- Take the picture with the Canon digital camera
- Connect camera and the SD card via USB cable with a computer
- Download the pictures from the camera to the PC
- Open email client and send pictures to the family and friends
If several pictures have to be sent the procedure is almost the same except that one had to save the pictures in Dropbox via the computer.
The entire process from beginning till end took a while, depending how quick the user was with the cable, devices and software (camera, PC computer, outlook). Not to mention that all devices need to be charged in order to keep the process intact. If the battery of even one of the devices, for example the camera, was empty, the power cable was required to continue with the process.
The computer required an internet connection via a provider contract. I don't know whether you still remember how it was with all theses devices in 2007. Sending the picture from the location via the Motorola V60 and the available Edge or GPRS speed was not really fun. Real-time information sharing was a challenge and almost not possible for anybody.
12+ years later, the world is completely different. Of course, there are still people who carry a cellphone, because they feel they "don't need a smartphone". If they travel, they still send post cards. However, this is not the mainstream. Today, the large majority of people carry a smartphone. It is the same with me.
The above described process has changed dramatically and real-time information sharing is a no-brainer today. Instead of device silos and multiple chargers and cables, things happen via wireless today. The batteries are stronger and with only one device we cover the entire process, speed it up and can even do more things with same device.
I am the same human being like in 2007. Ok, some more grey hair and one or two kg more on my hips. But the technology shift enabled me to do many things faster, easier, automatically and with enhanced technology support (e.g. auto-correction while writing emails, photo auto-brushing, etc.). The iPhone can manage entire workflows and support the user saving a lot of time.
Why I am writing this story
I am a strong believer that processes can always be improved with newer technology, learning from the past and new intelligence. Unfortunately, the existing IT technology is the limiting factor because the legacy IT infrastructure does not enable any evolution and progress.
Nobody is applying the above described process of picture taking and sending and in the same time denying time and cost savings. The majority of people understand the benefits of smartphones and apply them for their private and business life. Smartphones make people smarter.
Well, let's visit an airline Operations Control Center
and ask for the process of sharing real-time information about a several flights affected from an airport closure the next 4 hours.
The description will most likely be similar to my 2007 USA travel experience. Many IT silos, many screens, cables, export and import from data from one system to the other. The entire process can take several minutes, rather going to 30 to 60 minutes, depending how quick the user is in Ops Systems Gantt Chart
leg-by-leg clicking, typing details in Excel and Outlook. Because the process is so lengthy, some airlines involve the IT department which is creating a script which gets the data from the data bases of the different systems. If the so called "integration" of the IT silos
is not in real-time and a batch job is running every night only, the set of data is not complete. The real-time information sharing is not real-time and also consists of partial data. Sounds crazy? Welcome to the 21st century!!
Would you still be using a Motorola V60 cellphone, a Canon digital camera, a Garmin navigation system, a PSP Portable and go to a provider of artificial intelligence, in order to get to next technology evolution? You will probably understand that I am not posting links with news from some airlines and technology providers who are exactly suggesting this additional technology layer as the ultimate solution for the airline.
Instead of working the old house from the ground up and renovating it completely, we just wrap the house with a nice fabric and let it appear modern. Will that really work? And for how long?
Digitization is not only about technology
A digital airline operations platform
is like a smartphone. The processes will be different, automated and faster. The human errors embedded in the older process can be corrected with new technologies.
The expert human beings in the Operations Control Center have also more grey hair and more kilograms on their hips, but are enabled to work proactively. Work on various scenarios to prevent disruptions before they impact aircraft rotations, passengers, crews and maintenance.
The complexity of IT is reduced, because many side systems and layers can be replaced with platform in-built features and apps.
Better picture taking - better decision making
When I am taking photos with my iPhone 11 Pro Max and using the portrait mode, people like my picture and are amazed what the technology is making possible. I am not a professional photographer, however the latest technology helps me to taker better pictures. If I set up family sharing, my pictures are in real-time available for my wife, without the need to call her or send her an email. It eases collaboration and information sharing. It's automatically done. The process is even shorter than with the iPhone 2 or iPhone 5 or iPhone 7.
A 21st century digital airline operations platform
enables Operations Control Center staff to take better decisions and faster, too. Collaborative disruption management is eased by workflow management, real-time communication with all stakeholder, proactive and real-time information sharing and routine task automation.
The process of aircraft swapping and tail assignment
changes is pretty complex for all airlines. Many data points and different IT systems (OPS, Maintenance, Crew, RES, RevMan, etc.) need to be considered. The data gathering
takes time because of the
IT silos . Some airlines need by up to 30 minutes for a tail assignment change.
Why should an operations controller manually change the tail assignment if an aircraft APU and the GPU at the arrival airport are both inop?
How often will the flight be cancelled? Almost never, and a digital platform can have a workflow which automatically swaps the tails based on airline criteria. This routine task can be fully automated and the ops controller can focus on more complex tasks.
Why are airline IT OPS systems not automatically swapping aircraft?
Why does the user have to push the button again and again, sometime 400 times a day?
The answer unfortunately is the following: In the year 2020, airlines still have a Motorola cellphone and GPRS/Edge data speed for the information sharing. Airlines are still taking pictures with a low resolution digital camera and required cables in their processes.
Can you then really automate the routine task of an operations controller within such old fashioned IT infrastructure by adding artificial intelligence and machine learning? I doubt it, because the big data goes thru an Edge/GPRS bottleneck and the AI algorithm analyzes low resolution pictures only. The 4G/5G and 4K is out-of-scope.
Change Management is a CXO topic
CEOs, CIOs and COOs need to take action and initiate the change management process. If they understand that only a digital airline operations platform enables the entire organization to climb the evolution of airline operations digitization, the airline is ready to evolve in the digital era.
About the Author
Daniel Stecher is Vice President of Airline Operations at IBS Software, and has more than 25 years of experience in the aviation and logistics industries. Prior to joining the IBS family, he was product manager and consultant for the schedule management, operations control and crew management product at Lufthansa Systems. Daniel is perpetually on the move, having raked up literally over a million miles of business travel in his career. He enjoys delicious home cooked food, reading books and the odd round of golf in his spare time.
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