Ramco: IT's First-Aid for the Aviation Industry

Virender Aggarwal, CEO, Ramco Systems

2013. 13 major plane crashes, with a death toll as high as 600. What a year! Pitifully, similar statistics also attribute 70 percent of such hull-loss accidents to poor aircraft maintenance and miscellaneous human factors. 

This might be a crazy way to start an article, but as India sprints forward to becoming the fifth largest player in the global aviation industry, it is important that we remember this and explore ways to make aviation safer and more reliable in the coming years, while also making it encouragingly profitable as a business. Much has been spoken about how IT can help an airline meet these contradicting objectives. But, has anybody told you that this can be done smoothly by empowering the airline/M&E/MRO employees with a ‘smart’ solution? Let us explore this off-beat but proven option. 

Profit and Safety – Making the Twain Meet 

The airline industry is one of the toughest to run. 

The rising competition between low-cost airlines post 2000 is pushing airline operators to optimize costs wherever possible. Even with cost per passenger-mile numbers trickling down and margins soaring high, top low-cost carriers extend their mile run in finding new cost pockets to curb. 

At the same time, there is responsibility, a scary amount of it although not many an operator would openly admit it. Imagine a year as bad as 2013, with so many accidents. The onus rests with the airline operators to avoid it. So, there is an overwhelming amount of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), documentation and compliance to handle, which turns out to be a costly affair. 

Irrespective of the size, MRO and engineering of aircrafts are inherently challenging due to the complexity of aircrafts, their subsystems, the criticality of each component and the ongoing revisions from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). It is a highly-skilled job done by a highly-paid technician! So, apart from managing the inventory costs and tracking the stages of completion of each maintenance task, it also becomes imperative to empower aircraft mechanics and optimize the time they spend on non-core jobs like documentation, so that they can be freed to work on critical jobs. 

Trash Your Worries Using IT 

So, what is the way out? For years, the aviation industry has understood that IT offers a way of optimizing operations. Yet, many airlines still suffer from the use of disparate point solutions, each generating a repository of redundant data, which often has no ‘meaning’. Surprisingly some operators even handle a few jobs manually and manage vast maintenance data in hundreds of excel spreadsheets! But with the kind of cut-throat competition that is there in the aviation industry today, using an excel sheet as a process optimization, productivity improvement tool will send you back to the stone ages. Offline models of track maintenance, managing safety and regulatory compliance manually using paper-work or spreadsheets, using disparate point solutions are all tools of the past century.

Faced with innumerable challenges, airline operators have started seeking and implementing cutting-edge solutions that will help them:

• automate maintenance & engineering operations
• usher in best practices to across departments 
• augment resource optimization and profitability while also ensuring fleet safety and best-in-class customer service.

When we say cutting-edge, it means an end-to-end solution that is intuitive enough to understand the aviation maintenance business inside-out and has the ability and functionality to hand the ever-changing challenges in this industry. It also means a solution that is mobile, which can be carried in the pocket and used on the go whether by a pilot, an aircraft mechanic or by top management in the middle of a directors meeting. More than anything else, it also means a solution that is user-friendly and empathetic to the needs and hurries of the users, their habits, convenience and preferences, letting them customize and personalize seemingly simple things like the user interface they daily wake up to and keeping mouse and track pad travel at the very minimal, enabling them to get their work done swiftly, easily and stress free. 

While the MRO solution providers are a large industry in their own right and are expected to grow to $4.5-5 billion in 2014, very few of the players actually understand the needs of the aviation industry, and some solutions could end up increasing your headache rather than curing it. But that doesn’t mean that everyone fails and many industry leaders like Boeing, Emirates, Airbus Helicopters, PHI, Columbia Helicopters, Republic Airways, FLTechnics, Air India, Astra airlines and 60 others have set a good precedent by adopting solutions from pioneers.

AIRBUS Helicopters for instance, has entered into a global partnership with Ramco Aviation, to offer Ramco’s Aviation Suite on cloud to several new and existing customers, unleashing the benefits of Mobility, Gen-Y Interfaces and WorkSpaces. The IT partnership will address the unique needs of smaller operators, MROs and CAMOs in tracking maintenance and airworthiness. 

Columbia Helicopters took a similar bold step to increase efficiency, safety and profitability. The company decided that the next step towards the future was to implement a fully-integrated system across its shops, hangars, remote bases and all related functions; manage maintenance and inventory data of the remote bases that have limited or no network connectivity; and to manage the time and attendance of employees for job costing and payroll purposes. 

Columbia Helicopters chose Ramco’s Aviation Solution, and configured it to implement end-to-end integration from maintenance and supply chain to finance and operations. The Offline Field Maintenance Solution (OFMS), a flagship Ramco solution enabled the remotely located crew to update critical maintenance information in field bases and auto sync all the data with the head office or nearest base. The time and attendance functions enabled the easy and accurate tracking of labor hours and cost, and the comprehensive contracts functions that are fully-integrated with all areas of the application enabled the MRO division to accurately track performance, customer inventory and billing of the work done.

One reason for the success of such implementations is the increasingly popular cloud-based model. Asked about this, Virender Aggarwal, CEO, Ramco Systems, explains, “The cloud mode of delivery gives LCCs and small operators a viable alternative to traditional solutions. With no license fee, maintenance cost or additional infrastructure to procure, the cloud model has seen a quick uptake from this segment, globally. Also, the lean model of implementation further reduces the time involved in implementation to a great extent as visible with the success of Astra Airlines, an LCC from Greece which went live with our Cloud product in just eight weeks. We have witnessed good traction for our cloud offerings in the European sub-continent, especially from small and medium sized airline and helicopter operators”. Focused on Mobility, User Interface, Social, In-Memory and Context Awareness, Ramco’s product philosophy of MUSIC has been well received and appreciated by the market. Aggarwal believes that there still lie unexplored avenues in the aviation industry and he is quite keen on foraying into these areas to provide the best-suited solutions. 

But, Choose IT with Mobility 

Aviation is all about mobility, and an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution that does not sync with the psyche of your business is an utter waste. Like they say, only the animal that is agile and always on its feet survives. That is true of this industry too. Everybody is on their feet and working all the time, be it a pilot or an MRO technician. So, when you choose an IT solution for your business, choose one that focuses on mobility, and make sure it is also fun to use and not exhausting.

Mobility in the IT solution can excite the user, reduce stress, enable learning, make information accessible, ease processes and improve productivity. All this is very important when you consider the case of highly-paid and time-constrained employees like MRO mechanics or pilots. If you take the case of an MRO mechanic, for instance, here is how life can be made so much happier for him using a mobile MRO solution. 

Information at his fingertips: With the right mobile-enabled tools, a mechanic can benefit from quick and correct information such as history or service records of the aircraft, availability of spare parts, status of parts sent for replacement or repair, and so on. He can refer to the latest manuals and troubleshooting guidelines. In such and many other ways, reliable information can improve his work. 
The right man for the job: Where time is critical, finding the right man for the right job is not just about matching skills, but also about matching locations. Suppose a particular aircraft requires work, the mobile application can quickly check which mechanic is close by, assign the job to him, notify him of the job, and the shortest route to take from his location to the hangar. 
Reducing process-related stress: Often, what a mechanic finds more stressful than the actual job is the documentation that follows, because guidelines, regulatory practices and compliance requirements are complex and comprehensive in the Aviation industry. The post-job documents that a mechanic has to complete are often so exhaustive that some companies employ data-entry operators to formally record the information fed by the mechanics. Imagine if a mechanic could quickly close a job by entering a few important details on his smart phone and if he could take a photograph and attach it along with the task completion or inspection details. Further, if the information could just be dictated into his phone, and the application could automatically convert voice-to-text and complete the documentation, or at least a large part of it. This can then be sent promptly to the engineer, who can immediately verify the job against the guidelines and grant the required approvals. A long process would be over in hours or even minutes. This would not just make work easier for the mechanic, it would excite him.

The importance of mobility in IT is further substantiated by Eurocopter and Columbia Helicopters’ successful implementation of Ramco Aviation as one of Ramco’s key focus is on building solutions for the mobile first, so that the user interface and all aspects of the solution work perfectly on a mobile device too. Their app development is focused on ensuring a mobile-based solution that is radical and innovative, makes the most of the device, is context-sensitive, suits the device’s characteristics, and is personal. 

Simple and Social Too 

Employee happiness is very crucial to a business’ success today, and in order to ensure that, implementing an integrated IT solution that reduces errors, simplifies their job, and increases efficiency is a great step. After all, efficient processes also mean the user gets to go home faster. However, you will be surprised to know that an IT solution that is supposed to help the business and its employees often ends up being so stressful that it faces vehement opposition from employees. That, however, is only in the case of functionality-focused solutions that do not take a holistic view. When you choose an IT solution for your aviation business, make sure it is user-friendly, simple and social too, so that it will make life a lot more fun for the employees, enabling them to seamlessly integrate life and work and balance both beautifully. 

This thought process manifests in many aspects of the IT solution, including the user interface, context awareness, and social media integration. 

The user interface determines to a large extent your experience in using an enterprise application. A user interface that is ‘cool’; easy to understand and use makes sure the user can find his/her way through it more easily, with a smooth learning curve, and not much stress. Add context-awareness to a cool user-interface and you have crossed half the gap between now and a super-efficient future. A context-aware solution is much easier to interact with and also saves a lot of time. A solution that understands the user’s role as well as the context as soon as he/she logs in and displays whatever is relevant to him/her at that moment saves a lot of time, and also supports and validates appropriate business conduct for that particular situation.

WorkSpaces, a concept floated by Ramco, has changed the way a user interacts with an integrated enterprise-class application. Role-based WorkSpaces, dubbed as a ‘one stop shop for a given role in an organization’ is a fusion of transaction and analytics presented in an optimized and attractive visual-rich graphical user interface (GUI). You might wonder how it is optimized. Basically, the WorkSpaces enable all parameters and functionality required to perform a role and its related functions to be accessed from a single screen. Depending on the context of a user’s selection of items/data, the layout (tabs) and related hyperlinks change automatically. Say, if a user is trying to update the records of an aircraft, then the links required to update hours/cycles and configuration of aircraft, the corresponding data and the links are presented to the user to choose and use. Similarly, if the user wants to switch over to updating compliance of maintenance/SB or AD, then the required links change automatically. Such a data-driven interaction increases productivity in using the application and also reduces training time significantly.

Likewise, integrating a solution with social media is also a snazzy thing these days, not just from a fun-at-work perspective, but also to promote learning and performance. Social networking could be used to understand and analyze employee behavior and customer reactions. It could be used to cross-check the effectiveness of your business conduct definitions and training. And it could be used—very well—to reward employees, who might be given gift coupons or badges to display on their SN sites. 

So, that covers some aspects that you should look into when giving your aviation business an IT makeover. While you will have no difficulty in analyzing and evaluating an integrated IT solution from the perspective of your core functionality, it is these modern factors like mobility, user-friendliness and social media integration that you might overlook – but should not, if you wish to stay ahead of the pack in this people-centric era. 

Panel: Have you chosen the right ERP for your Aviation/ MRO Business? 
Have you considered the following aspects while choosing your ERP? These are essential for a modern people-centric business such as aviation/ MRO. 

1. Can it be implemented without a large capital overlay? 
2. Will it be up and running ‘ASAP’?
3. Does it really reduce turnaround time, optimize operational efficiency and improve accountability? 
4. Will it take several weeks to train resources on or just a few days? 
5. Can it be accessed from anywhere, any time and even with no internet connectivity? 
6. Is the user interface intuitive enough to cut the clutter of multi window navigation?
7. Will the solution help a single resource to efficiently multi task whilst working out of remote bases?
8. Is it Flextendable? Flexible and extendable to meet changing business needs?
9. Can it act as a window to provide real time stock visibility globally across bases?
10. Can it support multi- country operations, hassle free?