EFB as a BPI Tool, not just a device? Radical!

By Phil Benedict – Closed Loop Consulting

Having been around the EFB world for over 25 years now, I have unfortunately seen too many failed EFB projects, either because of poor planning, lack of leadership, or a lack of an overarching organisational vision. Many airlines now have projects called “The iPad Project”. Once again, many of these will likely fail because the device is, or has become the focal point of the project. The iPad, or other devices like it, may very well be a great display head for the functions flight crews may need. However, Business Process Improvements should be the focus of an EFB or eEnablement project (or any project for that matter) and the airlines that understand this will reap the greatest benefits.

Successful technology projects aren’t started or driven by the availability of a specific hardware device. Those devices may create ideas, and even show what is possible. But no technology project has ever been successful without a vision, leadership, a strategy and a plan. Ideally, a project should fulfil a set of business requirements identified in the strategy underpinning the need for change, then based on those requirements supporting applications should be identified, developed or acquired. This is the piece – along with new process - that supports the change and then the hardware is selected that to host and support those functions properly. The “solution” can then be deployed, but importantly, by way of a properly managed implementation plan.

These processes will indeed make the introduction of new technology successful, because the whole organisation will benefit, not just one department or operational function. It will mean that you will select the right technology devices and applications to meet your requirements (read needs), rather than living with the limitations of a device that was the “flavour of the day”. It’s when we don’t improve business processes and don’t have a project properly managed that these technology introductions go off the rails, wasting time and money. This is something no airline can afford. That is why leadership is so important to ensure that these projects benefit the operation as a whole, and not just one functional area of the airline. Leadership and proper process equals project success. And leadership ensures also ensures the right process is identified and maintained. Complementary perspectives? Radical!

Many large airlines have the resources to develop strategies that address business process improvements, as long as they are not constrained by the thick walls of departmental silos. They may have been able to develop the ideas for their individual departments, but often fail to attract stakeholders from other departments who can not only share the cost of the technology but moreover, share in the specification and the benefits. Removing these barriers and considering technology projects in an organisationally holistic manner is the first step, almost a prerequisite, to becoming a truly eEnabled airline.

It’s the smaller and generally more agile airlines that don’t have the resources to put towards these types of projects. Some appoint someone to start a project under the guise of their “other duties as required” responsibilities. This approach however, does not provide for the leadership, accountability or expertise necessary to make the project a success. That’s why seeking a facilitated approach to developing that winning strategy and a successful project plan will pay dividends in the end. Interestingly, more and more smaller airlines are adopting that approach – simply because they see the benefits in facilitation more easily than their bigger peers.

Adopting an assisted consultative approach towards a project and asking for a solution that works for the whole of an airline rather than just one department, we find that technology spends are reduced, and in many cases, redundant or competing projects can be identified and eliminated. Again, having shared costs and benefits by multiple stakeholders is the start to truly becoming an eEnabled airline.  Having a consultant who understands airline operations and issues, who knows how to bring people together and who understands the technology marketplace and what is available, and how those products on the market today can be brought together to provide an integrated solution is the key to strategizing and planning a successful project.  As some airlines have said, “using a consultant was the insurance we needed to make our project successful”.

eEnablement at an airline means the collection, distribution and sharing of data.  Data which has been published by the aircraft, by flight crews, by ground handling, line maintenance, Engineering, Flight Operations, OEM’s, etc., etc.  There is so much data around an airline that so often airlines acquire different tools to do the same job of turning that data into information, or they don’t use it at all.  This is why having a facilitated event that breaks down those barriers and develops a Concept of Operations is so critical to a successful eEnablement or EFB project.  Where are the gaps between how things are done today, and how we want them to work with this technology are critical to planning a project like this so that there are no costly surprises before, during and after project implementation.  It also puts the airline and the supplier(s) on the same page in terms of expectations, accountability, and performance of the overall solution.  This is necessary not just for the initial implementation, but for the life of the program. 

Taking the time to plan each stage of the project makes sense in every case.  Not having the resources makes it more difficult, but the process should still occur to provide for a positive outcome.  This is where the value of a knowledgeable consultant will pay dividends in the end.