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Digital transformation is no longer just a technology trend for aerospace & defense (A&D) organizations. It’s a core business approach that needs to be at the heart of enterprise strategies.

We all have first-hand experience with the digital transformation that’s occurring in our everyday consumer world and we’ve seen how it’s changing the rules of business. Digital transformation is no longer just a technology trend for aerospace & defense (A&D) organizations. It’s a core business approach that needs to be at the heart of enterprise strategies, being both driven and enabled by mobile and cloud computing, big data, analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as underpinned by enterprise breadth solutions. I recently put these ideas together in a new IFS Radio Network podcast that I recorded on the subject of digital transformation in A&D.

For many organizations, the path to digital transformation often starts with attempts to apply new technologies. However, digital transformation is not just about technology, it’s about transformation and the longer-term value in how it can enable new approaches that change established business practices. Some 80% of A&D companies acknowledged the benefits of digital transformation, according to a recent Accenture survey.

I think the key thing about this feedback is that for A&D, the case for investment has already been made. What companies are really looking to do now is realign their business models to reflect the opportunities that digital transformation can bring them.

The internet of flying things and big data

In A&D, there are already cases of platform-based solutions becoming digitally transformed through the use of IoT and big data. In defense, the next generation of military jets is arriving. The F-35 joint strike fighter is fitted with sensors that send important operation and maintenance data to the ground-based logistics support solution, allowing fleet maintenance and allocated tasks to be re-planned while the aircraft is still in the air.

In civil aviation, there is an increased use of Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS). For example, the new Pratt & Whitney engine for the Bombardier C-Series aircraft. The PW1000G has 5,000 sensors that are able to generate up to 10GB of data per second. If we consider a typical twin-engine aircraft with an average flight time of 12 hours, that means it can be producing some 844TB of data per flight! Couple this with global civil aviation forecasts that are anticipating a greater than doubling of the world’s overall passenger aircraft inventory (43,000 by 2030) and the amount of raw data being fed to airlines, OEMs and MROs on a daily basis – it is huge. To put this into perspective, it is estimated that Facebook only accumulates around 600 TB of data per day.

The challenge for companies is not the investment in technology to collect data, but the digital transformation of the business to turn this technology into realizable benefits.

A&DCutting through the noise

With all this data, you have to be able to filter out which events are causing noise. Your systems and applications have to be smart enough to filter out that information for you and present a set of data upon which you can act. Better still, your solution should prompt actions, instigate processes or forecast needs. It could very well be that 99.9% of data is just standard flight information from multiple devices and the 0.1% remaining is data that you can actually apply to reschedule a fleet maintenance task.

In civil aviation and defense, the sort of benefits we’d typically be witnessing from digital transformation would be the shortening of aircraft and asset turnaround times, optimization of fuel usage and consumption, reduction of overall maintenance costs, improvement in operational readiness, highlighted risk or conformance with regulation.

Digital Transformation in A&D – exciting and challenging times lie ahead

As technology matures and becomes more affordable, we have seen a huge uptake in the number of organizations looking to benefit from connected devices and automated data capture. This trend will only accelerate, moving maintenance and data capture closer to the asset. Nevertheless, for A&D organizations to transform themselves digitally, they will need an enterprise breadth system that can do more than manage essential MRO or supply chain processes, optimize scarce resources and assets. They will need a system that’s agile enough to act upon this increasing data volume and complexity to deliver benefits you can actually realize through process and resource improvement.

I think that’s the scenario we face in an era where we are dealing with digital transformation–as a result of technology advancement such as IoT and big data–as well as the never-ending progression of mobile technology. It’s a very exciting time for IFS and the A&D industry right now.

For more information about digital transformation in A&D, listen to my new podcast here.

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