Why You Don’t Need a Chief eEnablement Officer

Vision First, Toys Later

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Not long ago, I came across the following job description:


WANTED: Chief eEnablement Officer

Job Details:

With the advent of The Interconnected Aviation Ecosystem, …[our airline]…has deemed that the best way for a return on our investment in our ongoing acquisition of big data sources (airplanes, ops system, maintenance control, ground handling scheduling, etc) is to hire a dedicated leader for our transformation into solely digital operations. The prospective candidate must have:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master of Business Administration (or equivalent business degree and sufficient information technology academic background).
  • Extensive knowledge of current leading technological concepts, such as neural networks, deep learning, design thinking, Internet-enabled communication channels (social networks, etc)
  • Experience in leading agile methodology, rapid prototyping programmer groups (preferably SCRUM-masters) of 20 or more developers, as well as Six-Sigma methodology for operations.
  • Proven leadership in multi-million dollar technology delivery projects (length 5+ years), including but not limited to: cloud-based operations and maintenance control scheduling, optimisation, large-scale sensor real-time monitoring and control (InternetOfThings initiatives), independent drone-based delivery systems, digitization of factory-size production processes and across multiple physical sites.
  • Successful completion of a massive multiplayer online game project or an Artificial Intelligence startup which has now reached a mature stage is an advantage but not essential.
  • Airline-related experience (e.g. leading the introduction of a next-generation aircraft to transform a traditional offline operation) is an advantage but not essential.

Do you know anyone who can, should, and would apply for this job? Me neither. Also because I made this advertisement up.

A simple idea is brewing:

Step 1: Equip a multitude of disconnected, offline items with digital signal recording and transmission capability, aka create an Internet Of Things: people with fitness bands, aircraft engines with sensor feeds, ground vehicles with a mobile phone and apps, and so on.

Step 2: Connect all these and harness the power of optimal resource scheduling and real-time knowledge in real time, aka eEnablement.

Except it’s far from straightforward. With any number of these resources, you obviously need large-scale scheduling, tracking and optimisation software for largely automated yet still human-assisted control (please insert any serious suggestions here!). Departments need to collaborate on getting the most out of these processes, too. So, lots and lots of money with a 5+ years return on investment horizon.

As an illustration, take the simple case of Electronic Aircraft Tech Logs, aka replacing a paper process with a tablet, except it isn’t: how do you ensure content control, electronic signature international law compliance, digital technical record standardization in accordance with the aircraft owner? Would a lessor accept to discontinue physical technical records? Here, “paper” equals “straightforward“.

I have yet to see a cost-benefit analysis that shows a positive ROI with eTL (I’ve been looking for one for two years). There are tools to start the dialogue on potential cost reduction and I do preemptively agree that it may be possible if the stars of operational detail align (right fleet size, lack of maintenance reliability reviews, departments in silos, and expensive paper production and storage). Still, I have found the benefits of increased communication speed difficult to transform with solid proof from Excel estimations to saved cash.

Except when the airline has a policy of “Conversion to All Things Digital” in operations where it refuses to deal with paper and absorbs the resulting risk and complications (as well as the long-term benefits). I refer to an overarching vision to have every operational element (human, vehicle, airplane) as a digital data source in a giant, perpetually-moving Gantt chart. Then, eTL shows a first step in the long conversion process.

And a Chief eEnablement Officer (or Chief AI Officer, or Chief Digital Future Officer, you name your flavour) becomes the indispensable leader of this policy’s implementation.

Flight Operations Challenge…Accepted.

EFBs Don’t Matter

When you need to hang a painting, you don’t think about the nail, you just hammer.

 

Once upon a time (2003), the Internet was full of jokes about the iPad. Just the name, containing the word “Pad” gave way to innumerable memes (disclaimer: one was mine).

The little tablet that could did not die in humour heaven but grew into a “didn’t know you needed it till you got it” general users’ unicorn. And then, five years later (2008), it appeared as a tool in the pointy end of an airplane (disclaimer: I still don’t own one but my superiors force its use).

It’s now been 11 years since MyTravel (later part of Thomas Cook) pioneered the use of an iPad as an electronic Technical Log (ok, trialed), so a review of the success score of these devices is in order. However, Googling “EFB project failures” and related terms does not yield an obvious answer (why look for successes when planning an IT transformation of operations?).

Either EFBs provide an implementation unicorn as well, or the question is phrased incorrectly. If “the average large IT project runs 45% over budget, 7% over time, and delivers 56% less value than expected.” (McKinsey and The Project Management Institute), how does this magic bullet work?

To paraphrase Nicholas Carr, it doesn’t because the ammunition does not matter. You don’t think about a nail when hanging up a painting, you just hammer.

Perhaps the failure as such does not exist, only the efficacy of utilisation of the iPad (or Windows, or Android tablet). Does the EFB fit with a general operational digitisation strategy as an end-tool of two-way communication? If paper provides the same result, why change?

I would eagerly like to know how the following experiment goes for you: put an IT analyst, a Flight Ops engineer, a Pilot, and a Business Analyst in a room to find out how tablets fit in your operation (disclaimer: I’ve yet to hear of an airline that’s done this). Do not let them leave the room without 6 milestones the devices should deliver on.

What’s to fear? The technology will be obsolete in 3 years (MyTravel assumed so already in their pioneer project) but the addiction to convenience will not fade. A designated project owner (an EFB Manager) would be able to transform an implementation into a learning experience (since clearly, there’s no documented failure).

While we’re brainstorming possibilities, how about suctioning from this digital data source via a central enterprise data service bus? What if the iPad could feed data into a standardised format for a live company health dashboard, together with devices for technicians (eTechLog), sales agents (order log), customer feedback terminals (at the airport, online), on-board sale web-based order forms?

Flight Operations Challenge…Accepted.