This article originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of the AircraftIT MRO eJournal.
Is 2015 going to be the year when mobile IT finally becomes ubiquitous for airlines and MROs? To be fair, many of our colleagues have been mobile for a number of years already, but I mean mobile, in the post-PC, iPad era sense of the word.
It seems like a long time that I’ve been working with mechanics and engineers who had access to information systems at the aircraft from within the hangar or on the line. I remember installing wireless networks in an engine workshop as far back as 2001, which allowed mechanics to roam around the work environment following their engine as it moved from tear-down to build and on to test without having to log off from one computer to another… but this use case wouldn’t really be classified as a mobility project in the way that we understand it today. The hardware, software and utilities that accompanied Windows XP back in the day bear little resemblance to a mobility project that we would recognise today.
Interestingly, I have noticed that although very early adopters wisely chose limited use cases such as ordering parts or reading a manual as their starting point for mobility, the next wave of adoption is being driven by more fundamental and sweeping business goals that are being implemented on an almost enterprise-wide level. The desire to go totally paperless, or to embrace the internet of things, are seeing a leap in user adoption from projects with a few hundred users as per some of the pioneers of mobile technology to several thousand users at a time with several tier one airlines with projects in the pipeline.
There is a still a real mix of technologies and approaches being adopted, too. Some people had predicted that the iPad has had its day, with many next-generation implementations favouring the latest batch of Windows tablets. Windows has indeed seen a resurgence in the Flight Ops world, with some early adopters of the iPad even contemplating switching back to Windows devices. But I have seen evidence of an Apple renaissance in aerospace being driven by engineering implementations. There is a mixture of commercial off-the-shelf solutions and home spun applications to tackle the various use cases that MRO and engineering users are posing for us technologists with no “one size fits all” when it comes to development approach. HTML and native apps are being blended in a mobile ecosystem where the user doesn’t care how it works. They only care that it just works.
I think 2015 is going to be an exciting year for aerospace MRO IT. I think its going to be the year when we stop worrying about whether mobility is a good idea or not. It’s going to be the year when we just crack on and get mobility working. Or at least, that’s how I see it.