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Paper or Plastic, Does the Medium of Content Make a Difference?

Calendar August 6, 2014 | User Michael Denis

The following was originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of the AircraftIT MRO eJournal:

On Memorial Day I was watching the perennial talking heads that dominate Sunday morning television and happened upon CNN’s Richard Quest interviewing European Parliamentarian Michel Barnier. At the end of the interview, Mr. Quest asked Mr. Barnier if he preferred paper or plastic, when consuming books, magazines, news papers, and other written documents. By “plastic”, Mr. Quest meant computer- or tablet-based presentation of content.

I found this an interesting question as it is one I have had many times with my father, born in the ‘30s, who is squarely in the paper camp. On the other hand I have my children, born in the late ‘80s who rarely read anything in print.

aircraft-it-logoThe question of “human consumption” of content and information appears to be a generational preference or habit with an overwhelming trend toward plastic since the adoption of the Internet in the mid-90s. As my friend Paul Saunders says, “The people we hire today don’t know a world without mobile phones [and tablets], the Internet and Facebook.”

This also begs the question: does the media by which humans consume content make other differences besides preference? Do we comprehend, remember, and utilize content more effectively or more efficiently according to the medium by which information is presented? Do electronic means that enable more robust search of interconnected information across multiple formats enhance knowledge formulation from data, content, or information?

Since this is a column and not an academic research report, let’s assume the plethora psychology and learning studies are correct and the ability to reference multiple pieces of electronic content from a single networked source does, in fact, enhance effective comprehension and its efficient use.

Good, so now the question arises, does the use of plastic improve the other purpose of content, “technological consumption” of data, information, and knowledge development?

Authoritative sources of content within aerospace, defense, and aviation are well specified but are not as well standardized or integrated across information technologies, companies, and countries.

Technologically, it is easy to automate cascading updates of changing form, fit, or function of a part, rolling a part number, updating configuration in an IPC, updating of the content within an MPD, AMM, CMM, TSM, FIM, … updating MRO IT systems’ maintenance plans, schedules, and logistics, creation of routine and non-routine tasks, integration of diagnostics, prognostics and health management systems, automation of records for regulators and lessors, and to the feedback mechanism from service lifecycle managers to product lifecycle designers.

So if both human and technological consumption of content improves outcomes (safety, reliability and efficiency) then what are the barriers to wide-spread adoption of electronic content within organizations and between businesses?

Our industry is highly regulated and thus subject to inefficiencies mandated by regulatory organizations or in many cases regulatory individuals. Most regulatory bodies authorized the move to electronic content over a decade ago. But as one senior vice president of technical operations told me, “My PMI only believes what he touches on paper.” And yes, his PMI grew up in a world devoid of the internet, cell phones and social networking.

The media of content makes considerable differences in improving safety effectiveness and financial efficiency of certification, maintenance, repair, and training of complex assets over their product and service lifecycles.

The barriers to improving individual companies’ performance as well as the industry as a whole are self-inflicted, therefore, self-healing. At least that’s how I see IT.

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