“One day there will be a telephone in every major city in the USA”
Alexander Graham Bell – inventor of the telephone
One thing that we have learned about human nature over the last hundred years of innovation is that we are very poor at predicting the adoption of emerging technology. Even supposed experts such as inventors and authority figures of new technology famously get it wrong.
“I think there is a world market for as many as 5 computers”
Thomas Watson, head of IBM, 1943.
Admittedly these quotes were from a long time ago and they were probably accurate for a couple of decades at least. However, it is my observation that in aerospace MRO, we make business decisions on inaccurate assessments of the rates of innovation adoption. Furthermore we continue to make the same mistakes with each new generation of technology.
A recent study by Oliver Wymann predicts that by the year 2026 the global in-service aircraft fleet will be made up of 54% next-generation aircraft versus 46% legacy aircraft. That in-service fleet split today is merely 10% next-generation versus 90% legacy aircraft. Is the MRO landscape evolving at the same rate as OEM innovation? The same Oliver Wymann study suggests not. Only 13% of survey respondents agree that the MRO industry “innovates frequently”. The internal ability of airlines and MROs to recognize, assess and prepare for change is not a core capability. The influx of much larger data sets coming from each sector of flight for next-generation aircraft is already upon us, and the industry’s preparedness for applicable technologies like aircraft health monitoring and predictive maintenance is some way off. The same assessment for the preparedness of the MRO industry for next-generation technical content to prepare for 3D printing, augmented reality and automated inspection technology can be made.
Part of the problem is that the rate of adoption by early adopters of new technology is far too often seen as indicative of the rate of adoption once the tipping point has been reached. This is not the case. Once a new-technology has taken hold and has proven to be profitable by the pioneers, the adoption rates accelerate. Just look at how mobility in aerospace MRO has been embraced. We have been talking about and experimenting with iPads and mobility for five or six years with very few case studies of real implementation. Finally, everyone has jumped on board with a solution, now that the problems have been ironed out. The diffusion of innovation model has proven to be entirely accurate in this case. Laggards and the late majority are already at a competitive disadvantage.
New technology is reshaping the MRO landscape. Advances could cut or redistribute costs, but also spawn new business models and revenue streams. We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we should be mindful of estimating the rate of adoption and the impact of emerging technology.
“Innovation is serendipity, so you don’t know what people will make”
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
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