5 things to consider about Big Data in the aviation aftermarket

Technology | Jan 08, 2020 | By Satair | 7 min read

Big Data is one of the big buzzwords in the aviation aftermarket. Spend five minutes in a conference like MRO Europe, and you can see that it's on everyone's minds.

But just how exactly is Big Data poised to change the aftermarket landscape? Will its influence affect all areas, top to bottom? Is it a privilege reserved only for Tier 1 suppliers and large OEMs? If you choose to invest in Big Data, what are some of the factors that a business should focus on when developing its strategies and roadmaps?

In this article, we will look at five things that businesses should consider before investing in Big Data solutions. We sat down with Bjarke Mads Sejersen, our Head of Digital here at Satair, to get his thoughts on the topic.

1. What exactly does big data mean for the aftermarket?

In order for more suppliers and aftermarket players to broadly invest in tools and systems that utilised data to bolster their services offers, there is going to need to be more realised benefits. The benefits of using data have been mapped out, there are a lot of players developing data ecosystems to help navigate the data, but the fact remains that real-world execution is still in its early stages.

According to Sejersen:

"Currently, data harvesting, aggregation, and sharing in a rather immature state. The industry is still trying to figure out how to utilise it. I would say some of the bigger airlines have come quite far in developing their own solutions, but the industry ecosystem and how data is shared and floating around is still very immature."

Despite this, Sejensen went on to pontificate that if we look out towards the next decade, suppliers and aftermarket players are going to see tremendous efficiency gains through the right use of data.

Predictive analytics

The perfect predictive maintenance models are the one that supports suppliers by letting them know what they need to have in stock, where they need to have it, and when. In that regard, there is a tremendous opportunity for maximising efficiency from the supply chain to operations.

Sejensen offers this viewpoint:

"Here in Satair, we have over $1.8 billion in inventory, and we work with a 24-hour delivery deadline for parts. Now imagine if predictive models could allow that part to be in a technicians hands in 20 minutes. That's where things are headed, and it all revolves around data. Right now, this entire process is manual, so there is a significant potential for the use of predictive data analytics across the whole supply chain—saving suppliers millions of dollars a year."

2. Is big data the right solution across the board?

This question isn't one with a simple answer. In fact, one could say that it begs a whole host of other questions. When we look into the relevance of Big Data in the aftermarket, what we really need to look at is the fundamental shift that is occurring across all industries. Digitisation, platforming and a change from analogue foundations to digital ecosystems are happening across the board—from global corporations to stand-alone businesses.

In the aviation industry, large suppliers and bigger OEMs are the ones that can afford to build their own data platforms and maintain internal governance around them. So, of course, having access to vast data sets are going to benefit their businesses. However, the same can be said for smaller suppliers and MRO providers.

"What we see now, are some of the larger systems like Airbus' Skywise and Boeing's AnalytX platforms adding to overall ecosystems which can be utilised by smaller suppliers. It's safe to say that tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers won't be developing their own systems. Still, they can piggyback off the platforms developed by larger tier 1 suppliers and OEMs—and sort of in the same degree, reap the same benefits."

What is also important to consider, beyond whether big data is going to be a factor across all aspects of the industry, is just how is that data will be used. Companies need to assess their role in the industry to determine how they will benefit from data usage. Are they the owner of an ecosystem? Are the contributors to the data growth and community of an ecosystem? Or are they merely the users of the assets and information provided by an ecosystem.

"I think it's essential that companies are aware of the importance in which big data will influence the market, and their role it will have on their businesses. Even if you're a small player, data-driven services should be quite high on the priority list when developing your strategy and roadmap. Big Data is going to be that decisive marker which determines whether your company will be there in 10 years or not."

3. How big is Big Data?

Big Data is like this buzzword gets thrown around a lot, but the specifics of it are much more nuanced. It's not some vast reservoir that will eventually hold every single data point across every aspect of the aviation industry, which various market players will ultimately be able to cherry-pick the data sets they want to use.

According to a report by Data Science Central, an A350 generates around 2.5 terabytes of data per day. And looking at the flight figures, the global A350 fleet has over 240 million in-service flight hours. 

We'll save you from the math. That's a lot of data.

So making the most out of data-driven ecosystems really depends on what you need for your business, and how utilising specific points of data to enhance your offers to your customers. For example, do you want to build datasets to facilitate your customer analytics? Or do you want to collect data set around your core business to assess performance?

"I think every business should focus on customer analytics. It doesn't matter if it's big data or small data. But one of the most essential things is that businesses differentiate the difference between core business and customer data. Customer analytics is something that every business is just going to need to have as we move into the future. And core business data will help with profitability, efficiency and performance. Most importantly, build the utilisation of these specific data sets into the business strategy, focus efforts on what best serve themselves and their customers, and forget the rest of the noise."

4. Who owns the data rights?

The question of data rights is one that extends far beyond the reaches of the aviation industry. The topic of data breaches, hacks, and misuse of data for nefarious means is often a cyclical topic in mainstream news. And while Facebook, Google and Amazon, arguably the goliaths that made Big Data a possibility, are constantly under fire because of their treatment of data rights, those same questions can be aimed at the aviation industry?

Aftermarket players looking towards data analytics need to ask themselves the difficult questions regarding how they value their own data. 

If you're sharing your data on a platform and participating in a data ecosystem, who owns your data? Is it still the property of your company? Can others lay claim to it? Will your company have any control over how others use that data on the same platform? And finally, as with the questions often posed to the Mark Zuckerberg's and Jack Dorsey's of the world, do the owners of the platforms have any social responsibility to govern how that data is used.

"I think our industry is very much behind if you compare it to other industries. Especially when you're talking about big data. The aviation industry is a complex industry. The products that we are using are very complex, and there are a lot of regulations."

Following Bjarke Sejersen's thought, because of those strict regulations, it could be that the aviation industry avoids repeating the history that happened with the large social networks. Focusing more on being the first one to build an ecosystem that will gain market dominance, and less on what social responsibilities around data sharing should govern that ecosystem.

5. To cloud or not to cloud

While short term cost may be a deciding factor between setting up cloud storage to host your data, or setting up a localised system to hold it, what business should consider is the long-term costs.

"In the long run, hosting data in the cloud solution falls around the same cost as running it on an internal server system. Moving to the cloud opens new possibilities because businesses using it will mature with all of the latest technologies it facilitates.

In the end, data is going to be what really empowers companies in the future. It will be the enabler for owning the customer. If you have the data, you can develop the perfect customer experience."

The entire world economy is slowly moving toward a decentralised data ecosystem, which will eventually be set up to integrate seamlessly with technologies like machine learning and blockchain. And in the long run, integrating localised systems to collaborate with technologies build for decentralised systems will likely need additional time, resources and software engineering. That said, for the aviation industry, data security is still casting a dark cloud of hesitation over a unified consensus of decentralised cloud-based solutions.

It is more likely that we will see a hybrid solution between more traditional and centralised databases. This would allow organisations to control their own central databases for internal information, utilising a cloud solution for customer analytics.

The Satair Takeaway

At the end of the day, it's safe to say that no aftermarket players are going to be able to ignore the influence of big data on the industry as we move forward through this new decade. The aviation industry is a big place, and the wheels of change move a little bit slower than they do in other industries. That said, Big Data is an inevitable truth that all businesses are going to have to face if they want to remain competitive.