In June, I took part in a trip to Paris as part of the Ontario government’s delegation attending the International Paris Air Show, one of the world’s biggest aerospace trade shows, where Canada was hosting the Canadian Pavilion with a contingent of 400 people representing more than 140 Canadian companies. Because Red Dot is able to help companies across multiple sectors, it made sense for me to go and explore opportunities.
In his opening day speech, former Premier Jean Charest said: “Global competition has never been tougher, and we’re at a turning point where Canada must step up or risk being left behind. Canadian aerospace plays a major role in the economic health of our nation.”
I believe digital transformation will be crucial to helping the aerospace industry step up to the plate as Charest described. Let’s look at why!
Digital transformation and aerospace
While digital transformation is seen as a disruption in many industries, as companies are forced to change and adapt to new technological norms, digital transformation and industry 4.0 are highly relevant for the aerospace industry right now.
Aerospace is an industry that greatly benefits from technological advances. It has always been one to welcome these advances and take them in stride. In fact, aerospace is generally an early adopter of new technologies. We can see this in the way technology is used in all aspects of the industry, from the acquisition of flight recorders for safety measures to computer-controlled aircraft. Today, notable advancements also include the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) baggage tracking to reduce lost luggage incidents while saving airlines billions of dollars.
Another welcome advancement is the presence of Wi-Fi on planes. There has never been a better time to fly for business, with more and more airlines adopting in-flight Internet connection—almost a necessity for this generation that thrives on being connected. Some airlines have gone so far as to provide this service for free to its customers, a rarity that is rewarded with great appreciation!
But just because the aerospace industry is on the cutting edge of technological development in the concrete sense doesn’t mean they’re doing a great job at digital transformation overall. After all, as I’ve written in the past, digital transformation isn’t just about adopting the latest technology; it’s about using the full potential of digital to rethink how you do business. And like every other industry, aerospace has work to do if it wants to keep up.
Let’s look beyond hardware
A 2017 Accenture report on aerospace and defence took a look at the industry through a technological lens. I found this report very interesting, as it raised some important questions for aerospace companies thinking of evaluating their presence in the digital world. These questions included:
1. What are the most important touchpoints and the moments that matter with your customers, suppliers and employees, and how can digital help maximize value at each?
2. How can you use digital to drive higher customer value, lower cost, improve quality, shorten delivery time and avoid delays?
3. How can digital and the Internet of Things (IoT) help you improve your products, better understand customers and capture new business? How can it help secure a bigger share of business by doing more with the same product, leveraging untapped expertise or extending an existing process?
What ties these three points together is their common denominator: data. Companies in the aerospace industry that want to outsmart their competition must use data to optimize their processes (thus reducing their cost), understand customer behaviours and come up with new services and products. They also need to monitor social media data to measure their brand image and get feedback to inform their operational decisions. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data usage in aerospace. Digital transformation isn’t just about the technology. It’s about putting the customer at the centre of every decision, using all the information we’re able to gather.
Right now, there is a gap in businesses’ understanding of data and in their knowledge of how to use it to make better decisions and support customers. This is true everywhere but is particularly relevant for aerospace given the industry’s tight competition, huge range of challenges and overall customer dissatisfaction.
The future of digital transformation within the aerospace industry
Beyond the ways digital transformation affects customer interactions, I see two other ways it is important to the aerospace industry.
1. Talent acquisition and retention. Hiring millennials and Gen Z people will force the industry to change the way they communicate. This change is already past due; at the moment, it does not look like most of the players are moving in that direction, especially SMEs. The problem is self-perpetuating; this younger generation is extremely tapped into digital and social media, and relies heavily on reviews and peer validation to choose their places of work. Therefore, attracting a connected workforce that can help advance an overall industry-wide digital transformation might require companies to review how they present themselves to their potential recruits.
2. Commercialization. A lot of the players are used to a pretty linear and siloed business development. Some openly say they don't need to sell; the opportunities fall on their lap. Jason Chester, director of Global Channel Programs at InfinityQS, basically captures what I have been helping and supporting companies in these industries with when he says, “With the rise of ecommerce, competition can spring up almost overnight and take business away from you. You can also miss market opportunities if, for example, you don’t have enough inventory when demand suddenly ramps up. Businesses have to be much more responsive to how the global environment changes.”
The digital transformation of the aerospace industry is on an upward trajectory with endless possibilities for advancement. The future of aerospace will in many ways depend on how the industry chooses to engage with the digital transformation that’s happening all over the world.