Archive for ‘June, 2010’

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A couple of weeks back I wrote a blog post entitled:
“Why isn’t MRO Software Simpler?”
This generated quite a bit of debate here on our blog, but also on a couple of LinkedIn discussion boards including the Aircraft Lifecycle Wikinomics group where it was a featured discussion.  There were loads of really insightful comments and thankfully my opinions didn’t get flamed.  This morning I addressed the 30+ comments on LinkedIn by attempting to distil all of the suggested reasons to the root problem.  Here is that response copied and tidied up in one or two places.

I think that the reasons that MRO Software is not currently simpler can be distilled into 6 key factors.

1. The MRO process is very complex or at least is perceived to be so.

I don’t argue that MRO processes are not highly sophisticated, but this should be an argument to strive to make the software simpler not MORE complicated. Other industry sectors have proven that it is possible to make the solution to a problem as simple as possible. I like using the example of the Windows Vista shut down button vs. the iPod off button. Windows Vista had 7 different options to shut down the PC, the iPod doesn’t have any way to turn itself off… it does it by itself when it’s not being used.

Windows Vista. 7 options to shut down.

The 5th generation iPod Nano. 0 options to shut down

This of course is an abstract example, but it goes to show how overly complicated things can be made and how ultra-simple they could be if applying a bit of thought and common sense when designing a solution.

2. The software vendors are to blame.
Again there are some excellent points being made here. Without question these vendors need to have industry experts to correctly interpret business requirements and convert those into functional specifications. It is taken for granted that a software vendor employs adequate technical experts. In my opinion there is something missing between these two mandatory nodes of the software business. Where are the UI designers, the micro copywriting experts, and the event tracking gurus?? How much time is spent in the R&D of software in really understanding how users consume software? What makes them happy? What makes them use it more? What makes them use it more efficiently?? How much time is spent by MRO software designers in figuring out exactly what shade of green a button should be to make a user more inclined to press it? How many MRO software providers change the size of an object by one pixel to see the effect it has on tracked events? Other sectors of the IT industry do this. Why not MRO software? If a software vendor can tell me that hand on heart they do this I will cheerfully apologise and will eat my hat (and will provide photos to prove it.)

3. The MRO companies are to blame.

There have been some good points here. The MRO software vendors will only provide what the customer asks for. The customer doesn’t actually know what they want. They know the process is complex, they know the engineer wants something simple, they know the accountant wants something sophisticated, they feel if they are spending hundreds and thousands on something it needs to have lots of bells and whistles and flashing lights…. all fair enough. Who is going to educate the MRO that they should be doing something else? Actually with no alternative on the market this proves impossible to even the wisest IT guru. So in my opinion the onus is on the vendor to make the leap of faith here.

4. The Regulations won’t allow changes.
This is utter nonsense and I whole heartedly disregard this statement. Remember it is the MRO business process that is approved not the IT tool. As someone rightly stated the regulations have remained largely unchanged for years whilst technology has moved on at pace. At what point did the regulator decide that perhaps there isn’t quite enough information being stored about this particular defect. I’m not satisfied that you are recording the ATA chapter to 8 digits. You need to also record the Reliability Chapter, the repetitive chapter, the next higher assembly chapter and so on. This bloating of software is not down to the regulators demanding it, it is surely down to the processes surrounding the software. In the early years on IT in business (what I call Enterprise 1.0) computers were used to do the mandatory compliance stuff that needed a bit of number crunching like payroll, invoicing, stock holding. As the years have gone by we have simply added more stuff to the compliance category, so we have forecasting, scheduling, etc. etc. all thrown into the same pot. Enterprise 2.0 should not be about doing more stuff because we have to. It should be about doing things better and easier. A client of mine has challenged the idea that a CAMO needs to operate from a single base in some kind of shared office. He has been the first EASA Part M approved organisation in the UK (perhaps the world) to utilise a virtual office of airworthiness where all his staff work from home. Many people said the UK CAA wouldn’t buy it… but they did. Admittedly they did a bit of head scratching, but it goes to show that if you can provide a compelling case and a bullet proof exposition to the authorities then they will go with it….

5. The sales process is to blame.
I guess elements of item 2 and 3 are involved here. The sales guys I have met have certainly been keen to extoll the virtues of a really complicated system and whilst buyers are lapping that up then nothing will change in the near future.

6. It’s too hard to change the software and make it simpler.
Yep, this is dead right. Millions of man hours go into making wall-to-wall enterprise level software. Like the proverbial super tanker a product cannot suddenly perform a hand brake turn and change direction. By the time the next generation software has gone through the planning and production phases it could already be out-dated by several years. Perhaps the future doesn’t lie in massive enterprise level software – perhaps it lays in true SOA, focussed, interconnected, niche software? But that is heading towards a sales pitch.

Related Posts:
Why isn’t MRO Software Simpler?
This is what we believe: Web Apps

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Yesterday saw the commercial release of Microsoft Office 2010.  I’ve been using MS Office for years and have used this particular version at home and work since it was first launched as a beta release candidate several months ago.  It goes without saying that I am a big fan.  It’s as if someone has fettled away all the burrs and rough edges from the 2007 version and produced a finely tuned product.  However upgrading or purchasing Office 2010 in a commercial environment isn’t a cheap proposition. More and more organisations and individuals are looking at alternative options to save money and differentiate with unique functions.

In the first in a series of blog posts looking at the alternatives to the individual elements of the MS Office suite today I’m taking a look at some potential substitutes for Microsoft’s presentation application, PowerPoint.

Desktop Alternatives

1. Apple iWork Keynote

If you are a Mac user then it is likely that you already prefer Apple’s presentation offering available as part of the iWork suite.  The slick use of graphics, animations and effects are what you would expect from Apple.  Its a shame that Keynote is only available for the Mac, but it will only be a matter of time before some of its unique selling points make their way to other applications.  The integration with the iPhone is the killer feature though, with an app to use the iPhone as a Keynote remote and the promise of iWork being fully supported by the iPhone 4.  Its not free, but at less than £50 for the full suite, its a cheaper alternative to MS Office for Mac users.

2. Impress

The best things in life are free and the suite of applications is the forerunner in free alternatives to MS Office.  Impress is a dead ringer for the XP version of PowerPoint and has pretty much the same functionality. Admittedly it isn’t as advanced as the latest version of PowerPoint but is a fully capable alternative for all but the most die hard power users.  OpenOffice leads the way with an XML based Open Office file format so by default uses .ODP files, but you can easily change the default settings and open, edit and save .ppt files.  One gotcha to look out for is that newer .pptx files created on PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 don’t convert perfectly if they have utilised some of the newer Office features.

IBM Lotus Symphony Presentations

Lotus Symphony is IBM’s latest foray into the Desktop Office application market.  Symphony Presentations is a free application based on’s technology so is compatible with both .ppt and .odp files and functions.

Online Alternatives

Google Docs Presentation

Google’s free online Docs applications uses a simple interface which isn’t particularly feature rich, but allows for the benefits of cloud availability and online collaboration.  The colaboration benefit is enhanced by a chat feature.


Ajax is another online full Office suite from ZoooS. It has extensive capabilities including the ability to open, edit and save both .ppt and .odp formats.  The interface is a little busy, but is free so worth a look.

Zoho Show

Version 2.0 of Zoho’s online Show application is still in Beta mode but has all the fundamental features you would expect.  There is an integrated chat feature and online collaboration and remote presentation functions to take advantage of the cloud based status.  Presentations are embeddable to blogs and websites and the elegent UI will be familiar to users of Zoho’s CRM application.  Zoho Show is free for personal use and can import and export .ppt files.

7. Slide Rocket

Slide Rocket is a paid Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application that has a slick user interface and powerful online collaboration and remote meeting functions. There is a free option which doesn’t extend to all features but provides a perfectly adequate 250Mb of storage and unlimited presentation files.  As you would expect you can import and export .ppt files and the library and synchronisation functions look pretty impressive.  The paid service starts at $12 per month and offer up to 1GB storage per user.


Empressr is a free online Presentation application that attempts tp bridge the gap between a desktop office applications and social media.  It is a flas based application that integrates nicely with WordPress, Twitter, Flickr and other Social Media platforms.  One nice feature is the ability to track viewing stats and channel Twitter feedback.

9. Prezi

If you are looking for something distinctively different to the PowerPoint clones then Prezi is definitely different and distinctive.  The cool, unique zooming and panning transitions are completely unlike any other presentation tools I’ve seen before and take a radical step forward in presentation technique.  Prezi is a SaaS offering that has a desktop version via a Prezi Pro account.  The free version is public facing with up to 100Mb of storage with paid versions that allow for private content starting at $59 a year.  There are elements of social media within the user community with public facing Prezis available to view via the site’s Showcase section.  Users are encouraged to “pat on the back” and “say something nice” about other user’s output. Output is easily shared, embedded and downloaded to be run offline or via websites, blogs and social media networks. Definitely worth having a play with.

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Last week we attended the 2010 Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference in Frankfurt.  
One of the disappointments for us at the conference was the lack of real innovation in the design of the MRO business systems that were on show. Whilst many other industries are abstracting away the complexities of the process, workflow or machine, MRO enterprise software vendors seem to be particularly proud of the complexity and functional overload of their software solutions.  On more than one occasion we had CEOs and Sales Directors alike explain to us just how fantastically bewildering their systems were and how users were demanding more and more complex, feature rich solutions to their problems.

We had hoped that truly service orientated solutions would be available by now, solutions that hide the complexity behind a simple, easy to use interface, designed to do a specific job very well. We’ve all seen how glass cockpits over recent years have simplified a pilot’s role, even though the complexity behind the UI has increased beyond recognition.

Here’s the cockpit for the Concorde designed back in the sixties.  So complex it took three people to fly it.

Copyright Dr Richard Murray and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.


Compare that to the latest generation A380, a much cleaner, simpler user interface that focuses on the essentials for flying.

Copyright Naddsy and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License.

Whilst the human factors within the cockpit have been analyzed ad infinitum, the human factors in the hanger seem to have been hugely overlooked.  Are maintenance engineers and their managers really demanding more and more complex systems?  The folk selling them software seem to think so.  I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it.

Other than in the MRO sector when did you last hear users clamoring for more complex software?  In the bleeding edge industry of social media users are demanding “magical” user experiences that delight through ultra-simple applications that focus on doing one function and performing it perfectly.  This sector is thriving and the trends created are spilling out into the rest of IT.  Using web design as an example, modern web sites are becoming simpler and simpler with loads of white space and clear calls to action being the norm.  Take these two examples of airline websites.  I wouldn’t mind betting which site has the better conversion rate per visitor.

The current American Airlines website, voted one of the world’s worst airline websites.

The award winning Nature Air website uses a simple and clear call to action.

OK, maybe I’m being a bit harsh.  It’s taken the best part of 40 years to move cockpit design from the Buck Rogers style instrumentation of the past to a more rationalized, simplified next generation cockpit panel.  The technology has certainly helped this outcome over the years.  To be fair, developing a new interface for Enterprise software is no walk in the park.  It could be thousands of man hours in design, build and testing before a vendor has completely retooled their entire system.  But if you’re buying enterprise software now, with a life cycle of 5 maybe 10 years, it could be out of date by the time you’ve finished implementing it in 18 to 24 months’ time.  But I don’t see any enterprise MRO software even heading in the right direction yet.

The wall to wall enterprise solutions of yesterday simply don’t cut it when it comes to simplifying processes and keeping engineer non-productive time to a minimum.  The age of features is dead.  Software developers should be focusing on distilling features and processes to their bare minimum functional requirements and performing those functions perfectly with a simple intuitive interface that anyone can understand.  They should be building their software around services which can be consumed by any application to perform the function they operate.  Engineers like spanners because they have evolved to be to most simple and elegant tool for the job.  MRO enterprise software has a lot of evolving to do it seems.

So why is MRO Enterprise software so far behind the times?  Is it lack of investment or a simple lack of innovation and foresight in the MRO market?  Let me know what you think.

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Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference Review
7th and 8th June 2010 – Frankfurt
Last week Wayne and I attended the European and Middle East instance of the Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference in Frankfurt.

Being run for the fifth year by Aircraft Commerce and attended by anyone who is anyone in aerospace IT this was apparently the only “must attend” show there is.  The show came a little bit early for us to exhibit, but our intention was to catch up with what was new in the industry, attend some interesting speeches and network with the main airworthiness system providers with a view to obtaining APIs to help us develop our app interfaces.

After the usual registration formalities and a quick coffee and croissant it was straight on with a full programme of presentations, case studies and workshops.  Proceedings got off to a promising start with a passionate and shouty keynote speech by SAKS Consulting’s Sharhabeel Lone.  His topic of “The rights and wrongs of MRO implementations” was a refreshingly brutal lecture aimed at those delegates who were perhaps about to embark on an MRO system implementation.  Scattered with statistics of the number of failed and overrunning projects his message did at times seem a little bleak with promises of failed ROI, scope creep and lower than planned functionality.  I think the presentation did provide a vital reality check and set an important tone which was continually referred to throughout the conference by other speakers and delegates.  However if the usual pleas for executive commitment, risk management, scoping and structured approaches did not fall on deaf ears then there is some hope for IT Success.

The conference was divided into two main streams over the two days with presentations and cases studies in the main conference hall and more informal tutorial style workshops in a more intimate meeting area.  Whilst MRO presentations were being carried out on day one it was a programme of operations topics in the workshops and this was reversed for day two.  Whilst the presentations were going on there were exhibits from some 30+ software vendors on small uniformly sized stands where the emphasis was on technical discussion and demonstration rather than executive schmoozing and boozing that you would often see at the bigger trade shows.

The MRO presentations on day one were mostly case studies of maintenance organisations outlining improvements to processes and time savings that had been realised through the utilisation of technologies such as RFID tagged ground equipment, rationalised IT assets and the automation of planned maintenance.  Nothing earth shattering, but some interesting insights.  More enlightening were private discussions with other delegates and exhibitors.  We managed to discuss with a couple of technical representatives of the main airworthiness software vendors.  Interest in our product ranged from several counts of seemingly genuine interest through to one instance of vexed hostility from one well known vendor.  I can’t quite work out whether this agitation was caused by the fact that we were producing quick, simple software and therefore not worthy of interfacing with more complex and bloated software or that we had uncovered the fact that the airworthiness software in question does not have a Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) that does not have any readily available Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Quite naturally we tended to gravitate to any fellow delegates who were advocating a similar philosophy to our own, that being enterprise software was moving towards lighter, simpler niche software that is inter-connected through the consumption of services.  One enjoyable chat we had with a representative of a large OEM concluded with our fellow delegate being uncertain as to whether we were geniuses or mad men… isn’t there a quote along those lines where the difference is measured by success??  The grumpy software vendor from earlier hosted a cocktail reception to close the first day’s proceedings, so after a couple of nibbles and beers all was forgiven.

Day two began with a workshop by the SAKS Consulting team.  Sharhabeel Lone’s passionate speech from the previous day must have struck the correct tone, as the session was fully subscribed and we were subject to a bit more of the same impassioned bellowing which was well received by an attentive Egyptian delegation front and centre.  The pick of the presentations came from David Ploog and Christophe Mostert of m2p Consulting whose workshop entitled “An end to end Project Lifecycle of MRO system replacement masterclass” encouraged the most debate and conjecture.  Somewhat disappointingly this particular workshop was the only presentation we attended which outlined a vision of current and future trends in aerospace IT systems.  It was refreshing and reassuring to hear that these opinions closely matched our own.  It is a shame that trends in other areas of IT have not yet been fully embraced by aerospace IT in the field of MRO.  Next generation technologies such as Open Source, true Service Orientated Architecture and multi-platform applications were distinctly ominous in their absence.  Software vendors were espousing how feature rich and complex their systems were and it is striking to note how far behind this way of thinking is compared to the cutting edge trends in other sectors of the IT industry.

The conference was well organised by the Aircraft Commerce team headed up by Charles Williams and Ed Haskey who throughout the show were ever present, approachable and affable.  It speaks volumes to note that delegate attendance was high throughout the event without the usual drifting off to the hotel bar or for sightseeing.  Delegate numbers were well over 200 and was a veritable who’s who of aerospace IT.  I would thoroughly recommend visiting the conference in the future and fully intend to exhibit next year.

Related Posts:
How to make Simpler MRO Software: Part 2
How to make Simpler MRO Software: Part 1
Why MRO Software isn’t Simpler
Why isn’t MRO Software Simpler?

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Our regular look at Tweets over the past 7 days by our team.

John Motson eat your heart out! Our NEW World Cup football blog is the definitive guide to ball-kicking in S. Africa. Jun 10 08:44:25 via web

my colds still here, but my bellies full of hot madras, i think that cancels out 🙂Wed Jun 09 20:47:57 via TweetDeck

is going to cheer himself up with crumpetsTue Jun 08 20:12:11 via web

im wondering……………what would being pecked by a duck feel like??Mon Jun 07 12:33:08 via web

England team arrive in South Africa via Virgin not BA. A lesson in PR? One-nil Richard Branson ~PSThu Jun 03 08:53:26 via web

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