How In-Memory Computing Could Transform Airlines: First, the Cockpit
In-memory computing sometimes seems like one of those overeager parking valets who literally sprints to the lot to get your car.
Yeah, in-memory is fast. Yeah, it puts lots of data idling at the curb, just waiting to be churned. But what’s the big rush on the big data?
That question has led me on a hunt for stories of how in-memory computing can do more than make data analysis faster. I want to see business transformation, okay?
The first story I have for you is in airlines.
Airlines Can’t Prepare for the Unexpected
It turns out that airlines are essentially flying blind when it comes to keeping their expensive planes in the air. Inefficient Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) operations cause frustrating flight delays and safety hazards–not to mention wasted fuel and pollution.
What they’ve told us is quite scary: Most airlines aren’t prepared to deal with the unexpected.
Big Data in Real Time Would Help
That’s because airlines use overnight batch processing to track MRO. That works for routine maintenance, but does little to address issues such as an unforeseen engine fault, or a tire that wears out prematurely. And it does nothing to help airlines predict when problems are likely to occur so that they can be fixed before anything bad happens.
The 40-Pound Bag of Problems
Bringing predictive analytics to aircraft maintenance won’t be easy, of course (I go into the challenges in more detail in this post on the SAP Forbes blog). But there are some glimmers of hope appearing. I’ll be writing about them in a series of posts on this topic.
The first reason for hope is in the cockpit. For years, crews have lugged around a 40-pound case of documentation known as the flight bag. The flight bags contain that arch enemy of data analysis: unstructured data in the form of a pilot’s handwritten logbook entries, navigational charts, equipment manuals, and weather and radar maps. It is a terrible jumble of paper (you don’t want to know how many minutes you’ve lost the gate due to a few missing briefing papers). When the first electronic flight bags (EFBs)–ruggedized laptops–were introduced, they cost thousands of dollars, offered limited functionality, and did little to lighten the load.
The iPad Takes Flight
Then along came the iPad. (I know, it’s getting a little tiresome hearing about how wonderful the iPad is all the time–but it’s true.) Now that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has granted American Airlines the first approval to use iPads in all phases of flight (sorry, passengers, you’ll still have to keep yours stowed during take off and landing) its pilots can use them full-time, putting away the leather bag and paper documentation for good. (Hard copies of the airworthiness certificate and aircraft registration are still required.)
The tablets bring much-needed simplicity to the cockpit. For example, one click-update management for manuals and charts and the potential to cross-check critical flight data increase both efficiency and safety.
The Critical Link to the Ground
Yet what’s always been missing from the flight bag–even the electronic ones–is a link to what’s happening on the ground. By connecting tablets to enterprise systems, the cockpit could become another always-on node on the airline’s information network, sending back reams of data for real-time analysis. An airline maintenance engineer could access the latest from the pilot’s logbook while he goes about the business of getting us from here to there, planning work orders for quicker turnaround of that plane. Prognostics performed on data exchanged between EFBs and enterprise systems could ultimately lead to fewer equipment failures and safer air travel.
Sounds like a good argument for in-memory to me. What do you think?
Thanks to our SAP subject matter experts for contributing their thinking to this piece. Here are links to their LinkedIn bios if you want to learn more about them: Wolfgang Ullwer, Sameer Deshpande, Phil Te Hau, and Willem Gouws.