The IT world is moving to the cloud, and MRO-centric IT systems are no exception. Mindful of the many customer advantages offered by cloud-based solutions, MRO software providers such as IFS, Ramco Systems, Rusada, Swiss Aviation Software’s AMOS, OASES and Ultramain Systems now offer their platforms as both cloud-based and on-premises applications.
Why The Cloud Makes Sense
There are many reasons why cloud-based MRO IT systems make sense for airlines and MROs.
For instance, “by choosing the cloud-based option, customers are relieved from the requirement to operate a technical infrastructure on their own and can use an attractive and cost-effective alternative,” said Chris Clements, AMOS sales representative. “Cloud hosting is not necessarily better, as each option has its own particular advantages. However, with a cloud solution, customers no longer face warranty period expiry deadlines for on-premise computer hardware and the periodical constraint to purchase new hardware is also removed.”
In other words, cloud-based systems allow airlines and MROs to cease provisioning, maintaining and upgrading their own on-premises servers and IT departments, at least to the extent of directly supporting these MRO IT systems. “The obvious advantage to customers is they do not have to purchase, staff, and maintain server facilities,” said John Stone, Ultramain Systems’ vice president of Product Management. “We do that for them by our cloud offering.”
“Hosting in the cloud is proven to have a better value proposition than on-premises,” agreed Saravanan Rajarajan, director of Aerospace & Defense Solution Consulting & Presales at Ramco Systems. “This is due to reduction in both CAPEX and OPEX expenditures. Capital expenses are not required for setting up infrastructure. The service provider takes the end-to-end ownership to monitor and manage cloud infrastructure, database, and applications on a 24×7 basis, thereby enabling MROs to focus on their core operations.”
Another big plus of cloud-based MRO IT systems: Users pay for them via predictable monthly payments, leaving the big costs of new software costs, on-premises system maintenance and upgrades to the vendors to handle. Granted, these costs are passed onto the airlines and MROs as part of their monthly fees, but they are manageably spread over time, rather than turning up every now and then as large CAPEX/OPEX expenses.
“The benefits of cloud-based MRO IT systems are primarily that you as a business don’t then need to worry about maintaining and updating systems and servers yourself,” said David Purfurst, Rusada global pre-sales director. “By choosing a cloud-hosted solution you can guarantee a fixed monthly hosting cost and avoid any large one-off costs that on-premises hosting can incur.”
OASES says they developed their OASES Cloud solution in early 2021 with the aim of offering a solution that is fully based in the Cloud and therefore no server hardware is required by the MRO. “With more people working away from their company network it can be accessed from anywhere with Internet and from any computer with minimal setup,” says Jonathan Wood, Oases GVP Cloud and Infrastructure.
On the technology side, using cloud-based MRO systems allows airlines and MROs to access the latest IT features without having to discover, purchase, and implement these advances themselves.
“With cloud-based solutions, MROs can quickly capitalize on new embedded technologies, so they can hit the ground running on better automating and optimizing processes,” said Michael Egan, IFS’ vice president, Commercial Aviation, Aerospace & Defense. “For example, with digital innovations embedded in the IFS Cloud architecture, new and improved application services for intelligent and autonomous business can be natively leveraged across IFS products. This makes it practical and affordable for MRO customers to take advantage of technologies such as machine learning (ML), augmented and mixed reality (AR/MR), artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT), ready to use ‘out of the box’.”
That’s not all: Cloud-based MRO IT systems make it possible for airlines and MROs to affordably modernize their operations by leveraging the R&D efforts of their software vendors, rather than having to do it all themselves from scratch.
A case in point: “Ramco’s web-centric MRO solution helps in digitally transforming complex MRO processes,” Rajarajan said. “This integrated solution helps in a wide range of functions from work scope induction to customer delivery and invoicing. Advanced capabilities such as digital task cards, kitting and due parts tracking, mobility-based work execution, critical path & turnaround time (TAT) management, helps in eliminating paper and inefficiencies.”
A key advantage, according to OASES, is cloud-based systems are easily scalable when more performance or storage are required. The company also touts increased reliability and availability of the system. “It is much easier for the organization to provide access to OASES, particularly for users working outside their company network,” said OASES’ Wood. “This would include staff deployed to other locations, supervisors and management being able to monitor progress from wherever they are, and customers needing to monitor progress or provide input to processes. Cloud-based systems are also more straightforward for the software vendor to access than on-prem servers which translates to faster turnaround of support tickets.”
Cloud-based MRO IT systems can also make vital airline-related information tracking web-accessible. For instance, “Rusada’s ENVISION solution is used to manage the functions of Airworthiness, MRO and Flight Operations for over 100 aircraft operators and maintainers around the world,” said Purfurst. “In 2017 we introduced the first web-based iteration of ENVISION, and since 2018 this has been available as a cloud-based solution. “Collectively, our ENVISION system enables work to be planned, assigned, executed, and recorded for base, line, and component maintenance, as well as the management of inventory. It also acts as a repository for all documentation, data, records, and processes. Having all this information on one platform allows for sophisticated forecasting and analysis for continual business improvement.”
A further benefit: Relying on cloud-based MRO IT systems puts the onus for cybersecurity and data redundancy on these vendors, relieving airlines and MROs of this essential but non-core responsibility. At Ultramain Systems, “our ULTRAMAIN cloud offering includes state-of-the-art cybersecurity protections that client devices can connect to via the internet,” Stone said. “Our offering comes with a redundant failover environment in a separate facility to reduce the risk associated with server failures or localized internet outages. We also provide managed services to monitor and update the solution as required, including health monitoring for ULTRAMAIN on behalf of our customers.”
OASES says many of the benefits of a cloud-based system stem from the fact that the software vendor holds the keys to the system. This means that they are guaranteed access to the system. “There is not an external administrator who can make changes to passwords or configurations that prevents access to all or part of the system,” Wood said. “This opens up opportunities to access the system from web and mobile clients which would be complex, if not impossible, for separate on-prem systems. It offers the possibility to deploy software more regularly and with more certainty. The support team can now always get immediate access to begin diagnosing problems reported by customers much earlier than before.”
Finally, moving to cloud-based MRO IT systems simplifies life for airlines and MROs, freeing them up to focus on other issues during these trying times. “IFS Cloud brings simplicity, choice and innovation to organizations that are juggling their priorities — to evolve to new business models, control costs, expand faster and serve their customers better,” said Egan. “By implementing IFS Cloud, companies can easily scale and simply switch on new functionality such as additional modules or new innovative capabilities, when the time is right for their business.”
What Makes Each System Stand Out?
The makers of cloud-based MRO IT systems are constantly finding ways to update their products, both to stay competitive and to bring more features to airlines and MROs. To help our readers understand the key features of these systems, ATR asked vendors to tell us what makes their particular products stand out.
According to IFS’ Michael Egan, “there are five recent IFS developments that will help airlines and MROs navigate the post-pandemic recovery and beyond — enabling them to improve technician workflows and maximize aircraft uptime but to balance these advantages with flexible and safe fleet reintroductions.” These IFS features are Aviation Technical Content Manager (ATCM), Practical Augmented Reality for remote assistance, Enhanced Native Mobile Experience, True Planning Optimization, and Applied IoT/Machine Learning for asset in-service optimization.
“Our Allowable Configuration module within IFS Aviation Technical Content Manager (ATCM) is an automated solution that quickly and accurately incorporates revisions to IPCs directly into the IFS aviation maintenance management system, ensuring that airlines and MROs can maintain rock-solid, real-time, tail-specific compliance,” he explained. Adding Practical Augmented Reality (where smart devices can provide remotely-sourced virtual images overlaid on their actual views of reality) to IFS’ Remote Assistance service “lets team members work together over long distances, sharing information in a common view and diagnosing and fixing issues together.”
IFS’ Enhanced Native Mobile Experience is aimed at bringing its cloud-based IT systems to technicians’ mobile phones and tablets. True Planning Optimization refers to IFS improving MRO planning and scheduling functions by making it more interactive and accessible, while Applied IoT and Machine Learning for asset in-service optimization is meant to bring the power of new technologies to keeping aircraft available for flight more often.
Ramco Systems’ Saravanan Rajarajan S cites five features that make his company’s MRO IT system distinctive. They start with the company’s mobility applications: “Ramco’s ‘Anywhere’ apps enable managers and mechanics to work on the go,” he said. “Our nine mobile applications are extensively leveraged by customers to gain operational efficiencies.”
Next comes electronic publications: According to Rajarajan, Ramco’s MRO IT system allows users to receive and manage digital content from their OEMs in XML and SGML file formats. Ramco has also developed automated capabilities to process PDF-based OEM and customer documents to make them easily accessible through their platform.
Ramco’s Inventory Technical Management (ITM) feature handles the complex process of aviation rotable management including pooling, exchanges, part reliability, and repairs, while its third party ecosystem feature enables MRO software interoperability. “The aviation industry is interconnected, and business applications need to be interoperable and integration-ready so that they can transcend organizational boundaries to create a seamless self-orchestrated platform,” Rajarajan explained. “We continue to invest in building native adaptors with industry platforms such as OneAero and Aeroxchange have even deployed these successfully at our customer sites.”
Finally, Ramco constantly updates its platform to make it more user-friendly based on customer feedback. To this end, “we have introduced five new hubs each one focusing on a specific role,” said Rajarajan. These hubs address Material Demand Management; Customer Requests/Order Management; Fixed Asset and Maintenance Asset Tracking; Component Reliability; and Supplier Repair Order Management.
Now on to Rusada. “Since moving to a fully web-based solution we have been able to offer greater functionality and connectivity to our customers,” David Purfurst said. “Faster loading times, streamlined user interfaces, live dashboards, and flexible APIs have all come as a result of this change, creating a significantly improved user experience.”
In 2019, Rusada launched a Technical Publications module on its cloud-based MRO IT system. It allows airlines and MROs to upload aircraft maintenance manuals into the ENVISION system and create an entire library of electronic task cards. “These can then be customized, signed-off electronically, and easily updated upon revision, removing the need for paper task cards,” said Purfurst. “More recently we have increased our customer’s mobility through the release of two new apps in 2021, ENVISION Tasks for maintenance execution and ENVISION Stock for inventory management, and will be releasing more in 2022.”
Swiss Aviation Software
As for Swiss Aviation Software: “In the past few releases of AMOS our MRO customers’ community has grown and MRO providers have gained tools to manage customer inputs from the initial CRM contact, work scope quotation, production planning and finally billing in an end-to end process,” Chris Clements said. “In more recent releases we have continued to build on the paperless processes within AMOS and work with customers to digitalize their business and realize additional value not only in terms of costs, but also in time; thereby potentially increasing productivity whilst maintaining quality, safety and consistency.”
In 2022, the AMOS’ mobility suite will be extended to warehouse (stores) personnel through the AMOSmobile/STORES app. According to Clements, “AMOSmobile/STORES has been optimized for the stores processes and users’ needs and will launch a new tech stack for mobile technology. AMOSmobile/STORES is the first suite of apps to be fully developed with Flutter/Dart technology – the latest tech stack to be rolled out to any targeted future AMOSmobile applications (incl. the Swiss-AS ETLB). The AMOS users can look forward to a completely new user experience due to material design language.”
Ultramain Systems has some standout features. “ULTRAMAIN is intelligent M&E/MRO / ELB software that addresses a broad spectrum of aviation maintenance needs,” said John Stone. “It fully integrates maintenance — line, base, engine, shop — with materials, labor, documentation, ELB and procurement. ULTRAMAIN gets the right parts to the right spot at the right time to support maintenance.” Note: ULTRAMAIN is a suite of applications that can be licensed and implemented individually as needed. This allows small operators to start small then add modules later as desired.
“ULTRAMAIN’s benefits include creation of optimized plans and a process for improving them after each use,” he added. “Being able to know and schedule all resources needed to execute a plan is critical to avoid downtime and delays. Being able to efficiently digitally communicate additional work requirements found during a check to customers and obtain their authorization to proceed, with agreement on additional costs, is critical to minimizing overall check time and receiving timely payment without billing disputes.”
“OASES Mobile provides a number of features that MROs can exploit to increase their staff’s efficiency,” said Wood. “Stores personnel can issue material, transfer stock between locations and carry out stock takes. Engineers can search inventory, raise material requests, book time, update works order status and view deferred defects.”
Wood also pointed out two additional useful functions. OASES Web provides a customs tracking feature to ensure compliance with deferral account requirements and there is also a feature for MROs to identify inventory that is not being used.
As impressive as these cloud-based MRO IT systems are, the companies interviewed for this article foresee many more features becoming available in the years to come.
“I predict that there will be many advances that will radically shape the abilities, efficiencies and costing of MROs in future,” said IFS’ Egan. “IoT, AI and predictive maintenance solutions are certainly developments I see trending widely over the next few years, as the aviation industry increasingly relies upon predictive maintenance solutions to not only increase performance and reduce costs, but to better manage risk and enhance safety. Advantages come into play when applied to aircraft availability and engine time on wing, with data-driven decisions set to translate into fewer delays, less unnecessary or unexpected maintenance expenditure and, ultimately, improved ‘Moments of Service’ for airlines and their passengers.”
“The technologies that stand to make the most impact in the MRO IT space will be AI for planning and prediction models, and VR for remote inspections,” Purfurst projected. “This is another reason why having a modern, web-based platform for MRO IT is vital as it will be much easier to integrate with and adopt these new technologies as they advance.”
On a more strategic global level, “the Swiss-AS team of experts is currently focusing on the development of AMOScentral,” said Clements. “With AMOS having one of the largest global reaches within the MRO software world in terms of customers, the AMOScentral concept will allow AMOS customers to connect with one another for data exchange via a cloud-based message broker. By spanning a virtual cloud over all AMOS instances, AMOScentral allows each AMOS customer to individually open its platform to collaborate to the desired extent with other members of the AMOS community and beyond with external parties.”
OASES says its strategy is to move towards fully digital processes where data is shared between systems to provide it everywhere it is needed. They believe OASES Cloud is a key enabler of that vision. “We see an end to paper-driven reporting and processes where web technologies are exploited to present and distribute information, and mobile devices allow users to interact with OASES from wherever they may be physically located,” Wood said. “We are currently finishing off our new Maintenance Control feature in OASES Web. This will integrate fast-moving operational data to provide situational awareness for short-term planners to make the best decisions to allow defects and maintenance to be scheduled efficiently.”
Wood said they are really excited about the next feature they are working on which will be an electronic workcard. “This will provide all the benefits discussed above to the hangar environment, specifically; reduced non-productive time, real-time progress monitoring, integration with materials and procedure data and lots more,” Wood said.
In closing, Ultramain Systems’ Stone said that “for competitive reasons we cannot disclose new capabilities under development, but we can say there are many of them being worked on.”
The Bottom Line
Taken as a whole, cloud-based MRO IT systems offer clear, tangible and cost-effective benefits to the airlines and MROs who use them. As the IT world continues to move more platforms onto the web, the day will likely come when this is not only the preferred way for users to access these services — but the only way.