In April defence industry experts and asset managers alike gathered in Boston for the annual IFS World conference. Most were there to find out about the latest developments in asset management and compliance software technologies, including IFS's new Applications 9 software. IFS's latest upgrade is designed to provide increased agility, ease of use and has in-built real time data analysis, as well as increased speed due to in-memory database technology. We spoke to the company's head of product and sales support Brendan Viggers to find out more.
Heidi Vella-Starr: What do you see as the major challenges currently facing aerospace and defence?
Brendan Viggers: Keeping up with the market requirements; mobility is a huge growth area at the moment. If you look at aviation, they want to now be able to take the IT systems on to the plane. As an air passenger or customer you can check in online and get all your information about your flight on a mobile device. Maintenance repair & overhaul organisations want to be able to do the same.
So if they have a plane that is grounded on the line due to a fault, they want to be able to give the maintenance engineer or technician the right tools, which include the IT to go and fix that fault.
For us, that creates all sorts of issues around IT, for example there is not always access to the internet when working in remote areas so how do we go offline and get that data back? It does bring us huge opportunities because if you are working on electronic devices the data quality is always going to be better than shifting pieces of paper around, so there are huge gains to be made if you can make it work. It's one of our challenges to try and do that.
HVS: How does IFS, and in particular the new IFS Applications 9 upgrade, help aerospace and defence companies improve efficiency and decrease costs?
BV: We have a desktop application which is very intuitive. IFS Applications 9 has all the applications in one place to help you do your job. It connects you to your HR system and your finance system all in one place. Being able to go through one thread in one system is going to create efficiencies.
The second one is mobile applications, where you have got set specific tasks to do. If we can give that task to the end user in a single process, so they're not confused by everything else around them. All they need is the piece of information with the right document and training manual that goes with it, or the operating procedures on how to fix that task, all on a device; that results in huge time efficiency gains because, as a user, I am not being over-burdened with IT that I do not require. I've just got to do exactly what is presented to me on my mobile application and I am supported with all the necessary documentation.
HVS: In terms of using cloud and mobile devices, are there any cyber security problems you have to take into consideration?
BV: The IFS cloud, which is what we use for our mobile apps, can either be on premise - and therefore private to you and very secure - or you can have it public, so if you want to be out anywhere and use the public domain to send data through you can do it that way.
Giles Peeters, Track24 Defence sector director explains why we need to be prepared.
What people are looking towards is the hybrid cloud - where you have a single cloud but it can talk to the public internet but also can keep your internal data secure and on premise as well. This is certainly where that industry has got to go. For example, you might have some export control data and you don't want that going out into the domain, you'd get into trouble. We think about that and we support customers in terms of keeping that data internal and in their database and not allowing other people to see.
HVS: Are apps and wearable technologies being taken up more in defence and aerospace?
BV: Not so much in defence and part of that reason is the connectivity. To use a wearable device you would need to be connected through the device to the phone which needs to be connected with the devices. But in aviation we have now seen some airlines testing devices like Google Glass to help give them an augmented reality capabilities so they can look at a panel and that panel is removed through the augmented reality and they can then see how to repair that with a video in terms of what they need to do next. We are starting to see some of that now.
We are working with a company called XM Reality, here in IFS; they use tablet devices to present an augmented reality of an expert's hands. So if I am the technician going to the asset, through goggles or the device itself, I can have an expert show me what I need to do. It has fantastic capabilities and is designed to work in very low bandwidth areas - it would work through a sim card on a phone through 3G and you can actually get live feed from a technician anywhere in the world to where that asset is.
HVS: Which markets are growing for IFS?
BV: For us it's the service side of it now; so where manufacturers like GE are now selling their engine to Airbus, but then offering a service to maintain that. These guys need the software to support their manufacturing, and also software to determine how they are going to service it and look after it. So we are looking much more into contracting for availability, a service level agreement with the customer saying you will have that engine for an agreed availability on a monthly basis. We have that with defence as well and performance-based logistics is something we definitely need to be able to support.
HVS: Which countries do you see as emerging markets in the defence industry?
BV: We have just moved into Asia Pacific. We have just done our first defence deal with the Royal Thai Air Force. It is something we try and look at. Being a centre of excellence, our model is to work with the local officers out there, so we have a local office in that region. We try and give them the collateral and look to see if they are the deals we can go for together, with the office. And that is one thing the centre of excellence has done, is found that deal with the Thai office, but it is early days.
HVS: The global defence industry is constantly evolving - how can IFS help companies anticipate what is coming next and evolve accordingly?
BV: You saw the word agility come up in the session earlier, and I think that is what we have had to do - make sure our product is agile. So, we took the decision a long time ago to be an integrated component-based set of modules as opposed to a set of various systems. We have one application where you can select one module, the entire suite or a mix of those depending on your business. The beauty of that means you can be agile and if you want to change your business model you can pull in the right bits.
HVS: Does that mean there is more standardisation?
BV: Yep, standard product configuration and customisation, we have really tried to grow that standard core product over the last few years to offer a lot more out-the-box processes for industry - any asset-intensive industry, be it oil and gas, mining or aerospace and defence.
HVS: IFS offers solutions for compliance - how do they help companies be more compliant?
BV: A good example might be that in the product there are authorisation rules throughout all purchasing processes which you can build up in the product as standard. So, for example, I've got a purchase order and it's above a certain value, some one has to go in and authorise that before it can become released - that is one way of doing it.
Some organisations need to have a three-step process for due diligence and you can build that in - you can have 10 steps if you want. So you have always got one person removed from the process and that is kind of standard throughout it.
Then we also have full controls at the top level, full compliance; we can do audits and you can attach an audit to any object you like in IFS, for example, if you wanted to audit a buyer based on a pattern. So if a buyer has done ten orders you can have an audit kick off so a manager can go in and quickly check those orders are satisfactory. So if you have been accused of anything you have the chain - the authorisation steps in place and do it that way. And the full history is always in the database.