Printed headline: Beyond Hype
New technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and robotic inspections conjure excitement about potential outcomes they can produce. Heads swirl with creative ideas about possible ways to apply them.
These same technologies, however, cause angst to company leaders who aren’t exactly sure if, or how, to apply them—so they cautiously wait to see how early adopters do it.
There’s also the hype effect. Each year, Gartner identifies emerging technologies that will have the most impact on businesses and places them on a curve to show where they fall in the hype cycle. Its 2018 curve pegs autonomous mobile robots, digital twins and Internet of Things platforms close to the peak of inflated expectations, with blockchain past the peak, and augmented reality in the “trough of disillusionment.” The newest innovations on the curve—on their way up—include flying autonomous vehicles, artificial general intelligence and 4D printing—all of which Gartner forecasts will take more than 10 years to reach their peak.
Blockchain is important to follow, as it has enormous potential for MRO—to show the full nose-to-tail configuration of an aircraft, to streamline lease returns and to make the supply chain system for parts much more efficient—but it also could impose new business models, be very disruptive to distributors and require new technical foundations.
Blockchain requires collaboration, and in this very process-driven industry with complex supply chains, creating shared records—or blocks of records—requires trust. To get there, no entity can do it solely.
This is why companies are looking for partners and trying to build consortiums. One is PwC; it hopes to have its proof of concept with real data available within the next quarter, says Rachel Parker Sealy, a PwC Advisory partner. She says a viable, production-scale solution could be ready within 1-2 years.
The tipping point—when companies are populating the blockchain with nose-to-nail data—could be within 2-3 years, “but that could be me being optimistic,” she says, pointing out that the rate of adoption will hinge on the change-management process, not technology roadblocks.
A related roadblock to change management is data ownership, which is a concern for many in the industry.
Blockchain will require industry buy-in and faith that digital information is secure and available to the right parties. The same holds true for big data platforms, with almost a dozen available to the aviation aftermarket now.
This is part of the reason Lufthansa Technik, which built Aviatar as an open platform for the industry, plans to separate Aviatar into a separate company and attract multiple stakeholders. “I’m pretty sure we won’t be the sole owner 12 months from now,” says Johannes Bussmann, the MRO’s chairman.
“The competition then will become: who does good things with the data—not who has access to it. That is our vision,” he says.
Positive business outcomes are the goal of emerging technologies and big data, but resolving data ownership and data-rights issues will probably be the harder part.