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Scalable Crew Management System Supports Rapid Expansion of Low ...
Scalable Crew Management System Supports Rapid Expansion of Low Cost Carriers by Jim Kenneally, Senior Consultant, Constraint Technologies International. Presented at the AGIFORS Airline Operations 2008 conference in Paris in August 2008 What is Scalable & Flexible? When we talk about "scalable and flexible" what do we really mean? In this case we are saying the system is able to meet the needs for airlines of any tier, whether they can justify it as a business case or otherwise. The ability to meet the changing circumstances without need for major code changes e.g. when new bases are opened, fleet acquisitions, staff, expanded routes (and the reverse) A powerful rule base that allows multiple and varied scenarios to be generated, without the need for changes to the underlying code. The ability, if desired, to control the rulebase in house. If not then changes can still be made easily and readily by the vendor. Different rule sets for "What-Ifs" that have no impact on operational or production runs. 1 The Problem The Problem Many Low Cost Carriers are facing the challenge of rapid expansion and increasing complexity of their operations. For example, international services and overseas crew bases are added to existing domestic operations. These challenges are immense for those people within the airline entrusted with making all facets of the change happen. In the case of crew management, existing systems - installed when the operation was small and simple, are often unscalable and unable to support complex operations. Airlines confronted with this rapid expansion often have two competing objectives with regard to crew management. They want a system that can cope with future complexity and expansion, without the capital cost and timescale traditionally associated with large Airline crew management systems. 2 The Solution Supplier The Solution Supplier Working in close partnership, IBS (previously referred to as Avient Solutions) and Constraint Technologies International (CTI) are able to supply the full suite of software applications to address the problems encountered by airlines moving from the small domestic style operation, to a fully blown mix of international, domestic and regional operations. IBS provides the premier Real Time Tracking component whilst CTI is responsible for the supply of the optimisation techniques and algorithms utilised in the generation of pairings and roster construction as well as Analysis tools. The offerings from IBS and CTI are fully integrated, covering the full gamut of requirements for any airline. There is not the need for each party to be involved in time consuming integration each and every time a customer installation is required. For each project undertaken by the IBS/CTI partnership a "Single Prime Contractor" is nominated. Generally this role has been filled by IBS. So whilst having the beauty of 2 suppliers looking after a client's needs they're dealing with a single solution provider. 3 The Challenges The Challenges The challenges for any operator moving from a nice stable operation to new dynamic ever changing environment can be, and generally are, daunting. The rapidity of the expansion is fraught with danger if processes currently entrenched in an organisation are not reviewed and changed. In order to meet this rapid growth, flexible systems must be available to the Airline. In the case where little or no computerisation has been utilised by the Airline, then this in itself is another hurdle to face and overcome. This stresses the need for systems to be flexible and scalable so each situation can be met with the same confidence. As the planned expansion is rapid it is essential that the implementation and installation of the chosen application is also speedy so the gains made in expanding are not lost due to inadequate tools for the operators to utilise. 4 Understanding the Challenges Understanding the Challenges It is important that all involved, in particular at the initial stages of the exercise, are aware that the challenges to be met will take effort. Without this appreciation a project like this has "doomed to fail" written all over it. The recognition, firstly and most importantly from the airline's perspective, is that there is need for improvement internally to get the job done. The outcomes are too important not to be thinking along these lines. This follows that once embarking on the expansion route it cannot be done without flexible and scalable software. The requirements along the way change as circumstances change, e.g. new routes, new aircraft types are introduced. These changes will, and do, impact more than the Flight Operations areas and they must also be considered. Once again the need for software that can cope with all the rapid changes is imperative. So it is important to accept that Software is the way to solve and overcome the challenges 5 The Role of the Airline The Role of the Airline A strategic decision to recognise, throughout all areas within the airline, the value of good flexible software is the first step. Once the strategic decision has been made, the next step is to ensure the changes coming though the expansion, changes to process and available applications are embraced throughout the company. From the outset a clear defined approach to the future operations is needed. This allows the setting of the business and company rules to apply and the plan to educate all operators in the path ahead. This education should be done, in some of the facets of the project with the assistance and guidance of the supplier. In particular the workings of computerised applications, and what they provide - not to be confused with the training of staff on the operation of the new applications. This will also lead to, not only understanding of the acceptance criteria, but provides the means by which to formulate these criteria clearly and early. The earlier this is achieved the better the project can be managed from both airline and vendor perspective. This is a joint exercise whereby the parties come together along the route. Providing staff that have the required and proven expertise to be able to work with the vendor in stipulating, understanding and implementing the required rules and operational approach. Too often the wrong people are assigned to participate in this role to the detriment of the project. Over inflated egos are not recommended in projects such as this. Create an environment for the project where innovation is welcomed and in fact encouraged. As we all know the more an individual has involvement in something, the greater interest and motivation they have. However innovation has to have some limits and needs to be balanced as too much can also derail some areas of a project. 6 The Role of the Vendor The Role of the Vendor Coupled with one of the airline's roles, the provision of expert staff, the vendor must also provide people of suitable expertise. Any deviation from the availability of crucial staff, from either side, will hamper the project. Clear concise documenting of what the customer requires and what the vendor is going to deliver. At the initial stage this should be targeted to all involved in the project - not just developers, crew planners but all. The interaction at this stage between airline and vendor will result in the vendor obtaining an excellent understanding of the current practices of the airline, how they will fit into the new world the airline is moving towards, the aims of the airline as well as creating a rapport between themselves and the customers knowledge bank. Following on from this is the important task to make sure the customer's staff, in particular those without previous experience in the operation of computerised systems, are put at ease and made comfortable with the whole process. None should be allowed to feel threatened as this is a sure way to undermine all previous good work. Vendors should, if possible and practical, attempt to provide In Country support. This is certainly a big plus during any teething stage for a customer. No matter how well you think you have everything covered off, something is bound to crop up that needs resolving swiftly. 7 Working together Working together Without doubt one of the most important aspects of any project is the ability and necessity for all parties to work together. Important decisions need to be made jointly with each party understanding the impact it will have on the end result. Too often decisions are made without full consultation when required. This is not meant to stifle or delay progress or development but refers to those areas where a wrong interpretation can have a major effect. 8 Pitfalls Pitfalls Assuming too much. We have all seen this happen along the way and suffered the consequences. The right intention but the wrong execution can easily lead the project into dark waters. If unsure seek clarification. This also gets back to ensuring all parties are aware of what is to be delivered. At times, people become comfortable with communicating with a chosen few. It is vital that the correct "font of knowledge" is always used when seeking out information. This is seemingly a minor issue but it can have far reaching ramifications for the project. "Doing it my way" is one of the most dangerous things in any project. When someone decides they know better than everyone else and embarks down a path they might believe is going to be better overall, troubles more often than not occur. This gets back to the basic rule of keeping everyone informed and managing the project. Too often the expectation is to have a new application to exactly follow the current practices of the client. Given we are involved with major changes to operations this is not always a sensible course to follow. The new world for the Airline can be vastly different from the one they currently know and love. The other side of the coin tailoring the operation to the software can also present issues. There has to be a balance between both ends with both parties being open and accepting of what is best for this project and the continued expansion plans. A habit that creeps in as a project moves along is the falling off of benchmarking at the various stages. Generally everyone is "gung ho" at the start and ensures the benchmarking is done. However this, at times, falls off in regularity. Benchmarking will certainly help keep the project on track and on time as it highlights potential problems earlier than if no benchmarking was done. 9 Recent Project Success Recent Project Success Implementation at Jet Airways Whilst Jet Airways is not a low cost carrier it most certainly fits into the category of rapidly expanding airline. Jet Airways contributed to the successful accomplishment of this project due to their acceptance and acknowledgement that the introduction of new sophisticated software was essential. The inability of the software Jet employed at the time to meet the demands of the increased staff numbers and complexity of the new operation was quickly and surely recognised by Jet Airways. This was a crucial aspect contributing to the overall success of the installation. 10 Catalyst Catalyst The decision to actively expand from a mainly domestic operator to a fully fledged international operator left Jet Airways with the task of providing the necessary support functions to ensure the operation was not going to suffer as a result of having inadequate systems and applications. As part of the expansion program, consideration was given to taking an existing airline under their wing. This did eventuate and has been one of the catalysts in Jet Airways reviewing their needs. One of the important areas immediately focused on by Jet Airways was the management of the crew, which would increase markedly during the expansion. Intake courses, training associated with the rapid course intake and importantly, as the fleet acquisition would be swift, the accurate tracking of crew duty limitations was considered essential to succeeding in the forceful expansion plan. As previously mentioned, a full understanding of the limitations of the current systems and the need for work practices to be changed to guarantee success, was accepted and pursued from an early stage. 11 Jet's Understanding of the Challenges Jet's Understanding of the Challenges Jet Airways' obvious acceptance of the need to move forward with a flexible, scalable application could be described as a cornerstone of Jet's achievement in succeeding with the expansion. Once this decision was made, the next challenge was to source potential providers of software to meet the expansion needs. Jet applied simple but proven logic in looking at the type of airline they intend to become e.g. an established major airline and an airline that was undergoing or had just recently undergone a major expansion. Jet made numerous visits to various airlines. In the final wash the two that stood out were Cathay and Emirates. The supplier of the premier tracking system, IBS is the incumbent at both airlines. IBS's partnership with CTI in the provision of the necessary optimisation tools made the group a potential candidate for the supply of the crew management system. 12 Before and Now comparison Before and Now comparison To gain an idea of the change at Jet Airways and fully understand the obvious need for the introduction of a computerised system one only has to consider the following. It must be remembered that Jet has 13 Pre Contract been on a constant ramp up and believe they couldn't have coped properly without the addition of the systems. At the time of commencing the search for a vendor, Jet was operating 54 aircraft in total of which only 4 were wide body and 50 narrow body comprising 737s and ATR's, mostly concentrating on domestic or basically regional services. Today Jet operates 85 aircraft, 20 Wide body B777 and A330's along with 65 narrow body aircraft. Whilst this is, on paper, just over 50% increase in aircraft units, it is a fourfold increase in the wide body fleet. The increase in the number of aircraft is also reflected in the crew currently operating Jet's routes. Cabin crew number are now well over 3000 as compared with the previous strength of just over 1000 prior to the expansion getting into full swing. Tech crew has also seen a rapid increase from over 300 to in excess of 500 now. A final indication of not only the success of the expansion but the real need for Jet to change process and introduce new systems is the increase in operating sectors from approximately 9000 per month to now 12500 on a monthly basis. These figures are also a strong indication that the simple small airline system would not be able to cope. Pre Contract Jet followed the accepted procedure of not believing all they were told but insisted on seeing the actual wares of the potential vendors. Benchmarks on the various modules were conducted; KPI's were determined and closely adhered to by Jet. Any claims made by vendors were scrutinised and proven throughout the process. The benchmarking exercise set the expectations as to the results anticipated and savings expected in time and costs once the system was deployed. 14 The Selection The Selection After Jet's vigorous due diligence, the IBS/CTI partnership was chosen to provide the crew management system to enable Jet to succeed in the expansion. Jet Airways Approach Jet was extremely active in involving staff from all quarters as they readily identified the need for all to be on board. There was a distinct commitment by Jet to being proactive throughout the entire project whilst ensuring they were managing the expectations of their staff as well as the successful vendor. This commitment was clearly evident in the area of providing IBS/CTI with a good appreciation of the rules and their application for the business. This was an important piece of the process leading up to the successful installation and going live. Jet management took time to make certain all staff were fully briefed of all progress and as such stifled any potential misgivings on their staff's part. This still exists today. Lastly, but just as important, is the continued communication Jet and IBS/CTI have developed over time. 15 IBS & CTI's Approach IBS & CTI's Approach Naturally one of the first tasks was for IBS/CTI to meet with Jet as a combined unit thus ensuring all parties were well aware of what was required and expected. Plans for the implementation, with milestones, were regularly communicated between all parties. A candid approach in detailing and communicating the state of the project and all issues surrounding it was a priority in the eyes of IBS/CTI. This was seen to be achieved. With the advantage of having all modules integrated, parallel development by IBS and CTI was able to be easily done. The ability to effectively have two companies working on the one project proved a great boon for both Jet and IBS/CTI. However, this would not have been such an advantage if both IBS and CTI did not follow the principles of close liaison in such circumstances. Needless to say this happened as a matter of course. This obviously highlights the great need for all parties involved in this project to adhere to this important and necessary regime. 16 Installation Highlights Installation Highlights The signing of the contract in May 2006 saw the teams getting ready for action. This action commenced June 06. An aggressive time frame was involved as Jet, understanding the ramifications and costs of prolonging the use of an outmoded system in respect to the new operation, were seeking the benefits as early as possible. The time line asked for the Rostering and Tracking components to go live in July 2007. Tracking and Rostering went live in July 2007, 13 months after project start. Conclusion The above paints a glossy picture of the successful working together of Jet Airways, IBS and CTI. And so it should, as it was just that. However, the project was not without its trials and tribulations, anyone who purports to have done a hassle free implementation of this nature, is probably not being honest. However, the fact that the applications were installed and operating within the 13 months is the essential point. Given this experience should other airlines wish to join the fold, please contact either IBS or CTI directly. 17
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