Finnair starts digital transformation with IBM/Apple maintenance apps

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In any airline, the opportunities for business improvement using new digital tools are numerous — larger, indeed, than the development pipeline for creating and managing this kind of change. At Finnair, chief digital officer Katri Harra-Salonen tells Runway Girl Network that, after analysing the business, Finnair decided to start with a complementary pair of maintenance apps from IBM and Apple.

The Inspect & Turn app focuses on in-service maintenance, with analytics-driven recommendations creating and completing work assignments through digital task cards and documentation. The Assign Tech app gives maintenance supervisors overviews of flight schedules, maintenance processes and mechanic resources, using analytics again to recommend shift assignments based on mechanic certifications and skills.

Inspect & Turn helps supervisors assign work on specific aircraft to specific mechanics (in this case Atte Luomala), with fully shared and updated information. Image: Finnair

When it came to designing the use case for these apps, “we were looking at all of our functions from the user perspective — so from the employee perspective,” Harra-Salonen says. “You start really from the user design perspective: what should we do differently in the future? Where do we find the pain points? Where do we find the opportunities to do kind of substantial improvements?”

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“The baseline and the thinking really comes from delighting the user in the way of changing the process and of course combining the user thinking and then the process thinking methodologies. That’s what we did for many of the target groups” within the Finnair business Harra-Salonen says. “And this is one of the target groups where we then quite soon could start with the implementation of the project. This is the very first one where we actually then could start to design and design the processes and the service itself and find the right partners to start working on it.”

Finnair decided to go with an enterprise partnership solution from IBM and Apple, which have been working closely together on getting more iOS devices into larger businesses as professional tools.

“We did review different alternatives,” Harra-Salonen says. “We were also looking into local alternatives when it comes to service design and different vendors. We ended up with this being the right alternative for us. We have been very satisfied with the way things have proceeded.”

Flexibility is key for Finnair in the future, as is the ability to learn iteratively from the process of creating and rolling out this kind of business change application. “This is not the only alternative for the future either,” Harra-Salonen notes. “We are going to come out with many applications also in the near future. But they are not necessarily all based on this cooperation. But so far we have been satisfied. The ones that have been in the pipeline and some that are in the pipeline are in fact based on the same kind of composition. So there is great design talent and then there is also the implementation talent in the team. And that’s what we need.”

Accurate, live management information is a huge benefit of digitalisation. Image: John Walton

That kind of expertise is key to a successful development, rollout and in-service updating of this kind of new technology, which became clear when Lead Engineer Pirkko Salomaa demonstrated the apps to RGN in Finnair’s Helsinki maintenance hangar. In addition to some expected friction for early adoption among engineers, the app’s work classification categories turned out to be different on the ground than when the app was created. In essence, the large number of seat, lavatory, galley and other cabin-related problems with the Airbus A350 means that the work tasks for these aircraft have an unusually high number of items in the “Other” category, rather than airframe, propulsion, avionics, and so on.

Engineers like Pirkko Salomaa appreciate the clear, updated and direct information about their work. Image: John Walton

When it comes to digitalising an airline’s operations, therefore, “what is very important is that we see both sides of the story,” Harra-Salonen says. “In a big group of people, we need to take care of people. When we come out with something new as a tool for work, we need to take care of the training and the change management — and this part is really, really essential.”

“I had exciting talks at Slush last year,” Harra-Salonen explains, referencing one of Europe’s largest startup technology events, “when some of the mechanics were participating, and really it’s so inspirational when you meet people who really are doing things differently and trying out and learning — and, well, it’s been a really positive experience.”

“From that perspective, I don’t think that we’ve had big surprises. We were expecting that it could be a little difficult for some of the users and it would be delighting a big group of people. What is important also, from our perspective, is that this is of course one major tool for our mechanics, but then on top of that when we now have the platform in hands,” Harra-Salonen explains — reiterating as she does that this is just the first of many similar applications for Finnair.

Keeping aircraft in the air — and not in the hangar — is the name of the game. Image: John Walton

John Walton was a guest of Finnair in Helsinki.

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