(Note: This article was originally published on April 13, 2022).
A common occurrence that we see here at Scaled Analytics is a Requests For Proposals (RFPs) from larger airlines.
The typical scenario is that they have been using a legacy Flight Data Monitoring software system for some time and they are looking to upgrade. That part makes sense. Flight Data Monitoring systems have grown considerably in capability while the costs to operate them (the modern ones, at least) have gone down.
So, it makes sense for a large airline to look at upgrading their FDM or FOQA system as a way to reduce operating expenses without sacrificing capability.
What does not make sense to me, however, is that many of these airlines are seeking “new” software that must still run on legacy hardware and infrastructure. This is a bit like re-engining your DC-9 fleet. At some point, you’re really going to want to upgrade to A220s, 737s or A320s.
Let me give you a completely fictional example that is representative of some of the requirements we see:
Consider Airline X. They’ve been using the same Flight Data Monitoring software for the last 15 years, but they need to upgrade to a modern solution.
They currently have 10 licenses for their FDM software installed on Windows 10 PCs located at various locations across the country. Their FDM database is installed at their headquarters (HQ) on a database server running Windows Server and some version of SQL Server or Oracle. IT manages the intranet to ensure those 10 remote PCs always have access to the data that sits on the server at HQ.
It is no wonder they are looking to modernize their system. This configuration is expensive!
And I should know. I used to work with enterprise client-server systems for aircraft maintenance as well as Flight Data Monitoring. It’s expensive, complicated and high maintenance. It requires specialized hardware and specialized personnel to keep it up and running.
FDM software, like all software, requires occasional patches and software updates. When it comes time to perform these upgrades, it is a very involved process. You need to update the database and the server side software, then update the 10 desktop licenses and hope it all still works when you’re done. It’s no wonder software updates only come out once or twice per year and they are scheduled over the weekend!
So, it’s no surprise that larger airlines are looking to upgrade their systems in an effort to cut costs. These systems are expensive, even if the software vendors were to give the software away for free (which they don’t!)
But, when I look at some of these technical requirements, I find some airlines asking for the same old system. It still needs to run internally on Windows Server, for example. They still require X amount of software licenses to be installed and supported on Windows PCs that must be accessible through the corporate firewall.
They really are not asking for a “modern” system at all but rather a fresh coat of paint on a legacy system. They want an re-engined DC-9.
There is still some resistance to Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions with larger, older organizations. I do realize that this is not limited just to Flight Data Monitoring systems or to large airlines. Many businesses are still resistant to an SaaS solution.
And that is a shame.
I think SaaS options may have a reputation of costing more than traditional software that you install once and leave it (hopefully). But I think this reputation came from the consumer space. There is no doubt that some companies took advantage of the service model with the sole intention of increasing profits.
But for Flight Data Monitoring of large volumes of data, an SaaS option is the logical technical evolution.
I will not go into a cost comparison here (although I might save that for another blog), but below are some of the concerns that we commonly hear:
SaaS is Expensive
This is probably the most common concern, but if you manage the safety or IT budget at a large airline, do yourself a favour and try to calculate how much your on premises Flight Data Monitoring software is really costing you.
Consider your hardware costs (both initial and upgrades), the IT personnel costs to have someone maintain and update the system (hardware and software), the cost of downtime while these updates take place (or when the software simply fails to work).
Depending on your policies with respect to external data access, you may also want to consider costs related to after-hours analysis support. Do your analysts or IT staff need to physically commute to the office to do specific tasks? If they can connect remotely, do they require a Virtual Private Network (VPN)? If so, what are the costs associated with supporting and maintaining that?
How much more productive would it be (and better for morale) if tasks could easily be accomplished remotely without requiring staff to be onsite?
The true cost of an on-premises FDM software solution is much, much more than just the initial cost of the software and the cost of the annual support fees. A good SaaS system will take care of those headaches for you for a fixed annual or monthly fee.
And there are enough SaaS vendors on the market now that pricing on an SaaS FDM solution will be competitive. The wild west days of SaaS price gouging should be well behind us.
We Want to Own the Software
This one is pretty easy. Unless you developed the software yourself, or had it developed for you (and if so, money is no object for you so you can probably stop reading here), you likely do not own the software you are currently using. It is almost certainly licensed to you by the software vendor. You may have a perpetual license, but you still do not own it.
But what is the advantage of “owning” the software, or even having a perpetual license without some sort of service agreement?
As technologies change, software needs to be updated and new features should be added. Sure, you could keep a Windows NT machine running 20 year old software in the back room, but that is far from a modern solution. Not to mention a significant security risk.
SaaS is not Secure
Which leads me to one of the biggest myths regarding SaaS – it is not secure.
Unfortunately, there is some truth to this one. There are SaaS providers that do not take security seriously and it tarnishes the reputation of others.
However, a reputable SaaS vendor will be able to provide a level of data security that matches or exceeds your requirements. We here at Scaled Analytics use Microsoft Azure for our system architecture and Azure meets some of world’s most stringent security standards.
Be wary of those vendors hosting data themselves, but a reputable provider will take data security as seriously as you do.
That does not mean that it is without any risk – it’s not. But if security is the only thing holding you back, it is certainly worth revisiting.
So, if you are with a large airline and you are looking to upgrade your Flight Data Monitoring system, before reaching out to any vendors, it might be worth taking a broader look at your requirements and consider how a truly modern FDM solution can help you reduce your costs while increasing your capabilities.
A reputable vendor will work with you and your IT team to discuss and review any concerns that you have, but you may surprised to see how much it can save you and how much more efficiently your team can get their jobs done.
Finally, for the aviation buffs out there, the DC-9 was (and still is) a great airplane. I’m not trying to disrespect a great airplane but rather point out that there comes a time when we need to move onward and upward!
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