(Note: This article was originally published on November 16, 2020).
If you are considering starting or upgrading a Flight Data Monitoring or FOQA program, you have two main options.
You can choose the more traditional route of purchasing software, installing it on computer hardware in your office and operating the software yourself. This is sometimes referred to as an “in-house” or “on premises” model. This is what larger aircraft operators have done for many years.
Or, you can outsource your Flight Data Monitoring activities to a third-party. This is typically referred to as an FDM “Service” model. With a service model, your flight data is sent to a vendor where it is then processed and analyzed by the service provider’s staff. You can obtain the results of your data analysis through a live website and/or prepared reports.
There is also a third option offered by a very small number of vendors in which traditional software is installed at your facilities but it is managed remotely by the vendor’s staff. This, in our opinion, is not a very practical model, though, and is more of a “stop-gap” between the two main models.
If you are considering either the in-house or service model, it is important to understand the pros and cons of both. Scaled Analytics is pleased to be one of the few FDM software companies that is able to offer both options, so we are in a good position to provide a non-biased review of each system to help you decide which option is best for you.
When trying to decide between FDM service and software, you should consider three main factors:
- Your Organization’s Expertise Level and Expectations
- Data Location
Budget and system cost are typically high on the list of considerations when looking for an FDM program. Because a third-party service is normally priced annually or monthly, while in-house software is typically purchased only once, it’s easy to immediately conclude that a service model is more expensive than purchasing software and just running it yourself.
But the cost of the software is just one budget line item in the entire program. With a third-party service model, you ONLY pay the service fees. There are normally no other hidden fees (while some vendors will charge additional pay-per-use fees, Scaled Analytics’ service fees are all-inclusive).
When considering the true cost of your FDM program, you need to factor in the following:
- Staff: Will you need to hire personnel to manage and run your program or is this something an existing staff member/team can do?
- IT Support: Does your IT staff have the capacity to manage a new system that may require desktops and a database server?
- Computer Hardware: Do you have existing hardware that can be used, or do you need to purchase new hardware? How often will it need to be replaced/upgraded?
- Training: What level of training is required for staff? Where is the training held and what is the cost? How long will staff be unavailable while taking training? Do IT staff need training as well?
- Software Updates: Are software updates included in the price? What are the annual support fees? Who does the updates and how long will the system be down during those updates?
- Backup and Restore: How will data backup be managed? Will there be offsite backup?
The only way to know for certain which model will be more cost-effective for you is to do a cost analysis; however, in general, smaller operators will spend less on a third-party service than they would if they ran an in-house program.
For larger operators, it’s less black-and-white. It used to be that an in-house program made more financial sense for larger operators, but a service model may be the best approach, even for large airlines with analysts on staff. Doing so could free up your analysts to focus on more complex analysis activities.
If you need some help determining which model would make more financial sense for you, send us an email and we’ll be happy to assist.
Expertise Level and Expectations
Your and your organization’s level of expertise and experience in FDM or FOQA will also have an impact on what option may be best for your organization.
If you are part of a large airline that has been running an FDM program for decades, you likely already have a staff of experienced Flight Data Analysts, Statisticians and Safety Data professionals. If that’s the case, it may make more sense to stay with an in-house software program, but perhaps update your existing technology to a more modern software system. This will help you reduce operational and infrastructure costs while also allowing you to benefiting from some of the new technologies available. This is not unlike upgrading your aircraft fleet to something more modern to reduce operating costs.
If, however, you are a smaller operator, or you are a start-up operator, a service model will typically make more sense. The service provider will have the FDM and FOQA expertise to assist you in understanding the data, while you would still ultimately make safety related decisions.
As you grow in fleet size and/or level of expertise, you can decide to switch to an in-house software model then.
Having a long-term plan will help in selecting a software or service provider that will allow you to grow without having to go through the time consuming and cumbersome process of migrating to a new technology.
Finally, keep your expectations reasonable. If you are a smaller operator, it is unlikely that you are going to require complex and in-depth analysis of terabytes of flight, scheduling and maintenance data, so a service model may serve you well – at least for the first few years.
But, if you do plan to undertake complex analysis across data from multiple parts of your organization, an in-house model will most likely be better for you. This isn’t to say that a reputable service provider would not be able to complete such analysis – it’s just that the cost would likely be prohibitive compared to doing it yourself.
Finally, the last (and probably the easiest) decision to make is one of data location. With a third-party service, there is no way around the fact that your data will be stored somewhere offsite. In today’s connected world, this is becoming much more common (is your company financial data stored exclusively on-site?). But it is still a legitimate concern for some operators; especially those that may have sensitive and classified data such as militaries and defense contractors.
This is a relatively easy question to answer, though. If you cannot store flight data off your organizational premises, then your only option is for a traditional in-house system. It is possible to operate cloud-based software completely on-premises within your intranet, but the hardware cost is typically out of reach – or at least excessive. This option would likely only be viable for large government/military organizations or defense contractors.
If data location isn’t a concern, then pick what’s best for you based on the earlier criteria.
As software technology improves, so do the options for running a successful FDM/FOQA program, with the costs continually becoming more affordable. If you are contemplating setting up an FDM program within your organization, you should consider both in-house and third-party service options to decide which is best for you.
At Scaled Analytics, we are pleased to be able to offer both options. We also make it simple for you to start with one model and switch to another at any time.
If you need help deciding which model may be best for you, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have, at no obligation.
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