Rolls-Royce and Microsoft: transforming the aerospace industry-Oliver Pickup

A tablet computer showing a variety of data being held in the cockpit of an aeroplane.

A partnership between Rolls-Royce and Microsoft is taking flight and promises to harness the power of digital technology in order to transform the way the aerospace industry uses big data and analytics.

The pioneering collaboration – publicly announced in mid-July – between the two giants from very different sectors, as well as Singapore Airlines (one of Rolls-Royce’s leading airline partners), brings together best-in-class solutions for aerospace engineering and cloud computing.

This new digital capability, built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, can manage and integrate much broader quantities of airline operational data and uses a range of smart data analysis and predictive tools.

The results will revolutionise engine-related operations and services, help airlines reduce fuel usage, fly routes more efficiently, and ensure the right teams and equipment are in place to service engines more quickly, according to Richard Goodhead, senior vice president of marketing at Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace.

“Fundamentally, it is a way to engage our respective skill sets on a vision of getting the correct people, parts and processes all in the right place at the right time,” says Mr Goodhead, who has been at Rolls-Royce for 26 years, even before he completed his engineering masters at Cambridge University. “It’s like when you pull back the curtain in The Wizard of Oz: there is a lot going on there. But actually, the best result for the passenger is never knowing what is happening.”

Why is this partnership important now, though? “What has changed over the last two years or so is the increased connectivity of the world and the ability to not only gather data on an individual basis but gather it in a kind of holistic, ecosystem-type basis,” he continues. “To do that you need the computing power to just handle and manipulate that enormous amount of data, as well as do it on a single engine-by-engine perspective.

“Our approach in that regard has been we don’t want to try and reinvent any of the big tech out there, the cloud computing capabilities; our route is to collaborate with industry leaders, such as Microsoft.

“We add to that our understanding of the engines and the algorithms and act upon that data to give us actionable insight. And we use Microsoft’s cloud computing and rich-data analytics capability to give us the platform.”

Mr Goodhead believes that combining forces with tech behemoths Microsoft – rather than looking for in-house solutions – will set the tone for the future of his company, and the industry as a whole, and adds: “You can think of this as moving from a world where we’re managing the illness of the fleet to nurturing its health, and there’s a subtle change. Rather than just doing a very good job of minimising the maintenance disruption of an engine throughout its life for an airline, we’re now able to manage the outcomes such that what we’re actually driving towards is increased on-time performance and increased the availability of assets.

“If you think about it from an airline’s point of view, they’re only making money when that asset, their aeroplane, is flying; it’s not making money on the ground. So if we’re able to increase that availability, drive on-time performance, and keep the passenger happy, by getting them to their destination as per the schedule, every time, then this is a great partnership.”

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