Accomplishing Innovation – Equipping our FSRs with Leading-Edge Technology
Each year, Textron’s Vice President & Chief Information Officer Diane Schwarz presents the Information Technology (IT) Innovation Award to one of Textron’s ten business units. This award recognizes a team that goes the extra mile to advance the business with new technology solutions. For the second year in a row, a team from Textron Systems received this prestigious award.
Textron Systems IT team members John Barber, Andrew Craven, Steven Lister, Michael McGinn and Kristine Otto were recognized for their work on the Aerodeptus mobile platform. Conceptualized, initiated and founded by Joshua Tate, this custom developed application digitizes a key process by allowing field service technicians to read field manuals, view videos, track flight hours, read mission details, understand risk information, and view vehicle performance analytics, all in a secure way in extremely remote locations around the world. This partnership between the program and the IT team has both benefitted the business and become a selling point for its unmanned aircraft systems.
Can you describe the IT Innovation Award for those who may have never heard of it?
John: Within Textron there are a lot of different business units. We have a council of CIOs from those different businesses that take nominations for the award. The IT Innovation Award looks for a project that didn’t just innovate ideas and technologies, but also advanced the business and the products we create.
What does winning the IT Innovation Award mean to you?
John: I’m honored, but also really humbled by how many other innovative projects there were. We had a chance to see what’s going on at other business units, and they are doing some really awesome things. I think the reason we won was because this project really advanced the business. It speaks to our strategic IT priorities.
Steve: Winning the award was very unexpected and humbling. We got to go down to Texas and see what everyone else was working on. There were a lot of great projects. Winning was very rewarding and a challenge at the same time. It lit a fire in us, and brought a lot of visibility to the project both internally and externally.
What was your role in the project and how did you get involved?
John: It was a stretch assignment. Leadership asked if I could take on the IT project manager role. It was a different team than I had ever been exposed to; the custom application development team. I gladly took on the opportunity to see a new area of IT.
Steve: My role started about a year ago. Before that, I was a Field Service Representative and a user of the product. My predecessor got deployed and I was incredibly vocal about the product. I was the project manager from the business side of things. I worked with John to better understand and deliver technical requirements while providing insight from an FSR perspective.
What was the most difficult obstacle you faced during this project?
John: The most difficult obstacle was simply the amount of learning that needed to happen. We spent a lot of time knowing what we needed to do. We had a good vision, but executing and getting people to develop skills in mobile application development was extremely difficult. We had some early career professionals who stepped up to learn new things like Mobile iOS.
Steve: The biggest challenge was the number of people on the project. The original concept and idea came before me. We lost a lot of expertise and development that went along with some of the turnover we had. This resource constraint was the most difficult part, and when we did get more people there was a steep learning curve.
What possible stepping stones does this provide to future goals and objectives?
John: This assignment was our first project where we completed custom mobile application development. Custom website design and internal apps have all been done by our IT teams before, but this was first time natively doing things in iOS or mobile platforms. This project gives us the opportunity to do more on mobile devices as we move towards a mobile-centric approach.
Steve: FSRs are supplied a laptop but really only use it for a few things. The ultimate future goal would be eliminating the need for a laptop completely and replacing it with our mobile devices. That would bring huge cost savings while also integrating things further with our logistics system and just making common practices more intuitive for our customers.
Can you describe your collaboration with the Flight Operations program team and how you worked together to develop the final outcome?
John: We had some former FSRs on our project team. We had the opportunity to visit Blackstone, Virginia and watch the training operations to see all the paper documents they use from launch to recovery. Seeing everyone that gets touched by that process really helped us develop the final product.
Can you describe your collaboration with the IT team to develop the final outcome?
Steve: Being from the business side of things, I would come up with ideas based on our customers and bring them to the IT team. We had a lot of open communication and John helped me understand what was possible from a technical perspective.
What benefits does this bring to the business and our customers? What do you see being the most important improvement?
John: Having a mobile platform makes a huge difference. Being able to track all our information and measure the analytics we capture in comparison to flight telemetry data is a game changer. It helps us move toward being predictive rather than reactive in our system performance as we gather more and more data.
Steve: It’s a huge time saver and improves the accuracy of our information. It takes the math out of the hands of the operator and automates it.
How does this keep our FSRs safer and better informed?
John: FSRs often feel disconnected from our Hunt Valley operations. They are sometimes at a small site working strange hours. This platform gives them the feeling of being more connected since they don’t have to jump onto a laptop, VPN in and jump through hoops to get the information they need.
Steve: It provides them with real time updates. As soon as an engineering change is made I can push it to the field and we can track who has read it. It takes all ambiguity out of the equation.
What lessons did you learn from working on this project and what perspective did it give you?
Steve: The main lesson I learned was how important beta testing and feedback is. Keeping our customers in the loop and involved early is essential.
John: It gave me the perspective of what the experience is like for an FSR. We learned a lot about how disconnected they can be in the field and the major constraints of working offline. They need to be able to access all of this information without a stable connection. This wasn’t an IT idea. This was born from the vision of our FSRs. They developed the vision and through our partnership we were able to accomplish innovation.