Norm Baker joined Airbus senior vice president of digital solutions about a year ago from GE Aviation Czech where he was president, and before that, president and CEO of Taleris, a joint venture between GE and Accenture. Baker, an A&P, commercial pilot and Six Sigma Black Belt, talks about how he quickly led Airbus’ digital solutions from developing products to developing capabilities—and its impact.

You’ve been transforming Airbus’ digital operation in the past year, including making it more Agile. How are you doing that?

 

It’s a series of cultural transformations as well as technical transformation. In a nutshell, it’s shifting the way of working from being project oriented, by product, to more of a continuous development process, and embodying Agile principles around co-creation with our customers from start to finish. This is opposed to beginning with requirements and finishing with user acceptance testing. The new practice is a very concise way to involve the customer through the co-creation process and focus our teams on developing actual value along the stream, which they measure and demonstrate every two weeks in the cycle—not every 18-24 months.

Airbus opened a new Skywise center. What makes it unique and why should customers care?

They should care because it creates an environment where not only our employees and partners understand the co-creation mode and the Agile methodologies around development, but it also creates an environment where they can be heard. Their ideas can come to life very quickly. They can come in and say, ‘I have this pain point, what can you do?’ Our people can say, ‘We have these capabilities and features in our assets library. If we put those together, this is what we could do.’ They say, ‘I didn’t even know we could get that.’ It’s an environment that fosters innovation and co-creation with our customers, and an ability to share in a very rapid way. The floor plan enables employees to work fast, scale quickly and cut out the waste—to be autonomous in that arena.

Speaking of creating value for customers, are there metrics you can share?

In some cases, we can see more than a 50% improvement but in other cases, it’s 10-15%. It depends on the solution you’re doing and the area of operation. For a specific example, we recently had customers tell us that the time it used to take to analyze their safety and reliability reports was more than a week. Today it’s less than one day for one full-time employee. Cases like these are indicators of big value streams and new models that are going to come to the surface quickly. I see that happening much faster than it used to. 

You said you’d like Skywise to get to 100 customers in a year. You were at 29 in October. How are you going to get there?

We are going to keep working with our customers. We have a number in the pipeline. We’re on the trajectory for 100. Yes, it’s ambitious, but we believe that our customers want to join the journey, as well.

There are a lot of Big Data platforms available for aviation, including Airbus’ Skywise. Do you think there will be consolidation?

I think in the long run, as data sharing become more prevalent and more important because we’re focused on creating value, I think there will be consolidation of platforms. We believe that Skywise is well on the way to being one of those key enablers for the industry to collaborate across the whole aviation ecosystem. At the end of the day, when you let the market determine where they’re getting the most value, that will be the trigger point that creates consolidation.