Technology Advances – The Backbone of the Aviation Supply Chain
10 May, 2021 by Robert Broderick
Looking toward the end of the pandemic, most major airlines have already said the future will look different for them. For one, there will be a sharper focus on controlling costs as demand for air travel returns. They plan to be much leaner organizations, accomplishing more with fewer people and operating with less inventory.
Achieving this will involve developing and maintaining global supply chains that are robust and resilient enough to meet the needs of the ‘new normal.’ The place to start as companies begin re-imagining their business models is with strong partnerships, including working with aviation logistics experts that offer a far-reaching network and staff who have decades of knowledge. This expertise must also be backed with industry-leading technology that delivers real-time information and facilitates communication, so stakeholders throughout the supply chain are always in sync.
“What we’ve found is our customers want the best of both worlds,” explains Steve Wilson, Vice President of Strategic Accounts for Sterling. “Some prefer to pick up the phone and talk directly to their customer service rep,” he says. “More and more, however, we’re seeing a shift toward placing orders and tracking shipments online or on their mobile device.”
That’s one of the reasons Sterling felt now was the perfect time to launch its next-generation of QuickOnline – the company’s leading software solution that clients use to manage their global supply chain logistics projects.
QuickOnline 2.0 - Built Based on What Clients Have Told Us They Want
Initially launched 20 years ago, QuickOnline includes a range of tools built specifically to manage AOG and aerospace logistics. This includes QuickTrac, Sterling’s proprietary logistics ERP system that provides sophisticated shipment management, and specialized support software that ensures chain of custody and supply chain efficiency with end-to-end inventory management. The result is fast, easy project set up and complete control and visibility into shipment status with real-time tracking.
This first-generation of the technology evolved over time, with new functionality and features added as industry needs have changed. As the company was making adjustments to the technology, however, they were also gathering knowledge about the platform – both in terms of what they learned internally about process flows and what customers told them was most important. “All this time, we’ve been busy listening to our customers and collecting user stories from them for this next iteration of QuickOnline,” says Mike McNally, Vice President of IT Management for the Quick Group. This is key, he says, because the way clients use the technology differs.
Commercial airlines, for instance, have maintenance bases and staff on-call at literally every airport they fly into and out of. Their maintenance teams use QuickOnline to track the inbound status of their AOG shipments, says Steve. Commercial airlines also use the platform for routine overnight line maintenance events. “Either way, timing is critical because every hour that plane is not in service, it costs the airline tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “Rapid order placement and last-mile visibility is becoming more integral to the engineer’s maintenance plan to return an aircraft to service.”
Business jet companies, however, are operating many different types of aircraft from various OEMs. They're also flying to multiple locations that change day by day. "They can't store inventory in every location they service for every type of aircraft they have,” Steve says. They rely on QuickOnline for real-time visibility of the components they need and to ensure the delivery meets their maintenance plan’s schedule.
What’s New with QuickOnline 2.0
According to Mike, the voice of the customer led them to focus on consistency, simplicity and transparency. “That’s where we started in developing the next release of QuickOnline 2.0,” he says. “Like everyone today, our clients work across multiple platforms,” Mike explains. Take email as an example. People might primarily check email on their computer, but they also need to access it on their phone or tablet. At the same time, not everyone will want to download an app on their mobile device. "That's why a responsive design is crucial," says Mike. With that, users can access the web application on their computers, phones or tablets – or can use the mobile app. Regardless, customers can expect the exact same user experience.
That user experience includes a seamless ordering process. “Placing an aerospace logistics order is not as simple as buying something online where you put in your name, address and credit card,” Mike says. “With our business, we are collecting a lot of information from our customers – aircraft part numbers, tail numbers, type of shipment and dimensions, GPS information, and more.” The challenge has always been to balance the ability to collect all the necessary information to set up a comprehensive, effective logistics plan in a user-friendly manner. “We want the flow to get our customers from the beginning of the order to the end without a lot of frustration.” That’s why Sterling has focused on keeping all the critical pieces of information needed ‘above the fold.’ That means customers don’t need to scroll to find what they need – whether they are placing an order or looking for an update.
QuickOnline 2.0 can also be customized to meet each user's needs. "We can easily tailor the information above the fold based on the key data points customers are interested in," says Mike. For instance, if a customer wants to track shipments by PO number or tail number – that can be customized to make the process faster for them. Plus, adjustments can be made quickly and easily as their needs change.
Once the order is placed, customers need full visibility of their shipment. That's why the next version of QuickOnline 2.0 leverages today's latest technology to enhance first-mile to last-mile visibility even further. “To start, we developed some new features in our vendor mobile app that allows our drivers to share their location with customers when they are on the way to collect or deliver a shipment,” Mike explains. Sterling also uses GPS to monitor the location of packages. “Using our partner’s API – Application Programming Interface – we’re able to integrate GPS information directly into our platform.” That means customers can access that GPS location any time they want through QuickOnline 2.0. “When they log on to track a package, they’re seeing the milestone achieved – for example, if the shipment has been recovered by one of our service partners – they can also see the exact GPS location right in the same screen.” QuickOnline 2.0 also integrates flight information from live feeds, including flight status and location and any up-to-the-minute delays in departures or arrivals.
QuickOnline 2.0 Benefits At-a-Glance
The platform was also developed to ensure Sterling has an infrastructure they can build on that will allow for easy scalability. It is also designed to continue delivering the 24/7/365 service the company has prided themselves on for the past 30 years. That means no downtime for maintenance combined with round-the-clock access to the company’s knowledgeable aerospace logistics teams around the world. A few of the new features customers can expect include:
- Autocomplete from Address Book
- First and Last Mile Driver Tracking
- FlightStats Flight Delays and Aircraft Location
- Shipment Milestone Status
- GPS Monitor Location and Sensor Data
QuickOnline has always been about making customers’ jobs easier, says Mike. This next-generation technology is no different. "It's designed to keep their supply chain moving," adds Steve. And that, he says, is the key to cost control. "Aerospace inventory and maintenance is very expensive, and costs add up every day parts are moving through the supply chain." QuickOnline 2.0 gives customers what they need to place orders instantly and track delivery in real-time with full transparency, in a way that works best for them.
Want to hear more from Michael and Steve?
Listen to their QuickConversations podcast:
Next-gen Tech: Connecting Aviation Companies to Their Global Supply Chain
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