While Boeing and Airbus aircraft orders dominated news stories from this year’s Paris Air Show (see page 70), less-heralded shifts in manufacturing are gaining industry attention – and investment. Before the show, John Schmidt, the global managing director for consulting group Accenture’s aerospace and defense practice, said to watch for emerging trends that address the challenge of becoming more efficient and competitive.

Schmidt notes that companies will need to use data analytics to improve operations, supply chain and systems integration, as well as deliver more personalized and engaging customer experiences.

Strategically, he says they will need to determine how best to expand their digital transformation beyond engineering to embed digital technology and agility into their value chain – from aircraft design and manufacturing to pilot and passenger experiences, airline operations, and maintenance – all while collaborating with customers and suppliers at every step.

Digital transformation is a major industry trend, Schmidt states. According to the report, “Accelerating Through Digital Turbulence: Accenture Technology Vision 2017 for Aerospace and Defense Companies,” 98% of those companies report they have been comprehensively investing in digital technologies the past few years as part of their overall business strategies.

“Aerospace and defense companies will develop digital capabilities to differentiate their operations, both internally in how products are designed and manufactured and externally in how products are operated and maintained. They will leverage a wide range of capabilities from Big Data to augmented and mixed reality,” Schmidt predicts. “Data is like iron ore in the ground. The value is in analytics.”

Throughout the Paris Air Show the focus was on the rapidly growing amount of data being produced and how companies are using – and offering as a service – analytics to manage, understand, and generate insights from this data to improve decisions.

“Data is evolving from a valuable resource to the basis for entire business models and growth,” Schmidt says. While aerospace and defense companies now differentiate themselves mainly through their products, leveraging Big Data’s benefits will differentiate them through operational capabilities that offer a competitive edge.

For now, the news is from major players, with data-driven products such as GE’s Predix cloud-based platform for engine maintenance, Airbus’ digital aviation data platform Skywise, or Boeing’s AnalytX to transform data into actionable insights. But smart technology is for smaller companies, too. Accenture demonstrated its augmented reality glasses that can simplify a challenging assembly task. This wearable technology can help ease the shortage of trained staff, walking workers through difficult procedures. It also makes employees more flexible, able to learn and perform in new environments. The same technology can promote greater employee and customer interactivity to solve problems more quickly, increasing productivity and lowering costs.

Digital transformation will reshape business activities to drive efficiency and improve performance. Where is your company along that transformation timeline? – Eric