Are Aviation SMS Software Programs Necessary?
Most aviation companies are profit driven. Aviation service providers attempt to provide safe services while providing a return on investment.
Many upper-level managers at smaller companies believe that safety managers don't need modern aviation safety management databases to manage ICAO SMS requirements. They may be right.
Not having an SMS database to document all SMS activities presents a problem for safety managers. Safety managers are results driven professionals and must determine how to convince upper-level managers that professionally designed software packages save time and help in protecting assets.
But do you really need professionally designed SMS database software to meet requirements?
What Do Managers Believe about Aviation SMS Requirements?
Not all, but many upper-level managers believe that the ICAO mandated SMS programs:
- Attack profitability;
- Are a passing fad with ill-defined standards and objectives;
- Too big to manage on a global scale;
- Impossible to apply to all required aviation industry segments;
- Not conducive to competitive, capitalistic economies;
- Are left to aviation SMS auditor's interpretations; and
- Can be put off until tomorrow.
What Are the Real Benefits of Aviation SMS?
Aviation safety management systems are designed to reduce losses and protect:
- Assets and property; and
- Company reputations.
So we may (or may not) agree of the benefits derived from an SMS, but what are the benefits of using professionally designed SMS database solutions over doing this task manually, such as with paper and spreadsheets?
Do We Need an Aviation Safety Database Program?
Historical analysis and empirical evidence indicate that all but the smallest aviation service providers save time and money implementing aviation safety programs when they are supported by professionally designed aviation SMS databases.
If you are a smaller, non-complex operator with fewer than 20 employees, your SMS can be managed using paper, MS Excel and Word. Other common tools that are readily available that may save you money managing your SMS are:
- Google Drive;
- Microsoft SharePoint;
- Microsoft Access; and
- Internal email and electronic bulletin boards.
I believe the first step in determining whether you need an SMS database is to understand what is required in an SMS. The fastest method to determine this is by conducting a quick gap analysis to determine what is required in the SMS and whether you have tools on hand to manage all the requirements. To facilitate this process, here is a link to get your gap analysis checklist.
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What Are the Financial Benefits of Aviation SMS Database Programs?
The more popular aviation SMS database programs offer many financial benefits. Empirically, we have seen that aviation SMS databases improve fiscal efficiency by:
- Identifying and tracking hazards in one centralized database platform;
- Focus risk management efforts onto problem areas;
- Reduce the number of systems otherwise needed to manage aviation SMS requirements;
- Reduces manpower required to satisfy regulatory requirements;
- Reduces expenses for overall regulatory compliance management; and
- Greatly improves reporting timeliness and accuracy.
Professional Aviation SMS Databases Make Good Business Sense
Many aviation service providers have tried to manage SMS regulatory requirements by using existing systems. They have learned that they may be able to manage the SMS data during the first two to three years before feeling the pain.
What we have seen is that initially, policies and procedures are documented and stored in the company's document management system, whether that is on the corporate file server or in SharePoint. The company may create a hazard register in MS Excel to document their hazards and risks.
About the same time, these aviation service providers may setup a hazard reporting system. It doesn't have to be sophisticated to pass muster. It can be as simple as a paper form that when complete goes into a hazard reporting bin, or you may have a simple web form to capture employee hazard reports. Reports come in and they are typically managed by MS Word and an Excel spreadsheet. Does this sound like you?
You may slide by for two to four years, depending on the attentiveness and diligence of your SMS compliance inspectors. And then the problems occur, starting with a finding or multiple findings.
What Are Common SMS Regulatory Findings?
The most common SMS finding we have seen over the past dozen years is that the operator is not conducting operations according to their SMS manual. The SMS manual is your blueprint - how you plan to do business regarding the management of SMS requirements.
- How to Create Your Aviation SMS Manual
- Tips Writing SMS Manuals with Aviation Safety Database Solutions
- Best Practices: Reviewing Aviation SMS Manuals
Other common audit findings are that service providers are not
- Reviewing their Hazard Registers by appropriate management personnel;
- Policies and procedures are not reviewed on regular basis (based on available documentation); and
- Hazards and controls are not monitored for effectiveness.
All three of the above findings can be avoided without SMS database software; however, your SMS database has been designed to avoid these audit findings.
Growing Companies Should Consider Adding SMS Database
In order to reduce the growing pains that safety managers must endure, professionally designed aviation safety software simply makes good business sense if your company is growing and needs to secure contracts from government entities or most oil companies. These types of clients need assurance your SMS is alive and well. Easily proving to your prospective clients that your company has a living, breathing SMS is much easier when you can show them at a moment's notice that all requirements are nicely organized and updated.
From my conversations with clients, having an SMS database assures accountable executives that SMS activities are not left to chance. Having immediate transparency and oversight of the SMS is only afforded by using an SMS database.
From a human resources and budgeting perspective, the safety team can be reduced by 50% when using commercially available aviation SMS software designed specifically to address these SMS regulatory requirements.
In addition, this reduced safety team will be able to provide more safety-management-related services than a team twice their size.
In conclusion, if you are a small company, you can manage your SMS successfully without an SMS database, You may wish to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine any potential cost savings.
SMS Pro was designed specifically for the aviation industry. Our passion is to provide quality safety solutions to aviation safety personnel.
If you don't have an aviation SMS database yet, you may wish to start small with hazard reporting and basic risk management. These three short videos show you some examples:
Introduction to Centralized Data Management in SMS
Originally published July 2015. Last updated November 2018.