What It Means to Move to a New SMS Database Program
Changing to a new SMS program is a challenge that organizations will inevitably face at least once, and probably more. What does this involve? Chang to new SMS program usually involves the following:
- You have an existing SMS program;
- You have decided that your current safety resources (software, SMS organization, data mining ability, etc.) are not enough to reach future (or current) safety goals;
- “Changing” or “switching” your SMS means adopting an entirely new format for SMS, as well as implementing a bunch of new risk management tools; and
- You may also benefit from reorganizing your SMS structure as well.
One example of changing to a new SMS program would be going from:
- A paper-backed SMS, with paper hazard reporting forms, Excel spreadsheets, etc.; to
- A fully integrated aviation SMS software and aviation safety database.
Making this change would account for most if not all of the above-mentioned bullet points.
What Does Changing to a New SMS Involve?
All three scenarios have one thing in common: major SMS changes. It’s a daunting task for several reasons:
- Requires re-training employees on SMS structure and tools;
- Involves minor to major updates of SMS documentation; and
- Involves adapting a new structure to your own, and vice versa.
Long story short, changing to a new SMS can involve moderate to significant change. The timeline for making this change is heavily depends on:
- Scope of change (how much is changing);
- Existing safety culture; and
- Quality of new SMS that you are changing to.
On the last point, if you adopt a software or similar product that is buggy, or not very user friendly, this can significantly increase the time.
How Long Does it Take to Change to New SMS
Giving out general numbers for the time it takes to change to a new SMS is sort of like telling someone how tall their child will be when he/she grows up. You can make educated guesses, but it’s definitely a guesstimate at best.
Here’s what we can say about timeline concerning a medium-large change to SMS, such as going from a manual to software based SMS:
- About 6 months to get completely comfortable doing everyday tasks;
- Another 6 months to integrate all aspects of old/new SMS, such as safety procedures, documentation, etc.
All told, you can expect about a year to fully integrate a new SMS program in place of your old one. As said, this is a guesstimate. If you are in a high quality safety culture with open employees and supportive management, you might cut this time in half. Likewise, it could also take longer than a year if the safety conditions are poor.
Common Misconceptions about Changing to a New SMS Program
The things that take the longest to change generally aren’t what many safety managers think will be the “big deal.” When switching, safety management is often concerns with the time it will take to:
- Adapt their SMS to an entirely new way of doing things;
- Moving all data from old SMS to new SMS; and
- Time it will take learning the new SMS.
But here’s the reality about each of these points:
- Your new SMS program should largely adapt to YOUR needs, not the other way around – in other words, make new SMS work for you, NOT make your SMS work for new software, etc.;
- Moving data from old SMS (i.e., Excel spreadsheet) to new SMS is actually a fairly straightforward task for any database engineer; and
- While it will take time to learn the new SMS, your new SMS will probably also save you much time in other areas of your daily activities.
The things that take time are the less tangible things like:
- Feeling comfortable using new SMS tools – i.e., feeling like you’re not going to “break” something;
- Feeling like you “know” your new SMS program’s benefits and limitations; and
- Getting a whole organization comfortable with the new way of hazard reporting, issue management, etc.; and
The reality is that with just about anything, a sudden new wave of learning will involve an initial drop in confidence, performance, and productivity, followed by a sudden rise in these things. Adopting a new aviation SMS program is no different.
Major Steps for Changing to New SMS Program the RIGHT Way
The major steps for switching your aviation safety program are:
- Write out goals for changing to new SMS, including current challenges you want to overcome;
- Set goals for timeline for switching;
- Establish the ideal budget for switching, and the highest you are willing to spend;
- Do research on various safety management system software, and compare features;
- Have a list of questions ready for software companies; and
- Get demonstrations of different software, always considering how you can adapt the software to your needs.
Word of advice, if you are going to switch to a new SMS – making the biggest change that is reasonable, and implement the new SMS over time. Adopting a new SMS program that is only marginally different than your existing one will be a waste of time, as you will expend much effort for little gain.
Making a big change will involve much effort for much gain.
Here's are example videos of an safety management system that is designed and built for ICAO compliance. How does it compare to your SMS program?
Published November 2017. Last updated October 2019.