Legacy Safety Reporting Systems Increase Auditing & Financial Risk
Aviation safety managers commonly tell me that audits become much less painful after switching over to their new aviation safety management system (SMS) database software.
This doesn't mean that their company always passes audits without findings, but auditors love that all SMS documentation requirements are managed within one centralized data management system instead of being scattered around in:
- File cabinets stuffed with safety reports at different locations;
- Disorganized Word files in networked drives;
- Sharepoint documents;
- Excel files that are difficult to navigate; and
- PDF audit results.
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Inefficient SMS Documentation Strategies Cost Time and Money
Another safety manager told me last week that their time spent with an SMS auditor had been reduced from the typical average of eight hours for an audit to only two hours after adopting a well-known aviation SMS software to manage SMS documentation requirements. Instead of spending all their time preparing for audits, they can now focus on "what they were hired to do," which includes, but is not limited to:
- manage SMS documentation;
- provide SMS training;
- promote safety;
- interface with employees and safety managers from other companies;
- monitor safety performance;
- keep the accountable executive briefed as to the state of the aviation SMS implementation;
- identify safety trends; and
- increase safety reporting to optimal levels.
Home-Grown Safety Reporting Solutions Satisfied Requirements
After working with aviation service providers for over a dozen years with their aviation SMS implementations, we have witnessed our own trends in how operators' SMS mature over time. At first, the organization may try to manage all SMS documentation requirements using existing tools within the organization, like
- Excel and
In fact, your SMS' history may resemble the following scenario. Read the following story and ask yourself, "does this resemble your SMS implementation journey?"
Since the very beginnings of your SMS implementation, your safety reporting system and risk management system was probably cobbled together from either:
- A homegrown MS Access database;
- Paper-based reporting forms;
- Excel spreadsheets; and maybe an
- Electronic safety reporting form to capture safety reports.
Safety reports would come into the system. You'd break out your spreadsheet and start to copy and paste data to where it needs to be within your cobbled together system of isolated tools.
In the early days, these rudimentary safety reporting and risk management systems probably served their purpose, as auditors were not as thorough or demanding in those earlier days. To make these home-grown systems even more appealing, these in-house tools do not strain the budget, which in many companies, aviation SMS software is not a high priority item, as the return on investment isn't readily apparent.
Unfortunately, maintaining your legacy safety reporting and risk management system may be more costly than you realize.
When safety managers neglect to replace older, inefficient safety reporting tools, they are needlessly burdening their company with both hidden and obvious costs.
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Maintenance Costs of Legacy Systems
Legacy aviation risk management tools become more difficult to maintain over time. Additional complexity is added to the safety reporting and risk management system each time a change occurs.
Changes may include:
- Data collection requirements from civil aviation authority;
- Integration with third party systems;
- Browser upgrades;
- Hardware upgrades;
- Database version upgrades; and/or
- Operating system upgrades.
Simple updates to one part of the safety reporting solution put in jeopardy other parts. This happens especially when your aviation SMS solution is not modularly designed, but exists as an integrated tangle of several disparate systems. When product support for one system is discontinued, it costs your company with system downtime and perhaps even data losses in extreme cases.
Replacing a legacy safety reporting and risk management solution with a modern, commercially available, aviation SMS solution reduces business risk and operating costs by 20 to 30 percent.
Development Costs to Keep Your Legacy System Alive
Some operators consider hiring a developer to modify their initial aviation SMS solution. Paying software developers and subject matter experts to design a fully functioning solution that satisfies the ICAO SMS documentation requirements can become very expensive and time-consuming. Only companies with very deep pockets can afford to go down this road.
As one begins to really dig into the SMS documentation requirements, the realization comes that this a very large task that could take months of software development time. This becomes very expensive in a very short amount of time.
When considering software development costs, it pays to familiarize yourself with the software development life-cycle. There is more to writing code and pushing it out to users than most laymen realize. There are:
- requirements gathering;
- feature design;
- software development;
- user acceptance activities;
- bug fixes; and, if you are lucky,
- implementation and testing in production environment;
- final release to production;
- monitoring for anomalies not detected in previous steps; and
- more bug fixes and dealing with enhancement requests.
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Supporting Your Upgraded Safety Reporting System
If you choose to upgrade your legacy system, you need to ensure that your company can support this upgraded system. Will your development team be available for the next several years to fix any bugs or add any additional enhancements?
Enhancements are almost always to be expected. For example, the Europeans just started their SMS implementations a couple years ago. In November 2015, another regulation went into effect requiring aviation service providers to submit mandatory reports in an XML format. Will your developer be around to handle such a task? While these are not common occurrences, they do happen every couple years.
Compliance Is Number One Driver to Acquire Aviation SMS Database
Aviation service providers have not been creating or purchasing aviation safety reporting solutions because they are interested in promoting safety. If this were the case, there would not be any need for aviation SMS regulatory requirements. Operators are developing or acquiring SMS database software because they have realized that the SMS documentation requirements are not a trivial matter. Why? There is a requirement for demonstrating continuous improvement in your aviation SMS!
How do you demonstrate continuous improvement if you do not have the necessary tools to measure and track safety-related activities? This is perhaps the number one driver for operators to either build or acquire an aviation SMS database.
There are many benefits to having a state-of-the-art aviation SMS database, including:
- Marketing your "state-of-the-art" safety program to potential customers;
- Reducing risk exposure;
- Saving money on insurance premiums (possible, but not always);
- Increased employee morale; and
- Reducing operating costs.
Despite these benefits, aviation service providers seldom implement aviation SMS data management strategies until it becomes a regulatory requirement. Sure, there are a few proactive operators out there, but they are definitely not the typical operator. Most operators initiate SMS implementations to get ahead of the regulatory requirement.
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Civil Aviation Authorities Influence SMS Data Management Strategies
As we stated above, industry regulations change over time. Operators know this. As an example from the United States, most operators refused to pursue aviation SMS implementations until they knew what would eventually be required by the FAA. These operators refused to even start the implementation process because they didn't want to implement a system only to learn that the requirements have changed as soon as they were well underway in the implementation process.
The costs for software developers to keep your safety reporting and risk management tools compliant can be surprisingly high. Yet this may be a necessary expense for some companies. Would you protect your personal data on your computer with anti-virus software that was eight-years-old? Then why risk your aviation SMS' reputation on outdated tools that fail to meet aviation authority requirements?
Modernize Your Aviation SMS Tools to Become Regulatory Compliant
As you consider the above points, the costs of maintaining or modernizing your legacy aviation SMS solution may seem too high. Upgrading the programming languages, servers and workflows needed to bring your aviation SMS data management strategy into compliance can be very expensive. But failing to address these SMS requirements can cost you your certification and possibly cause you to lose clients.
You do have options.
Build your own solution, or choose another alternative. Ask us for a demo of the best aviation SMS solution on the market. Yes, we can say this is the best. After hearing this stated by consultants and customers alike, we finally believe SMS Pro is the best SMS database software available today.
If you want to see for yourself what an integrated aviation SMS database can do, please watch these short demo videos.
Published July 2019. Last updated in January 2021.