Which Aviation Safety Database Should We Choose?
Aviation safety managers become apprehensive at certain points of their careers. We see this frequently when:
- They are making a decision to purchase an aviation safety database solution; or
- They are setting up a new safety database for their SMS program; or
- They are assigned to manage an existing aviation SMS database program.
This article will serve three purposes:
- Act as a guideline for selecting a new aviation SMS database;
- Provide existing SMS database users a second chance to switch from an inferior system to one more suitable; and
- Serve as a review for safety managers reviewing their existing safety database implementations.
Guidelines for Aviation Safety Database Software
These guidelines are generic enough to be used for most full-featured aviation safety management database solutions.
These may include:
- SMS Pro (airlines, airports, maintenance, FBOs, flight schools, SSPs);
- Prism (corporate operators);
- Baldwin's Safety & Compliance (for private and on-demand charter operators);
There are other smaller, less rich programs, but these cover the majority of the better systems. Don't scream at me if you don't see your program in this list. I've been developing aviation safety software for ten years, and these are the names that jump out at me. There are other systems out there that have sprung up within the past several years, such as ETQ and Vistair.
ETQ is not aviation specific, meaning that they have generic processes adopted from other industries, such as chemical and automotive. We have seen that the aviation industry requires user-friendly, easily configurable SMS software. Solutions that are trying to be everything to everybody rarely work in the aviation industry. It is advisable to select aviation specific SMS software over software used by the food or energy industries.
QPulse had been popular over the past ten years, but we see many airlines abandoning it over the past three years. The main complaints we hear are:
- The workflows are not intuitive;
- There are too many manual processes that require copy/pasting from one section to another;
- There are too many SMS requirements left unfulfilled; and
- The system is not flexible, causing the operator to adapt their processes to QPulse processes.
QPulse's popularity perhaps stemmed from UK ex-pats' loyalty to a system from the UK. If you need a good aviation auditing software solution for your company, QPulse would probably be a good solution. QPulse started as an auditing solution and gradually added a few SMS tools onto it, and then overnight, turned into an aviation safety database solution.
Other Solutions Trying to Be Aviation Safety Solutions
There are also some systems that try to be "something" to everybody. These systems are not aviation industry-specific and frequently miss the mark. These can be very good systems, but are often complicated to set up and may require months of setup, based on SMS consultants' reports to us.
When I say that these programs try to be "something" to everybody, I mean that they are being used for automotive, food, chemical, petroleum, energy, etc. Whenever a program tends to be generic, one of two possibilities occur:
- There will be elevated levels of complexity needed to address all the various workflows across the industries; or
- The software becomes so basic as to become worthless or outdated in a few years.
Two of the very complex, yet highly flexible programs include:
- Intelex; and
There are a couple others out there that try to dabble in this space, but they only appear regionally and don't have global exposure. And global exposure is a good thing in the aviation industry. All civil aviation authorities are singing from the same sheet of music, the ICAO SMS requirements, which are elaborated in ICAO's Document 9859, the Safety Management Manual (SMM).
You may want to see these SMS requirements in an easy to read list, starting from Management Commitment and Responsibility. I like this page because you see all four ICAO SMS pillars or components on the right side of the page with their respective elements. Each element has the SMS requirements followed by best practices.
Operational Software Posing As Aviation SMS Database Solutions
Our final category is the operational software that tries to add a few aviation safety tools, and then calling itself an "aviation SMS software solution."
We see this commonly with:
- Aviation maintenance software;
- Scheduling software;
- Quality management software; or
- Auditing software.
I'm not saying this is a bad idea. Whenever you can have a database system that takes care of your SMS requirements and also adds value operationally, this is a good thing. Just make sure that the database program actually does satisfy your SMS requirements.
What we have commonly seen in the past dozen years is operational software holding the aviation service provider hostage. This becomes obvious when the operational software provider has neither the inclination nor the experience to add necessary features to their software to provide a better experience to the service provider.
An example may be auditing software. We know of an auditing software provider that does an excellent job providing auditing software, but their risk management workflows are burdensome and disjointed. Furthermore, in this case, the auditing solution is not web-based. When a client has been using a particular solution for many years, it can be painfully expensive to switch SMS databases. In these cases, you are going to have to "rip off the band-aid" sooner than later.
Tips to Choose the Best Aviation Safety Database Solution
When you review your existing SMS program or select a new aviation safety solution, here are a few tips to add structure to your decision making.
First, you should understand your requirements. Understand what SMS documentation your aviation SMS database must store.
Next, make sure you understand what is required in an aviation safety management system. Do a gap analysis. When you perform your gap analysis, I recommend using the ICAO gap analysis model. The IS-BAO gap analysis is too basic and ill-defined to add any lasting value.
Performing a gap analysis is much better than reviewing an aviation SMS implementation model. A gap analysis is more specific. As you review the gap analysis and the evaluated SMS database software, ask yourself whether the database solution in question can help support that gap analysis question.
Related Aviation SMS Database Articles...
- What Is an Aviation Safety Database
- How to Manage Aviation Safety Programs without Complex SMS Databases
- 3 Things to Know before Buying Aviation SMS Database
Auditing Checklists to Help Choose an Aviation SMS Database
Another great tip to choose an aviation SMS database is to review an aviation safety audit checklist. As you read each audit requirement, ask yourself whether the evaluated SMS database program can help your company manage that requirement.
This is a very useful method for weeding out those safety database products with pretty pictures and those that actually satisfy the SMS requirements.
Almost every aviation SMS database provider keeps their functionality hidden. By visiting their website, it is difficult to evaluate their solutions. When safety managers are not able to view a product's features, they become frustrated. My advice is that if you have a hard time evaluating aviation SMS software features, move on to another provider. There are many good solutions on the market.
Aviation safety audit checklists are useful beyond simply evaluating the requirements of an SMS database solution. If you have never reviewed one, you may be surprised that such an audit checklist is like an SMS training course review. For available aviation SMS resources that are particularly valuable to safety professionals, I find these are the most valuable:
- SMS Gap Analysis Templates;
- SMS Implementation Plan Templates; and
- Aviation SMS Audit Checklists.
The more full-featured SMS databases have these checklists and templates integrated into the database. Having integrated SMS templates and resources really saves safety teams considerable time. When audit checklists are integrated into the risk management framework of the SMS tools, safety teams can more easily track corrective actions resulting from audit findings. But there is more. The SMS database will also generate trending reports of your audit findings and document risk associated with the audit findings.
Have you read...
- How Often Should You Conduct Aviation SMS Audit
- How to Create an Aviation SMS Audit Plan
- Real Difference between an Aviation Safety Audit vs. Inspection
Final Thoughts on Choosing Aviation SMS Database Software
The gap analysis and SMS audit checklist tricks are the best way to evaluate whether the aviation safety database software meets the requirements. You may have other requirements, but the best place to start is with the SMS requirements.
When your SMS database does not meet the requirements, you will be left looking for workarounds that will cost you considerable time and money in the long run. Look for a user-friendly solution that not only satisfies your immediate SMS needs, but one that will also grow with you as your business grows.
Each aviation service provider is different; however, don't fall into the false notion that your operation is so unique that a commercial database solution is unable to satisfy your needs. The majority of SMS databases that integrate both safety and quality management systems generally have extensive configurability to adapt to your operations, whether you are an airline, airport or an aviation maintenance organization.
In the perfect world, the SMS database solution you choose will adapt to your operations. This may not be what you expect, but it is certainly possible and the better SMS solutions can fulfill best practice.
Being able to migrate legacy data into the new SMS database is a common request. Not all SMS databases support importing and exporting safety data. This is definitely something you want to overlook when selecting your SMS database. Every SMS database administrator should possess the ability to easily retrieve your SMS data should you determine that your SMS database software is no longer satisfying your needs.
Aviation SMS Audit Checklists are useful for evaluating SMS software functionality.
Gap Analysis Checklists are also useful.
Published May 2019. Last updated March 2020.