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How to Identify Interfaces in Aviation SMS Scenarios

Posted by Christopher Howell on Sep 29, 2020 4:45:00 AM Find me on:

ICAO Defines Interfaces in Aviation Operations

How to Identify Interfaces in Aviation SMS Scenarios

"Safety risks faced by service providers are affected by interfaces.

Interfaces can be either internal (e.g. between departments) or external (e.g. other service providers or contracted services,).

By identifying and managing these interfaces the service provider will have more control over any safety risks related to the interfaces."

ICAO Safety Management Manual (SMM), Document 9859 4th edition

Interfaces' Importance in Aviation SMS

Formal aviation safety management systems (SMS) evolved into commercial operators' regulatory requirements in November 2006. As operators began their SMS implementations, interfaces seemed little more than names in a system description or tucked away on call sheets reserved for emergency response plans.

Considerable value comes to your organization from effectively managing your SMS interfaces. As your operational risk shrinks, so does your operating expenses, thereby contributing positively to the bottom line.

Related Proactive Risk Management Articles

Interfaces Related to Top Benefits of SMS Implementations

As we learn about aviation SMS implementations and the benefits to the global transportation system, we naturally need to know:

  1. Why are we spending so much time on these SMS implementations; and
  2. What benefits can be expected for each operator?

This article is not meant to outline aviation SMS benefits; however, we will focus on one major SMS benefit that should not escape us, which is:

Better understanding of safety-related interfaces and relationships to improve efficiencies

Again, from ICAO's Document 9859, we learn:

"The process of documenting and defining safety management interfaces can benefit the organization's understanding of the interprocess relationships, leading to an enhanced understanding of the end-to-end process and exposing opportunities for increased efficiencies."

ICAO Doc 9859, section 1.1.7 Benefits of Safety Management

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Who Should Identify Interfaces within Aviation SMS Framework?

If you are a simple operator, and you are simply interested in "checking the SMS box," then you don't need to get too excited about interfaces for quite some time. No aviation SMS auditor will come searching for sophisticated interface management in smaller operations. This includes most charter operators.

A simple list of interfaces within your system description will suffice for both small, simple operators and those checking the box. Your "system description" is one of the earliest SMS implementation tasks. The organization's SMS system description defines the scope and boundaries of the SMS initiative, including:

  1. What do we do? and
  2. Who do we do it with?

As systems become more complex, mid-size and larger operations must have better control over managing their SMS interfaces. There will be many questions, such as:

  • Who are they?
  • Who is the main point of contact?
  • How do they preferred to be contacted?
  • What is their role? Do they identify, monitor, mitigate or report hazards?
  • Which hazards are either directly or indirectly affected by these interfaces?
  • How critical is this interface in your hazard management process?
  • How critical is this interface to your profits? (don't ignore the economics of safety)
  • Is this interface an authority to be reckoned with?

Where to Find Value From Interfaces within Aviation SMS Framework?

Every company wants to save money. A primary motivation for more sophisticated interface management should be to reduce risk to as low as reasonably practical (ALARP), but interface management has an associated cost. For starters, you will need:

  • More time to initially identify and catalog your interfaces;
  • Moderately sophisticated database tools to reduce data-management burdens for managing interfaces;
  • Integrated tools that capitalize on modern technological efficiencies of Web collaboration; and
  • Real-time report generation facilitating sustainable, decision-making processes.

To determine whether your company can afford to not manage interfaces from a quality perspective adds weight to the interface management argument.

Most companies aspire to continuously improve or expand the scope of their operations for various business reasons. One strategy toward continuous improvement is to manage quality similarly to larger operations; however, smaller companies lack necessary resources for advanced integrated SMS database tools.

Fortunately, some SMS databases already possess advanced interface management sophistication that provides substantial benefits to smaller to mid-sized operations.

Related Aviation SMS Database Articles

One may attempt to argue that the amount of data required for statistically significant data analysis usually is not available in smaller operations. This answer is best left to the individual manager. I've seen small companies generate considerable flight safety data during limited, seasonal operations. Needless to say, this will become a judgment call based on:

  • Budget;
  • Business needs and objectives;
  • Adequate cycles/seats sold/total billable hours to become statistically significant;
  • Operational and economic environment stability;
  • Educational background and expertise of available data analysis and management resources; and
  • Organizational culture.

Aviation Audit Management Solution

Integrated SMS/QMS Natural Fit for Interface Management

Operators focusing on an integrated safety-quality (SMS/QMS) data management strategy intuitively understand the futility of managing interfaces within disconnected data-management systems. One will not be surprised to see these disjointed systems at most companies. The various, often unrelated operational data management systems provide relevant analytical data that becomes invaluable from either a safety or quality perspective.

Optimal proactive risk management processes quickly become unsustainable as the number of disconnected data sources increases. Too many data sources become unwieldy to manage and your processes will not become sustainable. Simplicity and utility are necessary for sustainable processes.

Don't become discouraged if you find yourself logging into various data management systems each day to monitor or interact with "the system." In most cases today, there may be import and export data features to facilitate the data aggregation process, which precludes all analytical processes.

We'll now explore a couple of examples of how to identify, document and use interfaces in your aviation SMS. These examples will cover only a narrow spectrum of your aviation SMS, including:

  • Identifying and documenting internal interfaces; and
  • Identifying, documenting and interacting with external SMS interfaces..

I am purposefully ignoring multiple examples in this article as we'll revisit them in other-in-depth articles. These deeper dive subjects will center around evaluating interfaces in:

  • Proactive hazard analysis activities (PHAT in SMS Pro).
  • Management of Change;
  • Emergency response plans (ERP); and
  • Reactive risk management activities (Issue Manager in SMS Pro)

Related Aviation Risk Management Articles

How to Identify Internal Interfaces

Many readers of this blog are already SMS Pro users. I would be negligent if I didn't tell you where to configure these internal interfaces in your aviation SMS database. Throughout the rest of this article, I'll refer to particular SMS Pro modules to execute these risk management strategies. For the rest of you, I'm going to provide good examples so you can easily include these concepts in your own aviation SMS database software or spreadsheet.

Let's talk quickly about identifying and documenting your internal interfaces first, as these are the easiest. Internal interfaces are often departments within your company that actively interact with your aviation SMS to regularly

  • identify hazards;
  • mitigate risk;
  • manage change;
  • pay the bills;
  • monitor the "system" for anomalies and updates; and
  • explore opportunities for increased efficiencies and levels of safety.

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Depending on the size and type of your organization, you may have internal departments such as:

  • Administration;
  • Flight ops;
  • Ground handling;
  • Maintenance;
  • Safety; and
  • Quality.

One great advantage of tackling your internal interfaces first is that you can easily gather the necessary contact and business intelligence to make interfaces especially valuable, such as:

  • Main point of contact;
  • Preferred method of contact;
  • What role(s) does each department play in your risk management processes; and
  • How critical is this department for delivering critical goods and services to fulfill your organization's mission?

Related Articles on Departments and Vendors in Aviation SMS

How to Identify External Interfaces

External interfaces will definitely be more challenging to both

  • identify and
  • collect necessary information.

In order to efficiently use your interfaces, manages must intimately understand the interfaces'

  • interactions with the organization during the fulfilment of the mission;
  • criticality in identifying and mitigating risk to ALARP;
  • role in contributing to organizational success.

For SMS Pro users, identifying internal departments and vendors as interfaces is very easy. internal departments are identified in the main "Customize Settings" module. Select your division and go to Initial Settings. in the "Manage Division's Departments" section, you select whether each department is an interface you wish to include specifically in:

  • Proactive hazard analyses;
  • Management of change projects; and
  • Emergency response plans.

Vendors you wish to highlight as important interfaces in your risk management processes are identified in SMS Pro's Vendor Management module.

For readers who are not yet SMS Pro users, you can use these same strategies to identify and document internal departments and vendors. Without a doubt, vendors and internal departments are among the easiest interfaces to identify, barring the most obvious ones, such as:

  • Regulatory agency;
  • Third party standards body (e.g., IS-BAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation); and
  • Public safety departments (police and fire).

Internal departments and vendors are the lowest hanging fruit in the interface identification and documentation process. Existing point of contact details and these interfaces' criticality to your risk management processes are already well-known within your organization.

Download Aviation SMS Implementation Resources

Other Activities to Identify Interfaces in Aviation SMS Implementations

To state the obvious, vendors and internal departments do not provide a complete list of interfaces.

The next logical place to search for interfaces is exactly where I would document SMS interfaces. You guessed correctly if you are considering the "system description." The system description is part of your SMS' "system design" documentation.

We'll complete this discussion In another article. We'll discuss identifying and documenting interfaces during your proactive hazard analysis activities, which are part of your Safety Risk Management (SRM) processes.

Final Thoughts on Identifying Interfaces in Aviation SMS

Advanced strategies for using interfaces to save money and reduce risk to ALARP are not discussions for immature SMS implementations. You should be in phase four of your SMS implementation and your safety culture should not suffer dismal SMS participation levels.

In my opinion, developing your safety culture is paramount to the success of EVERY aviation SMS implementation. With this guidance, the majority of you reading this should be focusing on your safety culture. Safety culture is lower hanging fruit to perpetuate your continuous improvement efforts.

Do you find yourself wanting to improve your safety culture or realize benefits from advanced SMS interface management? SMS Pro has some very sweet tools to energize your SMS and reduce your SMS documentation burdens.

Learn how you can put these tools to work for your with these short demo videos.

Watch SMS Pro Demo Videos


Topics: 2-Safety Risk Management

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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