In November 2006, ICAO mandated that each country require their aviation service providers to adopt a formal safety management system (SMS) that was accepted by each state. ICAO provided an explicit list of the types of operators to which are required to abide by this mandate. They include aviation operators, aviation maintenance organizations, ATS providers and certified aerodromes (airports).
Minimum standards were also listed to satisfy the aviation safety management system regulations. They include a system that:
- Identifies safety hazards
- Ensures that remedial action necessary to maintain an acceptable level of safety is implemented
- Provides for continuous monitoring and regular assessment of the safety level achieved
- Aims to make continuous improvement to the overall level of safety
The Australians and Canadians took the lead and started implementing their aviation safety systems in a very admirable manner. There are many lessons that can be learned from these pioneers in aviation safety systems, and many of these lessons revolve around the tools they incorporated into their safety management systems.
The following describes more about aviation safety management software and provides some insight into whether your company should purchase aviation safety software, build your own, or perhaps use existing tools within the company, such as MS Excel, MS SharePoint, etc.
When the Australians and Canadians started creating their aviation safety management systems, most had little idea regarding how much data would be generated from this safety system. Furthermore, there were no commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products that were developed specifically for the aviation industry that addressed the ICAO requirements until 2008, which is when SMS Pro was released.
We don't mean to imply that every operator, maintenance organization or aerodrome needs an enterprise-level safety management software suite. Many operators can make due with tools at hand, such as MS Word documents, MS Excel spreadsheets, MS Access databases and MS SharePoint content management systems. When organizations become more complex, or have severe human resource limitations, then they will need automated software tools to collect data, send automated notifications, generate automated canned reports and offer a secure, centralized database that can be accessed by the entire organization, regardless whether the aviation organization is scattered across several countries.
Time and again, we have seen operators with 40 to 300 employees struggling with their paper based systems. Reports are impossible to generate with a frequency to satisfy the continuous monitoring requirements. Therefore, aviation safety management software is needed that addresses these needs.
Aviation safety management software may take on many forms. We have seen MS Excel spreadsheets called "aviation safety management software." And the sad thing is that operators are spending thousands of dollars on spreadsheets or simple reporting systems that only allow employees to submit electronic reports.
An aviation safety management system is more than an MS Excel spreadsheet used to list reported issues. Furthermore, don't believe that you have a complete aviation safety management system when somebody attempts to sell you a system that allows employees to submit hazards electronically. An aviation safety management system encompasses all four pillars (or components) of the ICAO safety management system requirements. These include:
- Safety Policy
- Risk Management
- Safety Assurance
- Safety Promotion
Important Note: An aviation safety management software system is not an SMS. An SMS is more than aviation safety management software. Culture is part of your SMS and you simply cannot put "culture" into an aviation safety software product.
So what is Aviation Safety Management Software?
When we talk about aviation safety management software, we expect to see several elements:
- Web based interface
- Enterprise-level database (SQL Server or Oracle)
- Safety tools that encompass all FOUR pillars
- Simple interface that does not intimidate users
- Customizable interface that allows companies to modify to suite their needs
- Secure, dependable architecture (usually Microsoft .NET or Java)
When you don't have time to organize data, communicate safety promotion activities or perform the other 50 tasks in an average aviation safety program, then you need tools to make you more efficient. You may argue that you don't have very many incidents that are reported. We would ask, "why not?" Every company has safety issues or concerns. Simply because they are not reported or captured does not mean they don't exist.
Many employees don't report safety issues for a variety of reasons:
- No easy way to do it, such as email
- No feedback when reports are filed
- No accountability seen in company (reports filed, but nobody cares)
- Management discourages hazard reporting and prefers to handle things "informally"
When issues are not reported into a system, they cannot be classified and analyzed in the future to identify trends. These reported issues facilitate the "continuous improvement" requirement.
Other companies have too many reports filed and the safety team becomes overwhelmed with work. Without good aviation safety management software, a safety manager is not able to easily handle a dozen issues in a day. With SMS Pro, a safety manager can handle about a dozen issues in an hour.
In the perfect world, everyone in the company and your stakeholders use your aviation safety management software. The simplest cases would be customers and vendors sending an email to the safety email, which is then automatically pulled into the safety management software framework, just as SMS Pro does. Alternately, customers can fill out an electronic hazard reporting form from a kiosk or from their own computer. A link from your company website can open up your aviation safety management's hazard reporting form, just as SMS Pro does.
Every level of manager should also be using your aviation safety management software. When issues are reported, safety managers perform a risk assessment, classifies the issue and then assigns the issue to the responsible manager. These responsible managers are typically department heads and must manage the corrective actions. Corrective actions should be managed automatically by your aviation safety management software. Furthermore, automated alerts should be sent when items become overdue, just as SMS Pro does.
Upper level management should also be able to use your aviation safety management software with minimal training. Executive reports, operational performance monitoring, process performance monitoring and high level reports should be of interest to senior level managers.
Finally, safety managers use aviation safety management software the most. It is impossible to measure the amount of time saved from using automated aviation safety software because every company is different. Not only are the operations different, but so are attitudes, the reporting culture and the expectations surrounding the implementation of the required aviation safety management system.
When tools are built, the tool maker first must understand the task at hand. In the case of aviation safety management software, the software engineers must understand the aviation industry and the requirements of the formal aviation safety management systems. When software engineers do not understand the business logic, they must rely upon subject matter experts. Subject matter experts may come from the following sources:
- Aviation SMS training schools
- Aviation SMS experts, such as those completing Masters degrees in SMS programs
- SMS consultants
- Actual users of the software (clients)
To begin creating aviation safety software, the business work flow is addressed. Then the software engineer begins by using either one of these approaches:
- Starting at the database level and working to the user interface
- Starting by mocking up the user interface and then creating the database to support the UI.
Once the beta is ready, the new aviation safety module is presented to particular clients or SMS consultants for feedback. The module is refined based on feedback and when the module functions in a stable manner, it is released to be used by the remaining clients.
Not every aviation company needs safety management software. When labor is cheap, you may find it is easier to have the data manipulated and the processes managed by brute force. Unfortunately, employee leave the company, and so does the valuable business logic trapped in their heads.
You need to have enterprise-level aviation safety management software when you need to reduce your risk to your data and the data management tasks associated with generating reports.
When you cannot rely upon a person to follow up on reported issues, you need aviation safety management software.
When your managers cannot generate reports within a week, you need aviation safety management software. (SMS Pro does it instantly).
When you cannot demonstrate continuous improvement to your SMS regulatory auditor, you need aviation safety management software.
When you cannot manage corrective actions (and prove they have been managed properly to auditors), you need aviation safety management software.
When you don't know what is required by an aviation SMS program, you need the gap analysis and SMS implementation tools found in a good aviation safety management tool kit, such as SMS Pro.
ATC Vantage is an SMS training company in Florida. They have put out a list of aviation safety management tools that I found in January 2013. I was incredibly surprised and delighted that SMS Pro was "Highly Recommended." No, we don't pay them money to say that. Here is the link: http://atcvantage.com/files/SMS_Software_Tools.pdf
SMS Pro has a few competitors of note. When you review aviation safety management software tools, you should ask:
- Was the tool developed specifically for the aviation industry?
- How is the customer support? (your SMS software provider becomes your SMS partner)
- Cost? (SMS Pro starts at $100 monthly for up to ten users)
- Is it Web based?
- Is it customizable?
- Are the work flows flexible? or are you tied to a fixed process?
- Was the system designed as an SMS tool or retrofitted from an auditing tool, such as QPulse
When SMS consultants evaluate the top aviation safety management software providers, these are the names at the top of the list, and not in any specific order:
Why Choose SMS Pro as Your Aviation Safety Management Software?
Independent consultants rate SMS Pro as having these favorable attributes:
- Customer service
- Ability to customize/configure
- Multilingual capability (English, French, Spanish, German)