Thursday, May 2, 2013

Five Reasons Aviation SMS Implementations Fail

Implementing SMS Programs in Airlines & Airports is Risky Business

Statistically speaking, your airline or airport runs significant risk to successfully implement an aviation safety management system (SMS). Empirical evidence shows that a high percentage of aviation SMS programs have failed to meet company expectations. We see between 20 to 30% of SMS implementations don't live up to top management expectations. This is not to say that these SMS implementations were complete failures. Usually, every SMS program delivered benefits, but still left many users or regulatory auditors unsatisfied with the implementation.

What Goes Wrong With Aviation SMS Implementations?

What went wrong with their SMS implementations? These five elements keep appearing repeatedly as we observe many SMS implementations in airlines and airports around the world. aviation safety management software implementation
  1. Lack of proper planning;
  2. Lack of buy-in from users (or upper management);
  3. Misdirected focus on SMS concepts as technology rather than business cultural shifts;
  4. Inadequate training; and
  5. Selecting the wrong aviation SMS software system.

Evaluating Aviation Safety Management Software Now?

If you are currently evaluating aviation SMS software solutions, you should be paying attention. If you are in the middle of implementing your aviation SMS program, you can still benefit from this discussion.

Five Reasons Aviation SMS Implementations Fail

Let's discuss these five common reasons that airline and airport safety management systems don't live up to everyone's expectations.

1) Aviation SMS Planning

a. Failure to develop a strategy that includes clear, concrete, managable and measurable goals.
Understand where you are going and start with a road map. A gap analysis followed by an industry accepted SMS implementation plan is imperative. Choose the gap analysis model that fits your operation. Once you understand your shortcomings, come up with a plan to completely implement the SMS program.

b. Failure to adapt business processes to comply with SMS regulatory requirements.
To make your SMS program work, you will need to ensure that your business processes change to effect compliance. This is accompanied by a cultural mind-shift and these processes must be driven downward from upper management.

c. Failure to capitalize on other opportunities.
Implementing an SMS into your airline or airport can present opportunities to save money and improve business processes. An often overlooked strategy is using your SMS program to include security, quality, compliance and environmental components. Furthermore, these other opportunities expand your chances of producing a win in other areas of operations.

2) Lack of buy-in from all stakeholders.

a. Starting with upper management, your system will fail when employees perceive upper management does not support the aviation SMS implementation. Visible support includes:
1) Appearance and participation in safety events;
2) Ensuring adequate budget exists for safety tools (including software);
3) Ensuring staff has adequate training; and
4) Allowing safety manager direct access to upper management.

3) Focus SMS implementation as a change management exercise.

You are changing the attitudes and behaviors of aviation professionals who have been doing it "the old way" for many years. Change requires committed, high-energy change managers that have excellent people skills.

4) Inadequate training and support - pre and post-implementation

a. Identify employees who will ineract in varying capacities with the SMS "system." Ensure they get the proper level of training based on their roles, such as end users, department heads, internal auditors, administrators.

b. When necessary, implement continuous training programs to accommodate changes in the aviation SMS program. Also implement more advanced training as the SMS program matures.

aviation safety management software implementation 5) Choosing the wrong aviation SMS software system

a. Each aviation safety management software program is unique. Most are designed for simple hazard reporting and risk management. Realize that implementing a complete aviation SMS program will likely require two to five years and never stops evolving.

b.Ensure the aviation SMS software you choose has all the elements necessary to facilitate regulatory compliance, including:
1) Hazard/incident Reporting
2) Policy Management
3) Documentation Management
4) Risk Management
5) Hazard Analysis and Risk Register
6) Continuous Monitoring
7) Safety Promotion Tools (Safety Surveys, Newsletters, Meeting Management, etc)
The above list is not exhaustive. To learn more about what constitutes a very complete aviation safety management system, see

About NWDS - founded in 2003 by six software engineers, NorthWest Data Solutions (NWDS) provides custom computer programming and systems design services. NWDS creates many types of software, including e-commerce, financial, defense, engineering, logistics, aviation and more. In 2007, NWDS developed SMS Pro™ a web based SMS application that supports an organization's overall SMS through safety reporting, safety documentation, safety risk management and safety assurance. SMS Pro™ is currently used by aviation organizations in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East to help manage their SMS programs. NWDS continues to support SMS Pro™ and add new functionality. NWDS offers custom contract programming services in the U.S. and Canada and is managed by Chris Howell, one of the founders. Their headquarters is in Anchorage, Alaska. For information on NWDS visit their website at and to learn more about SMS Pro™.

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