The last time AMT did a software article was about two years ago. Back then, there were quite a few programs out there for maintenance applications. Now, there are even more, and software companies are expanding their products at a rapid pace. We will try to sort through some of the products out there and offer some tips when it comes to choosing the product that best fits your needs.
Before we look at the individual software products, lets discuss some of the things to consider when looking for maintenance software.
Many shops may feel that maintenance tracking is the most important issue when looking at a software product. From a mechanic's point of view, that is probably right. We want a product that will allow us to track our aircraft more efficiently. But most products offer more than just maintenance tracking. You need to know what your organization's needs are and get the product that best fits those needs.
The ability to have electronic signatures on the work items can be a big desire for a maintenance operation. But you need to check with your local FSDO before you implement an electronic signature system. They will probably have certain requirements such as password protection and traceability to help eliminate the possibility of fraudulent entries.
One possibility with new software applications is their ability to be used in a wireless environment. There are a wide variety of wireless possibilities from rugged laptops to smaller PDA units. If you are considering a wireless application, make sure the product fits your needs. You also need to carefully consider the environment the units will be used in. Will they be used in the hangar or will they be used on the flight line in adverse environmental conditions? If they are to be used on the line, be sure the hardware you are looking at will stand up to that rugged environment.
In the end, you need to find the software product that best fits your needs. Don't get lured by all the talk from the salesperson about all the capabilities that his or her product offers. If you only need one or two of those items, it could be a waste of your time and money. Also consider the complexity of the product and the support needed. Gerald Kosbab, president and COO of ATP, offers some advice on this subject. "Before you look at software products, look at your business process," Kosbab says. "Unless you are looking to change your processes, pick a product that best fits your processes. This will make the transition much easier." If a change in processes is desired, pick the product that allows you to go in the direction you want to go.
One issue you should consider is what type of training is provided with the software product. Is on-site training needed? If the product is complex, it may require a great amount of training. Generally, the more time you invest in training your personnel how to use the product, the easier the transition will be. Keep in mind that there will be a learning curve when first implementing any program. The sooner your employees are trained on the system and begin to apply it to their jobs, the sooner you will see the payback on your investment.
Another thing to consider is the support needed for the software product. Will you need people in your company to support the software and hardware associated with the product? Is this something you already have in place? Don't overestimate your company's ability to implement the product. Some of the products on the market are complex and require some significant support.
Many shops already have some sort of legacy maintenance software system in place. When you are looking at a new product, you need to consider how it will work with your legacy system. Will the new product be able to pull information that is in your existing product? Or will all of the information need to be migrated to the new system. If this is the case, then what type of time investment are you looking at? Although your company may have made a big investment in a software solution a few years ago, you need to consider the need to continue supporting this legacy system with the advantages of going to a new solution. There comes a time when it is not worth it to continue to support old applications. You need to determine when that point comes and make the leap to the newer technology.
Ask lots of questions
In the end, you are ready to begin the search for a maintenance software application. You have done your homework and studied the work processes in your organization. You have an idea of what you need in a product to help you achieve your goals, whether they be productivity gains, cost savings, or others. Now it is time to talk to the companies. Listen to what they have to say. Learn about how their product will fit with your needs. Most of all, ask a lot of questions. Make sure you understand what you are getting. Following this article, we have listed some of the software products available out there along with a brief description of their capabilities. This can serve as a starting point for you in your search for your new software application. AMT