Airbus, the European aerospace designer and manufacturer, is undergoing a digital transformation that is seeing it move its existing on-premise workloads to the public cloud and create an enterprise-wide data platform that is built on Splunk. The aim is to improve customer experience, drive more innovation, enable quicker decision making and reduce costs - although cultural and organizational change is front of mind for the company too.
Chris Taylor, who was VP of Airbus’ Digital Accelerator (who now works at ServiceNow), spoke at a Splunk event where he said that the company’s business objectives were quite simple: faster time to market, lower cost, and the ability to adapt to new customer opportunities. However, the priority has been doing this on a global basis. The Digital Accelerator programme has been running for approximately three and a half years.
Airbus is fairly mature in its use of digital collaboration tools, according to Taylor, where all of these run in one of the major cloud provider’s environments. However, now the priority is moving the company’s core on-premise systems to the public cloud too. Taylor explained;
The thing about cloud is you can build it for one application or two applications, but building it for a global enterprise is quite a different challenge when you want to consume it in a democratized way. And so Airbus has been investing in that for the last two and a half to three years.
We're now starting to pull more and more applications and workloads from on premise into the public cloud. It is a challenge. The focus was originally customer experience and scaling innovation, but now we're moving existing workloads that are on premise and moving them to the public cloud for cost saving opportunities.
A central part of this transformation is Airbus’ data strategy, which has a central purpose of creating value for customers, employees and suppliers - enabling them to make faster, better decisions to drive business performance. Taylor said:
That is the business objective. And so to do that at the scale of Airbus,you typically need a large global enterprise platform that can be self-service, that enables democratization of the centre of truth of data, and that people can consume. Because the value is not created by the platform, the value is created by people making faster, better decisions.
We wanted to have a single enterprise data fusion platform, because the value is accelerated and magnified when you integrate the data together. You break the data silos - and by breaking the data silos you help to break the cultural and organizational silos that exist. And therefore, the value of digital transformation is about joining the dots across the organization. And so Splunk enables us to join the dots.
Taylor said that companies typically select Splunk for singular use cases, such as IT operations, or cybersecurity. However, at Airbus, Splunk is being used as one platform to deliver many segments of ‘business value. He added:
We chose IT operations. We've analysed business processes. We use it for running and helping IT as a business, but we also use it for cybersecurity. But not just security operations, but for compliance, for data driven decision making, and freeing the data out for the organization to use rather than the silos.
Splunk is one of our key enterprise tools. And we've got several that enable our products and services to demonstrate adoption and value of the performance of those products. We also use it for a multitude of different topics - managing waste in an IT environment, running IT as a business.
That’s a key topic, but obviously even more of a key topic in an environment such as COVID-19 and aircraft manufacturing. Splunk enables our teams to look at waste - what about our assets? Where are stranded assets? Where are underutilized assets? It really is used for many, many use cases. And very early on we realized that actually one platform with the data integrated can solve for many use cases and products - and help those products run as a business, manage value, manage costs, manage waste.
Taylor explained that data had previously existed in silos at Airbus, which is suboptimal for delivering value. But, he added, people also do like to maintain this as a status quo, because silos mean that they can maintain control and manage their data. The key, Taylor said, is to open their minds to the fact that data is more valuable if it is shared and integrated with other data across the organization.
A key enabler for bringing people on board has been using cybersecurity as a showcase. Taylor said:
Cybersecurity is a business risk managed by collaboration across the enterprise. I cannot think of any cyber risk that is purely dependent on one control only. It's not the case, it doesn't exist. And so it's actually about the combination of controls. It's actually about teams collaborating together, prioritizing and analyzing the data so that you get control management and risk management. And so, cybersecurity is a great example where joining the dots across the organization, breaking down the silos and having a single version of the data referential, where you can see your cybersecurity environment, is incredibly important.
This issue became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, where people’s working habits changed. Taylor added:
We saw at Airbus a change in people’s behaviour due to COVID. People worked from home, but they also consumed services and data, and the data risk changed. And so we analyzed around 10 key dimensions in Splunk, and we used it to identify and measure the change in risk in our environment.
We then use that very same data to reprioritize our investments and put in place new cybersecurity controls due to COVID, to manage that changing cyber risk. And this is really about devices spending a long time working from home. And then what we did was we used that to make investments about how we manage the risk of re-onboarding those devices. All of that was identified, prioritized, and measured the outcome and the benefits of, with Splunk.
Don’t underestimate culture change
Airbus is still part way through its journey to the cloud and the development of its data capabilities. But front of mind for Taylor and his team is bringing stakeholders on board - where cultural change is central to the strategy. He said that it’s important to identify people that are ‘data curious’ and to then reduce their barriers to access - whether that be providing training, or actual access to the data. He said:
Once you remove those barriers, then you start to get the volume, and then you start to get the tool adoption.
Getting this culture change piece right will be key to Airbus’ success in the future. Taylor added:
Driving the data age is not about technology. The hardest thing is convincing people what to do. Really it's about people and talent and culture. That's what really is the most challenging part - convincing and influencing and identifying those people who really want to go and move into it. The cultural change of digital transformation is by far the hardest part. The technology, you can buy it and deliver it and scale it - tt's not easy, but it’s not as nearly as difficult as the cultural change.
You have to answer the question: what's in it for me? If I'm a business leader, what is digital transformation going to do for me? What can it enable for me in terms of incremental revenue, faster time to market? What can it do for me? Because digital transformation can often be very technically focused and you need to turn it into a business context and explain it into the business value. The trick is explaining cloud in the context of business enablement, and typically something you couldn't do before - ‘it used to take you four months, now it's now one day’. The thing is not to talk about technology. That's rule number one. Talk about outcomes.