UNDER THE RADAR : MANAGING THE DYNAMICS OF TECHNOLOGYOBSOLESCENCE IN THE NIGERIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY

E. O Onwuka, Chief Instructor, Radar Systems, NCAT Zaria
E. O Onwuka, Chief Instructor, Radar Systems, NCAT Zaria

This write-up focuses only on technology obsolescence. However other classes might be mentioned only in passing.

The obsolescence phenomenon is very evident and impacting in the aviation industry when we consider equipment procurement, maintenance, repair and replacement planning.

It is a common site in Aviation sector work environment to see disused or abandoned or discarded or antiquated equipment, gadgets, devices and systems even aircraft which may still appear physically good, by lay man’s standard, but worth next to nothing if auctioned. Obsolete equipment are not useful to anyone even the addicted amateur technician may find it difficult to squeeze meaningful economic benefit as a free gift. Organizations should decongest their operational environment by recycling these scraps whish have lost economic value. One might exclaim, “What a waste!”

TECHNOLOGY OBSOLESCENCE

Technology is not static but dynamic and obsolescence is the by-product of the change in technology. Therefore obsolescence occurs when a new product or equipment or technology supersedes the old one both in complexity, functionality, effectiveness and efficiency as a tool of production and suddenly becomes the preferred alternative in place of the old when the old item of equipment might still be functional.

That equipment is partially or fully functional does not make that a best-fit in the scheme of things. In most cases as long as specification, operating parameters and regulatory requirements have changed, that item of equipment must give way to the next upgrade.

Frequency of Technology Obsolescence

The reason is simple. Frequency of obsolescence occurs because some creative and innovative individuals somewhere in Silicon Valley, California, Beijing, Tokyo. Taipei, Korea etc, do not sleep when and you I go into deep slumber snoring all night. They are busy researching and developing new items of equipment and improving the existing one for the next upgrade. In like manner manufacturers are occupied in the production lines translating concept into actual physical equipment and making them available in the market instantaneously. These people are at the front end of innovation pushing the technology frontiers exposing our backwardness which is loudly omnipresent. Hence the challenges posed by technology obsolescence go unchallenged in Nigerian and across Africa’s aviation.

Like all consumer nations, business outfits in Nigerian especially the Aviation sector tend to be more reactive than proactive. Reactive in the sense that organizations and groups are having a hard time responding to technological change. Decision makers argue it; debate it, and justification the status quo which in many instances does not allow for quick and responsible adaptation to change.

We ought to be proactive by projecting into the future and forecasting what the future holds and plan towards it. Great accomplishments are recorded by doing so. You adapt quicker to changes in the business environment and increase your competitiveness edge as a service provider by setting your business apart from the crowd which is branding.

MITIGATING MEASURES

Managers and decision makers find it difficult to comprehend technology obsolescence phenomenon. And so whether you are reactive or proactive as long as you do not drive the change you can at least manage the dynamics of technology obsolescence by developing obsolescence tracking mechanism in the operational environment. Over the years I have noticed that manufacturers of systems and equipment have one common attributes. They are sensitive to the factors that drive the Aviation industry vis-a-viz ICAO SARPs and feed from professional bodies such as IFATSEA IFATCA,  IATA, ACI, CANSO and CAAs and they respond accordingly. They are creative, imaginative and constantly nurturing serious strategic initiatives.

In an attempt to adapt to new technology and add value to their operations, firms (service and manufacturing) and Agencies of government make tough decisions on annual bases on whether to keep or refurbish a piece of equipment currently being used in the provision of good and services or to replace it out-rightly with a better technology that is currently available in the market to enhance their productive capacity. Undoubtedly, most of the equipment procurement and replacement plans especially in the public sector never translate to actual implementation because the funds are often vied to other projects with higher priority. This is so because the first budget-item that bite-the-dust when funds are in short supply is equipment procurement followed by training.

BUDGET SCORECARD

Like every genuine intentions, the process starts with the identification of needs to do this and do that which, to a very a large extent, often involves items of equipment the agency what to procure to improve capacity.  To develop a winning budget proposal, the IT personnel are armed with a description of the kind of equipment needed.

They surf the web continually. Make comparative assessment of what is and what is not until they have identified equipment parameters, brand name, and specifications that best fits that description. In the process unnecessary downtime is incurred due to poor network connectivity and epileptic power supply.

Eventually the cost outlay is captured in the budget proposal of the agency in the succeeding year and submitted and another waiting game for budget defense begins which can be indefinite because you don’t have control of the external factor. After budget defense comes appropriation, after that, all things being equal comes, releases which again can hardly be forecasted accurately when it shall be; otherwise go back to the drawing board and make recommended amendments and represent.

The problem is further compounded by the fact further improvements in technology is occurring at an increasing speed such that between budget preparation, budget defense, appropriation and actual releases of needed funds the equipment you were aiming to procure has received tremendous improvement.  It is smarter, effective, efficient, durable and more user friendly than the older version you had planned for. In most cases, as research has found out, it is much more expensive and a recommended upgrade.  By the time funds are released contract awarded, order placed, equipment shipped, cleared, installation completed and test-rum conducted, the equipment is already vulnerable to planned obsolescence. This scenario leads to unplanned and unanticipated changes and it challenges decision makers in the organization.

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