BBA Aviation Soars Towards Its Goal of Doubling in Size in Five Years

CIO Erik Keller details the way tech helps drive the organization's massive growth.

Tremendous opportunities are frequently accompanied by the need to undergo massive change. At the same time, there’s always a risk that one may undermine the other. But at BBA Aviation, group chief information officer Erik Keller has laid the groundwork and guided change management that simultaneously enabled the company to make transformational operational improvements, facilitate a major acquisition, and helped move BBA Aviation toward its goal of doubling in size in five years.

When Keller came to BBA in 2012, the company known as a leading power in aviation support and aftermarket services was operating with five distinct business groups and an IT department that supported them in a similarly decentralized fashion. However, Keller had a road map for changing BBA’s structure to a more federated model that would be able to fully integrate all of the company’s global functions. Within his first 100 days, an assessment of BBA’s overall IT maturity, performance, and accountability confirmed the need for the kind of transformation he envisioned.

“IT needed to become more integrated and interdependent internally and with the business units themselves,” Keller explains. “That meant moving from a less tactical, reactive approach to being more proactive and strategic. That would enable us to deliver greater value on a daily basis and better support for our growth objectives.”

After examining core elements such as IT infrastructure, governance, security, and overall alignment with business operations, the transformation began with significant infrastructure investments. Shared data centers were established to scale on demand. Budget and planning consolidation was supported by implementing an SAP platform, which Keller calls the company’s Rosetta Stone. The platform can aggregate and convert information from multiple back office and financial systems into a common language that provides enterprise-wide visibility into performance.

As changes were being implemented, natural reluctance occurred from business units to relinquish local control that had existed under the old structure. Keller worked on establishing credibility with them by prioritizing the development of IT metrics that were then shared to demonstrate the efficacy of the new centralized approach. “You build trust by listening and credibility by delivering, but IT had not previously done a rigorous job of reporting objectives and outcomes,” Keller admits. “We had to change that by living up to the same expectations as the business teams. That helped us change the internal IT mindset, as well as how we were perceived externally.”

This reorganization has produced tangible results. In addition to providing new functionality to ongoing business operations, the service desk has reduced wait times for callers from three-and-a-half minutes to only thirty seconds. IT’s budget and priorities have been transformed. Instead of three-quarters of expenses being devoted to maintenance and support activities, 70 percent is now focused on innovation and business enablement. The consolidation, integration, and restructuring also introduced a project management office that is well on its way to delivering 90 percent compliance with key performance indicators, such as on-time and on-budget project completion. Lastly, Keller sits on the executive committee, which now regularly vets major IT decisions so that they can be coordinated with overall business challenges, objectives, and innovations.

All of these changes created an IT structure that has been able to offer comprehensive support to BBA’s recent acquisition of Landmark Aviation, the industry’s second largest global aviation support and aftermarket services firm (BBA was already the largest). This has presented Keller and his team with a massive integration challenge as it adds sixty-four fixed-base operations (FBOs) and maintenance and repair operations throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and France within a twelve-month period.

In an average year, BBA Aviation would typically add only about six FBOs. Further process and system improvements will be implemented throughout the coming year. “Our investments and IT’s alignment with the business created an infrastructure that can scale up to handle this kind of volume efficiently and effectively. In reality, we wouldn’t have had that capability several years ago,” he says.

The acquisition will likely result in even further cost savings and efficiencies. BBA has predicted that IT will own approximately 10 percent of a projected $35 million synergy target.

Other ongoing challenges include upgrading the company’s point-of-sale systems to support mobile access and other digital capabilities to meet consumer demand. Keller is also developing a road map for rationalizing its technology portfolio to eliminate redundancies. Such projects illustrate how he and his team must balance an ever-evolving list of priorities and initiatives.

When asked if there has been much resistance to the pace of change and innovations instituted, Keller says that along the way there has been an equal number of opinions on whether the company is moving too fast or too slow. “Ultimately, I’d say that means we’re probably moving at just the right speed,” he says.