15 years of iMRO innovation: HCLTech and SAP transforming asset management | HCLTech

15 years of iMRO innovation: HCLTech and SAP transforming asset management

Reflecting on 15 years of iMRO innovation, HCLTech’s Colin Breakwell and SAP’s Johann Schachtner highlight its transformative impact on asset management
6 minutes read
Mousume Roy
Mousume Roy
APAC Reporter, HCLTech
6 minutes read
15 years of iMRO innovation: HCLTech and SAP transforming complex asset management

Keeping high-value and regulated assets running smoothly is a big challenge for organizations aiming for top efficiency and optimization. Enter iMRO, the game-changing industry add-on developed by HCLTech for SAP's Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) solution. As we celebrate 15 years of iMRO's transformative journey, it's time to delve into how this innovative solution has transformed complex asset management for enterprises worldwide.

To understand the genesis of iMRO and the motivations that propelled its development, HCLTech Trends and Insights had the privilege to sit down with Colin Breakwell, VP at HCLTech, and Johann Schachtner, Industry Solution Manager at SAP. Reflecting on iMRO’s inception 15 years ago, Breakwell recalls the challenges faced by organizations utilizing SAP's solutions for airline maintenance and aerospace industries. "Those early customers all needed the same project enhancements to the SAP solution, so we decided to productize them to create iMRO – driving faster implementations and improved ROI.”

Schachtner adds depth to this narrative, emphasizing the crucial role played by HCLTech in filling the white spaces in the SAP solution. "HCLTech was chosen because they had iMRO, which was implemented at a number of customers," notes Schachtner. "And jointly, we established a solution management team that then drove the solution going forward." Thus, the collaborative efforts of industry pioneers and technology innovators laid the foundation for iMRO's remarkable journey of innovation and success.

At its core, iMRO is more than just a software solution; it's a comprehensive suite of products designed to improve asset utilization and streamline maintenance processes. By leveraging the latest SAP capabilities, advanced analytics and industry best practices, iMRO empowers organizations to maximize the efficiency of their asset maintenance processes. 

Evolution of complex asset maintenance

Over the past few decades, the asset maintenance ecosystem, especially in the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) sectors, has evolved significantly. Breakwell sheds light on this transformation, emphasizing a notable shift towards aftermarket services among major aerospace manufacturers. "Traditionally, aerospace companies built things and sold them — but in the last 15 years, there's been a big shift into the aftermarket and the maintenance space," he observes. This shift sees aerospace giants not only manufacturing assets but also providing maintenance services as a bundled offering, heralding a new era of comprehensive asset management solutions.

This has led to a surge in outsourcing of maintenance services by asset operators, as Schachtner points out. "Many airlines outsource maintenance to third party maintenance organizations, driving the emergence of large maintenance providers catering to the needs of multiple operators. This trend has propelled the growth of global maintenance businesses, transforming them into key players in the industry.”

Both leaders highlight the immense cost pressures faced by airlines, driving a relentless pursuit of efficiency in maintenance operations. "Airlines face severe cost pressures," notes Schachtner, emphasizing the critical role of cost-effective maintenance solutions in sustaining profitability. This focus on cost optimization has necessitated a holistic approach to maintenance management, seamlessly integrating it with financial, commercial and logistics processes.

There's also a growing emphasis on asset sustainability and longevity, particularly in defense sectors. Breakwell highlights the increasing lifespan of assets and the consequent rise in maintenance complexity. "Assets lasting longer has created more pressure on maintenance organizations," he explains, emphasizing the need for adaptive maintenance regimes to accommodate the evolving needs of aging assets.

The evolution of complex asset maintenance has ushered in a new era of integrated, cost-efficient solutions tailored to meet the evolving needs of modern enterprises. With a focus on aftermarket services, cost optimization and sustainability, organizations are leveraging innovative technologies like iMRO to navigate the complexities of asset management in the 21st century.

Evolution of iMRO

As the landscape of complex asset maintenance continues to evolve, so does iMRO. It evolved from its nascent stages into a robust, comprehensive platform tailored to meet the diverse needs of modern enterprises. 

iMRO has not only expanded its functional capabilities but responded adeptly to the shifting dynamics of the market, particularly in addressing cost management and commercial aspects. Breakwell elaborates on this, stating, "We've taken a small product that focused on repair shop maintenance execution and transformed it into a fully-fledged MRO platform, with features ranging from contract definition and pricing, forecasting and planning, shop floor execution and management, material supply and logistics, through to customer billing, empowering organizations to manage their maintenance operations efficiently while ensuring profitability.

Schachtner further points out the advancement of iMRO's functionality, citing examples such as the engine maintenance solution, which stands as a testament to the platform's deep functional capabilities. "HCLTech has delivered the most comprehensive engine maintenance solution available today," he affirms, highlighting iMRO's prowess in addressing the intricate requirements of engine maintenance operations.

In addition to functional enhancements, iMRO has also embraced technological advancements, particularly the move to cloud and modularization. "There's been a big push towards standardization of processes and solutions in the IT world enabling customers to be a lot more agile and flexible in the way they implement," stated Breakwell acknowledging this shift. This modular approach not only enhances flexibility but also streamlines implementation processes, empowering organizations to adapt to changing business needs with ease.

Shaping the future of complex asset maintenance

As organizations navigate the complex landscape of asset maintenance, one trend looms large on the horizon: the transformative impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Schachtner begins by contextualizing AI within complex asset maintenance. "Asset maintenance is, and always will be, a large contributor to operator performance excellence through on-time delivery and asset utilization. The question then, how will AI add value to asset maintenance?” He explains three key areas where AI is poised to drive significant value: Extracting value form big data, exploiting the power of generative AI (GenAI) and harnessing the power of knowledge.

Machine learning, Schachtner asserts, will continue to play a pivotal role in leveraging vast amounts of data to optimize maintenance workflows. The advent ofGenAI heralds a shift in how maintenance processes will be executed, offering unprecedented insights and efficiencies.  The potential of knowledge management driven by AI shines bright. 

By digitizing and standardizing processes, organizations can capture invaluable insights and experiences, fostering a culture of continuous improvement driven by AI. However, to industrialize AI innovation and successfully deploy it at scale requires AI grounded in your business data. iMRO, together with SAP, provides contextual grounded business data (driven by end-to-end business solutions) upon which to train AI models to drive maximum value.

Building upon Schachtner's insights, Breakwell shared insights on the evolutionary journey of iMRO towards intelligent, insight-driven processes. "Over the last years, we've seen iMRO move from a transactional system to intelligence-driven processes. This will be further extended by embedding AI into maintenance processes.

Breakwell emphasizes the pivotal role of the digital thread, a robust data model within SAP, as the foundation for AI-driven innovation. "The digital thread is the foundation for all of that to work, intertwining disparate data sources, providing a holistic view of assets and operations. With AI tools applied to this foundation, we envision a future brimming with untapped potential and transformative capabilities.”

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Forging strong partnerships: Collaborative innovation with clients and SAP

Breakwell emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between HCLTech’s iMRO team and SAP, highlighting their joint efforts to align technologies, use cases and capabilities. Through regular dialogues and collaboration with SAP's solutions and development teams, HCLTech ensures that it harnesses the latest innovations, effectively leveraging both company's substantial investments in technology and innovation.

The iMRO team actively engages with the MRO user community, called SUGAIR, comprising approximately 50 customers. Through forums like the advisory board, the iMRO team solicits invaluable feedback and insights from its user base, shaping product development and enhancements. Additionally, the iMRO team collaborates closely with strategic clients, embarking on co-development initiatives to address specific industry challenges and innovate around new solutions. 

These co-development partnerships, characterized by mutual commitment and industry expertise, have yielded transformative outcomes and a highly advanced MRO solution. These partnerships continue to drive the product roadmap with new functionality being delivered quarterly. Beyond technological innovation, Breakwell emphasizes the sense of community fostered by iMRO, wherein customers become integral collaborators in the journey of continuous improvement. By nurturing deep, long-lasting relationships with its clientele, iMRO has cultivated a vibrant ecosystem of users who are deeply invested in its success. 

Through collective efforts and unwavering dedication, HCLTech and SAP continue to redefine the landscape of complex asset maintenance, driving value and fostering excellence across the aerospace and defense and airline maintenance sectors.

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