Airplanes parked at an airport

An Innovation-Packed Event for Aerospace and Defense Leaders in Sunny Seattle

Change can take your breath away. In Seattle, one minute you can be looking at sidewalks and sculptures and a few seconds later your eyes are feasting on a major metropolitan city, snow-covered mountains, and a stunningly beautiful maritime waterway from 520 feet up in the historic Space Needle.

The adjustment can be a thrilling head rush somewhat similar to the business-changing digital transformations occurring in the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry. With the recently renovated Space Needle as a backdrop, Seattle proved to be a perfect host city for SAP Aerospace & Defense Innovation Days 2019.

With the theme of “Unleash Creativity, Drive Innovation, Shape the Future of the Intelligent Aerospace Enterprise,” the event gave attendees a chance to discuss SAP technologies and solutions that will run as the foundation of the future of the industry. Conversations centered around several themes, including adapting to change, undergoing cultural and workforce transformation, and sharing unique successes from digital innovation.

Equalman Prepares the Crew for Liftoff

Attendees during Erik Qualman's keynote.
Photo via Alabastro Photography©

Best-selling author and inspirational speaker Erik Qualman, known as Equalman, merged these themes together in his motivational keynote. Qualman encouraged attendees to embrace the discomfort that often comes with change as a growth opportunity. “It’s ok, and even good, to step into discomfort,” he said. “You must do it each and every day to start the journey to innovation.”

Qualman shared a few facts showing just how fast change is happening and the reason A&D businesses need to digitize their enterprise now.

  • By 2020, people will be having more conversations with bots than with their spouse
  • Two-thirds of the population get the latest news only from social media
  • Ninety-three percent of purchases are influenced by social media

Throughout his engaging and interactive presentation, Qualman set the stage for stepping into discomfort every day in order to design a more positive, impactful future. While his encouragement felt personal to attendees, it spoke directly to what’s happening within the A&D ecosystem as businesses transition the enterprise to a digital core connected by an advanced set of innovative technologies.

Boeing Shares Its Flight Path

Showcasing the power of digital transformation was The Boeing Company, which spent considerable time giving attendees an inside look at how and why it went digital. Ahead of the SAP event, for example, attendees were given a 90-minute tour of the Boeing manufacturing floor in nearby Everett, Washington.

Boeing is in a multi-year transition to an SAP digital core and an intelligent enterprise that impacts its manufacturing, business operations, culture, and every aspect of the company. Dubbed “Second Century,” the transformation is leading the company into the future. Mike Marfizo, IT director for the SAP Center of Excellence at The Boeing Company, summed up the company’s digital transformation journey saying, “This is not an IT project. This is not a business project. It’s a company project that involves everyone.”

Boeing is realizing significant gains from its digitization, and other A&D companies are not far behind. The U.S. Navy, Magellan, L3 Technologies, Huntington Ingalls Industries, and others also relayed their experiences of going digital with SAP.

Each customer has used tools like design thinking and white boarding to define a long-term course to create an intelligent enterprise. In these environments, a central digital core connects to a rich set of business and operational solutions overlaid with advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, machine learning, predictive analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT). These technologies form the bedrock that is helping A&D businesses shorten lead times, increase visibility, and improve decision-making.

The first day also included stage time for Qualtrics, SAP’s most recent acquisition. As an experience management (XM) leader, Qualtrics’ data expertise is synergistic with SAP. Qualtrics provides insights into consumer, product, brand, and employee experience from a treasure trove of collected data. For A&D, experience data can mesh with operational data in exciting ways to provide valuable information about workforce turnover, customer satisfaction, and brand recognition.

Ships, Planes, Football — and SAP S/4HANA

Attendees regrouped on day two of SAP Aerospace & Defense Innovations Days 2019 for another packed day of discussions and networking. A National Football League All-Star turned pilot joined a workforce panel on stage, small breakout sessions let attendees talk in detail about their digital transformations, and the A&D ecosystem continued to peel back what digital transformation really means for individual companies.

As co-chairman of the EAA Young Eagles, Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham brought star power to the discussion about recruiting and retaining talent within A&D. With experience in introducing young kids to the wonders of aerospace, he discussed the importance of employees possessing passion for their work to help breathe new life and dedication into the workforce, especially among millennials.

“Passion is infectious,” said Graham. “You have to relay your passion. They want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Panelists for SAP A&D Innovation Days 2019.
Photo via Alabastro Photography©

Graham sat alongside Fariba Alamdari of Boeing and Andy Collins, a young talent from Textron Aviation. Each brought a unique perspective, offering valuable insights into the tools needed to attract, motivate, and inspire a workforce that is prepared to adapt with the future of the industry.

The event also offered the opportunity for more intimate discussions through interactive roundtables. Attendees gathered in small groups to talk specifics around an array of topics, including SAP S/4HANA Manufacturing, the future of sustainment, tips to build a factory of the future, and more. The groups discussed real-world examples and shared perspectives and experiences that cut directly to current industry challenges, workarounds, successes, and best practices.

Another highlight was Huntington Ingalls Industries’ transition to SAP S/4HANA and SAP SuccessFactors solutions. The Mississippi-based ship builder replaced an aging, 50-year-old mainframe with an intelligent, hybrid cloud, software-as-a-service (SaaS) environment. To hit its goal of being on time and on budget, the project team slimmed down the request list by eliminating non-essential customization requests and pushing best-business cases upwards.

Harris’ IT Director Jason Brown described the transition as far from simple, but well worth it. “We’ve seen big, noticeable changes,” he said. “Change is the new norm.”

A View Into the Future

The idea that change is good and unleashes maximum potential was a recurring theme throughout the event. The digital transformation at The Boeing Company, transformative solutions from SAP, and transforming workforce show that positive change is not just waiting on the launchpad but blasting the A&D industry forward.

View from the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.
Photo via Alabastro Photography©

This is also evident at Seattle’s Space Needle, which is at the brink of finishing its multi-year, $100 million renovation. The ambitious project includes the addition of the world’s first and only rotating glass floor that moves an astonishing 37 tons of weight. Undoubtedly, updating the 57-year-old icon was hardly easy but well worth the time and resources.

The A&D industry is undergoing similar transformation and with the help of innovative technologies and the passion of its people, it will continue to amaze and astound the world with creativity and ingenuity. For more on the unshakeable potential of the intelligent aerospace enterprise, read “The Intelligent Enterprise for the Aerospace and Defense Industry.”


Torsten Welte is global vice president and head of Aerospace and Defense at SAP.