Sunday, August 1, 2010

Content Integration in the Aviation Industry Using CMIS

The recently approved Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) specification could play a very important role in ensuring that aircraft operators receive up-to-date maintenance and operation documentation from aviation manufacturers.

The safe and efficient maintenance and operation of air vehicles require clear, technically accurate, and up-to-date technical documentation. The technical documentation is supplied by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), regulatory agencies, and the aircraft operator's own engineering staff. OEMs (e.g. airframe, engine, and component manufacturers) provide regular publications such as Aircraft Maintenance Manuals (AMM) and Flight Crew Operating Manuals (FCOM) as well as time-sensitive supplements such as Service Bulletins (SBs) and Temporary Revisions (TRs). Regulatory agencies like Transport Canada and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also publish technical information that affects the maintenance and operation of air vehicles and equipments. Examples are Advisory Circulars (ACs), Airworthiness Directives (ADs), and various forms and regulations.

A typical airline faces the following challenges:

  • The elimination of the high costs associated with the shipping, storage, and distribution of physical products (paper, CDs, and DVDs) containing the technical documentation.

  • The safety and regulatory compliance concerns related to the use of out-of-date technical information (currently, some airlines receive revisions to technical manuals only four times a year).

The aerospace industry is in the process of adopting the new S1000D technical publications standard. S1000D is based on the concepts of modularity, reuse, and metadata (see my post on S1000D Content Reuse). The Flight Operation Interests Group (FOIG) of the Air Transport Association (ATA) is developing a data model and XML Schema for flight deck procedures and checklists also based on the S1000D data model. While S1000D is the right payload format, the exchange between content management and publishing systems within the industry must be orchestrated in an efficient manner.

Airlines, repair stations, regulatory agencies, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) manage and publish technical content using proprietary content management systems (CMS) each with its own proprietary API. Some companies now provide online portals where customers can login to get the latest documentation. However, pilots and technicians don't really want to login into the support sites of all those content providers to find out what is new and updated. To minimize aircraft downtime, aircraft mechanics want to connect to the aircraft's health and usage monitoring system (HUMS), determine what problem needs to be fixed, and have the appropriate content aggregated (work package) and presented to them.

With CMIS, an airline or aircraft operator can create a portal to aggregate content from the repositories of its OEM suppliers using a single standardized web services interface based on either SOAP or AtomPub (the RESTful alternative). This allows the aircraft operator to keep their maintenance and operation documentation updated at all time without having to wait for a CD or paper manual to be shipped by the OEM.

The second scenario is distributed authoring driven by the shift to distributed aircraft manufacturing. For example, the content of the Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM) can be provided by different aviation manufacturers participating in a consortium to design, manufacture, and support a new aircraft. In such as a scenario, a centralized CMIS-compliant content repository (hosted by the airframe manufacturer acting as the content integrator) can provide the following CMIS services to other members of the consortium:

  • Policy and ACL Services to obtain the policies (such as retention) and Access Control List (ACL) currently applied to a document

  • Navigation Services to programmatically navigate the content repository

  • Discovery services to query content. CMIS supports SQL-92 with some extensions and full-text search and can handle federated search across multiple repositories

  • Relationship Services to obtain the relationships (such as links) associated with a document

  • Versioning Services to check-out and check-in a document

  • Object Services to obtain the properties of a document and create folders and documents

  • Filing Services to add a document to a folder.

The third example use case is the ability for a SCORM-compliant Learning Management System to integrate with CMIS-compliant S1000D Common Source DataBases (CSDB) in order to repurpose technical publications content for training purposes. The International S1000D-SCORM Bridge Project is an interesting initiative to create such an integration.

In general, CMIS will enable new capabilities such as the remote access to library services, cross-repository exchange, cross-repository aggregation, and cross-repository observation (or notification).

CMIS is now supported by major CMS vendors including EMC, IBM, Alfresco, and Microsoft. A list of open source and commercial implementations of CMIS is available at this page.

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