The commercial aircraft industry has been dominated by only incremental innovation for decades, but it seems like this trend is about to change. Airbus has appointed a former Google manager as CTO and has vouched to digitize the company with a compelling vision for its future – first changes, e.g. to their supply chain are visible today.
The advancement of digital technologies and connectivity provides significant opportunities for Airbus and other companies in manufacturing industries. A recent survey highlighted that 80% of companies thought digital operations (incl. supply chain) are a critical driver for their competitiveness . In fact, a manufacturing case example showed that using digitization in supply chain has improved time to market by 50%, reduced engineering cost by 40% and improved quality and thus customer satisfaction . These effects are indicative of benefits to be expected at Airbus, but will probably be even higher in magnitude due to the complex nature of Airbus’ supply chain . Other players, like Rolls Royce  have already progressed on this journey, so Airbus should leverage new technologies to not be left behind. Embracing digitization in the supply chain may also change the relationships with suppliers and customers to tighter collaboration and may open up possibilities for new products or services .
Airbus has started to harness the opportunities a digitized supply chain represents.
The company has placed significant importance on data integration between partners, suppliers and customers to improve learning, preventive maintenance and supply chain planning. Together with other aerospace companies Airbus has created the Boost network for collaboration with partners . Airbus has also partnered with the data analytics company Palantir to create Skywise  , a data link between OEM and customer collecting operational data of in-service aircraft. A similar system is envisioned for the collaboration with suppliers, e.g. to create smart contracts that track quality and compliance of products .
Furthermore, Airbus has started using additive manufacturing for the A350 XWB aircraft to leverage the benefits of decentralized production, like high flexibility  . Together with blockchain technology Airbus envisions a future where a significant part of the supply chain is distributed (e.g. to customers) and “sensitive design data could be sent to any 3D printer (…) to build Airbus’ … parts” (Thompson, ). Airbus has created a blockchain working group to evaluate this use case .
Finally, the company has started to make organizational changes for a true digital company that go beyond digitizing the supply chain. In 2016 the role of CTO was filled by Paul Eremenko who has digital experience from working at Airbus innovation Centre and Google. Furthermore, Airbus created a Digital Accelerator and focused additional resources on IT capabilities. 
It appears that Airbus has made several changes to address digitization, like horizontal and vertical data integration, distributed manufacturing and organizational adjustments. However, maybe Airbus is only scratching the surface – all of these changes will only be effective if Airbus ensures the proper foundations are in place: Capabilities, vision and basic infrastructure.
Even though Airbus has started to create an organizational structure that accommodates digital, on average only 13% of companies have the talent required for a digital transformation . Therefore, Airbus should probably prioritize attracting and retaining suitable employees now and make a clear make vs. buy decision for all elements of the business.
Airbus also needs to clearly define the goals it wants to achieve with digitization and all analyses and initiatives need to be linked back to that. 40% of companies are not satisfied with the effects their digital initiatives have had, probably due to a lack of focus. For example, IT platforms for data acquisition spanning the whole value chain are valuable, but they are not sufficient because “few (companies) have decided what they want to do with … (the data) at this point.” (Greenfield, David) 
Finally, Airbus should get the fundamentals of IT (collaboration tools, security infrastructure) right before attempting to implement more advanced applications. Since there are huge security risks associated with digitizing the supply chain (e.g. when sharing proprietary product designs for distributed manufacturing)  Airbus should ensure its security task force prepares for future changes. Similarly, to incorporate new systems (e.g. Skywise) in the current company, basic IT infrastructure probably needs to be upgraded.
Clearly Airbus is only at the beginning of their journey towards digital. Important questions remain to be answered, for example:
- How should Airbus balance focusing on its core strengths (building aircraft) and playing in the digital space, while avoiding a situation of dependence on IT providers (like Palantir)?
- How should Airbus’ behavior towards suppliers and customers change once the supply chain is “truly digital” with perfect information and transparency at all times?
 25,000 sensors per aircraft give live updates on all important parameters 
 Since companies focusing on the entire value chain are four times more likely to be an industry front runner 
 For example, in 2015 the Airbus CEO mentioned the introduction of something as basic as a common IT collaboration-platform as a long term goal 
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