How to achieve Automation in Load Control (Part 6 of 7): Roles, Rights and Workflow Support
Airlines can achieve a better efficiency in their load control divisions by following the “rights, roles and workflow support”-concept. Please read this blog to get more details.
In the blog series “How to achieve better Automation in Load Control”, I share my thoughts about different approaches on how automation strategies can make load control more efficient. In part six I start with the most efficient load control organization (for network airlines) – the centralized load control. Thereafter, I will explain how an IT system ideally should support such an organization.
The “Automation Effect” of Roles, Rights and Workflow Support
I have to admit that this automation strategy “roles, rights and workflow support” will not make a load control system itself “do something automatically without manual interference”. However, it makes the load control process significantly better manageable as it reduces manual and human interaction by omitting many time-consuming talks and discussions about how work has to be done and when. For me it is also a form of “automation”, if there is no communication between the ramp agent and the load controller necessary anymore, whether the ramp agent may update the position of an ULD item or not. The “roles, rights and workflow support” approach will omit grey zones and overlaps, because it is already predefined in a weight and balance system, what each stakeholder is allowed to do or has to do at a certain time – like at a racing car pit stop.
Therefore, to achieve the full effect of efficiency for a centralized load control a weight and balance system should provide configuration options for:
- work roles
- work rights (= tasks)
and last but not least to provide also a concept of how to solve (data) conflicts.
Why centralizing Weight and Balance?
When it comes to using resources more efficiently, a centralized structure is one of the greatest strengths. According to my experience, the concept of a centralized load control has been widely used by airlines for more than two decades to save costs and improve their operational efficiency. The investment in reorganizing a decentralized into a centralized load control represents a significant development step. Therefore, a global load control center is an approach to the planning, operational and sourcing business processes of weight and balance. It unites in one single place what was previously managed regionally by an individual on-site: The creation of the loading instruction, load sheet and all other relevant officially needed documents.
A load control system can support this highly efficient work structure in the following ways:
Defining Load Control Roles
To bring centralized load control into full efficiency, a system should allow the load control department to create and maintain different roles configurations. A user management is the best solution. For load control the following exemplary roles might apply:
- Leg Handling roles ((decentral-) Load Controller, LCC-Load Controller, Cargo Agent, Baggage Agent, Ramp Agent, Operations Manager, etc.)
- Shift Management roles (Supervisor, Shift Manager, etc.)
- Master Data Management roles (Master Data Manager)
- System and Administration roles (System Administrator, etc.)
A role defines clearly the work tasks of a user who is assigned to one role. Of course, one user can have more roles (according to his/her work tasks). A shift manager could also have a load controller role for instance.
Defining Load Control Rights (= Tasks)
In order to authorize the user for access to the weight and balance application (or parts of it) and for the execution of defined tasks, the assignment of rights to each role is necessary. With the assignment of a certain role, the user receives the respective rights, which can be either access, read or write rights. Within the load control context such predefined rights for the “leg handling” of a ramp agent role might be:
- The ramp agent may
- input data before loading instruction creation
- adjust load item weight
- mark load item as physically loaded
- update load table
- update NOTOC
- update position of load item
- update tub cart codes of bulk load items
- update ULD airline code
- update ULD code
- update ULD number
If the load control system allows a flexible yes/no configuration for the exemplary ramp agent rights, the load control process will get much more efficient. The advantage is obvious: By having a straight definition of what s/he is allowed to do (or not), the airline defines clearly the work frame for each stakeholder. As a result, unnecessary and time-consuming exchange calls or discussions between the ramp agent and load controller because of task overlaps or unclear task structures can be omitted completely.
At a pit stop of a racing car, every mechanic is told to execute a certain action at a certain position at a certain time. A similar approach applies during the load control process. To cover this pit stop philosophy from a system perspective, a time and event driven management of tasks can orchestra the whole process and the stakeholders involved. This time and event driven management should exactly define, at which time the cargo or ramp agent should have finished input or update activities, so the load controller can continue with his/her relevant tasks. These deadlines for instance can be defined with the reference points ETD or STD.
Needless to say, that such a time and event driven management should include an automated warning (especially for the load controller, but also for the other stakeholders in charge), if for instance the ramp has not finished the necessary input or update tasks within the predefined time. Such a time driven management and automated warning will support the airlines tremendously to prevent operational delays due to load control activities.
It is in the nature of the load control process that (data update) conflicts may arise. The reason is that at some point multiple stakeholders (for instance the ramp agent and the load controller after (initial) load plan release) work simultaneously on the same load plan making updates or changes. The ramp agent and load controller might insert for instance contrary values for the same load item, such as number of bags and/or weights.
Hence, a very important system feature of a load control system should be conflict reduction to a minimum as well as intelligent conflict prevention. Such an approach should ensure that the load controller always stays on top of all load control activities.
In order to allow concurrent work of multiple stakeholders in load control, the following IT approach ensures a safe and efficient load plan updating all the time: The ramp agent “locks” the actual load plan as long as s/he is doing any updates. The remote load controller will not be able to do any updates on the locked load plan until the ramp agent “unlocks” it proactively. Since the load controller has the master responsibility/control for the load plan, there should be an option to initiate a “forced unlock”, if s/he needs to make urgent adjustments. With such a “forced unlock” the ramp agent won´t be able to update the load plan anymore. The result: The load plan is always up to date and it is clear to all stakeholders who currently has the update rights.
Airlines can achieve a better efficiency in their load control divisions by centralizing their weight and balance processes. Advanced load control systems support this organizational framework with different stakeholders working geographically apart from each other on certain aspects of the load control process. These systems provide configuration options for roles, rights and workflows.