When first looking at the Aerospace and Defense industries it seems that there are a limited number of manufacturers that sell military equipment and airplanes to a limited client base – Governments and Airlines. Is there really a benefit to using APIs here?


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Of course there is! Beneath this high level view we see a need for supply chain management, real time data access, manufacturing automation, device integration, access to analytic data via mobile platforms, and a strong need for security and safety.

I could find almost no published information on APIs in Aerospace and Defense. Perhaps it is because of the secrecy involved in this area.
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So, let’s “go where no one has gone before” and explore how APIs are used and could be used in the Aerospace and Defense industry. Once again I’ll use the structure I previously introduced (here).

 

Mobile (Internal) App Development – Internal App development can use APIs to create user interfaces on mobile or tablets focused on the needs of the target audience(s). Common capabilities provided by Aerospace and Defense companies may include:

  • Basic APIs – Airlines or military could benefit from mobile interfaces describing product parts and repair procedures.  Interfaces can be provided for partners with details they need to supply (shipping weights, dimensions); or internal audiences to access requirements systems, manufacturing, and inventory systems.
  • Custom APIs: for consumers to check on their order status or service request, partners to plan a delivery, or internal to employees to handle alerts raised during the production process. Also APIs can be used to secure intellectual property to ensure only authorized
    repair
    personnel can access proprietary information.
  • Mobile advantages include QR code or bar code readers to obtain role appropriate and circumstance appropriate information. Think about a mechanic trying to fix a problem with an aircraft at a major airport or a military mechanic trying to fix a piece of equipment in a deployed situation. The circumstances may affect the recommended action.

What APIs are publicly available today in Aerospace and Defense?

  • US Department of Defense – The Department of Defense Developers Page connects Government and citizen developers with the tools they need to access DoD data. Software developers and researchers can use these resources to help people find useful DoD information.
  • Open Government Data – The Department of Defense (DoD) maintains a vast amount of information. Information that most folks don’t normally associate with Defense.  Consider the following: GPS, Weather, and US River Traffic Information.
  • Defense Procurement Claus Logic Service – a web service designed to aid in the procurement process within the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. The primary function of this service is to allow for consistent inclusion of provisions and clauses into procurement documents.
  • Dvids – is a portal to Department of Defense Public Media Content. Using the DVIDS API, it is possible to search our library of over 1.8 million assets and retrieve information to display and publish the media on your own website, application, or cms.
  • NASA – to make NASA data, including imagery, eminently accessible to application developers. We have a new Open Innovation team to continue NASA’s efforts to meet the White House mandate to set our data free – in a format that is useful for you. In doing so, we hope to spark your creative juices and equip you with tools to innovate your world – whether local, global, or interstellar – leveraging our digital assets. We may not be able to offer you the ride-of-your-life on a spaceship (at least for now), but we can certainly work together to solve looming challenges here on Earth – using NASA data, tools, and resources.

Besides creating Mobile Apps, there are many other areas where APIs can provide value for Aerospace and Defense companies.


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Partnering
– Aerospace and Defense companies provide and consume APIs from/to partners to help manage the supply chain, accessing information from suppliers on their shipments and anticipated delivery information. On boarding new partners is simplified through APIs. While there is still likely to be an approval process, once the partner is approved the APIs can make the exchange of information much simpler.

 

Public APIs – Normally public APIs are used to provide information to prospective customers, used in comparison apps, or to drive sales
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through additional channels. However, for these industries this use case is not as applicable. Earlier in this blog I did list some currently available public APIs. Looking at these you see a trend toward information that is being made available to the public and APIs to help with the government procurement process. The NASA API could be used for scientific purposes, education or gaming.

 


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Social
– It is unlikely that anyone is going to be pushed an ad on Facebook for an airplane or military equipment. However, twitter has become an excellent communication mechanism for various scenarios Examples such as Voyager 1 leaving the solar system can/have been effectively communicated this way. Social is also a mechanism that can be used to determine potential supply chain issues. Work stoppages or other unrest that could disrupt a shipment can raise alerts through activity in social media.

 

Devices – The products developed can use APIs to report data to the manufacturer (i.e. Internet of Things). This could be used for several purposes:
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  • Defect or service related information to proactively address service issues
  • Feature usage information to determine customer usage patterns for the product indicating possible improvements or need for education.
  • Performance reporting to assist in future product improvements
  • Control the behavior of the device

Note: be careful how APIs that control device behavior are implemented. It might be tempting to provide a direct API on the device that can be accessed locally (e.g. controlled from a mobile phone by someone nearby). However this method does not allow for security and control as to who is using that API. In military or airplane scenarios bad things could happen if the wrong person accessed these APIs. So, be sure that you consider security and authorization in your API strategy.

Factory automation can be facilitated through APIs that track the manufacturing process and identify state of the product and availability of resources to move the product to the next phase. Devices can also track workers, assets and the environment to ensure security and safety and raise alerts as required.

 

Data – APIs help leverage analytics to deliver real time information in a role specific manner. Views of data from executives to employees working the manufacturing line can help improve how each of them work effectively.

APIs can also access analytic views of supply and demand to manage the supply chain efficiently. This allows automated integration with suppliers and shippers to understand status and take action proactively when the need arises.

APIs can also provide views on data to third parties possibly for a fee or based on tiered usage levels.


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While information on Aerospace and Defense APIs may not be as visible as it is for other industries, that does not mean APIs do not exist or should not exist. Many things in Aerospace and Defense are not visible to those of us not involved. Just as in other industries APIs will help in speeding projects, interacting with partners and suppliers, and making information available to targeted audiences.

Remember that to achieve success you should always put controls around the APIs so that you know who uses the APIs and how much and can map this to the results. With this visibility, you can use the analytics to determine which techniques are working and which are not.

Connect with me through comments here or via twitter @Arglick to continue the discussion.   You can also read my earlier blogs.

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