UK aerospace’s biggest barriers to digital transformation

Posted on 2 Aug 2017 by Jonny Williamson

Using insights gathered from the sector, the Aerospace Technology Institute has identified the five factors delaying digital transformation strategies.

Digital Transformation - Aerospace Technology Institute unveiled in Bedfordshire
Digital is playing an ever more important role in the economy, and its impact is beginning to be realised throughout UK aerospace.

Aerospace is a highly-regulated environment with understandably high barriers to entry. These factors, along with the pace of aircraft development, are often cited as restricting change and impeding the application of digital transformation.

According to research conducted by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), the sector identifies IP protection, data sharing and cyber security as the biggest barriers.

However, the ATI’s Market & Economic Advisory Group, made up of cross-sector representatives, cited culture as the biggest barrier.

Data Sharing

Access to data only offers value if its purpose and use can be realised. Access to data that could enable change is restricted and owned by few companies – so, how much of the data collected is actually being used? How much does it cost to acquire it? How much does it cost to share it? Does sharing it provide benefit to both parties? Is some of the data publicly available through other sources? Answering these questions and working across the value chain will enable change.

Cyber Security

Cyber security is an international multi-sector challenge that aerospace should not consider in isolation. The financial sector is the established leader in this field, and has pioneered block chain technology as one of the most secure methods of cyber protection, ensuring that the provenance and privacy of assets (finance, data, IP, ownership, etc.) are upheld.

Intellectual Property

The advent of a connected world increases the need to safeguard intellectual property. One of the key risks cited by ATI’s research was the concern that improving transparency between supplier and customer could reveal production methods, in effect a business’s trade secrets. Digital tools, such as a block chain can identify how products and services are used, and can offer alternative ways of managing key commercial assets (such as IP) and establishing mutually-beneficial developments and more strategic relationships.


Regulation is cited as a barrier to the adoption of digital transformation. Digital technology provides a means of creating greater fidelity (more pertinent to real-world conditions) and identifying the provenance and accuracy of information. Support is also required to work with regulators and develop the tools required to validate new digital capabilities.


The results of ATI’s research indicated that a conservative culture within the sector was considered to be a barrier to digital transformation, accentuated by demographic challenges, lack of skills to deliver digital capability and entrenched working practices. This is changing, but the pace of change is itself a cultural challenge. New graduates have digital skills, but lack the practicality and knowledge of products and their application.

The ATI has published the framework and its view of digital transformation in the inaugural issue of INSIGHT, a new series of ATI publications that will explore a range of cross-sector issues and topics.

The first issue explores the potential for digital transformation in aerospace, and examines the maturity of the UK aerospace sector’s digital capability. It also provides a simple framework covering market-led business opportunities and capability needs, and enables companies to assess where they are on the digital transformation journey and their direction of travel.