Romanian Software Innovation Powering Digital Transformation in European ATM
Between March 31st - April 1st, our company joined the 13th edition of the Air Navigation Convention organized by the students of the Air Navigation section of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Politehnica University of Bucharest. This year's theme was Aviation Reborn: New Opportunities, New Challenges. The first day of the event was focused on Resilience & Increasing Operations, while the second day targeted Artificial Intelligence and Bid Data.
As a nice perk for sponsoring the event, our company had several slots allocated for presentations and discussions. It was very exciting for us to meet some of our collaborators from Eurocontrol and many AirNav alumni who crossed paths with JLG over the years. For me personally, it was an enriching and rewarding experience to give a presentation in the opening slot of the event, focused on a small software development company in Eastern Europe and how it contributed positively to the Digital Transformation of the European ATM landscape.
This is a story illustrating the power of a solid innovation culture in building resilience through mission-critical software. As I received a lot of positive feedback about this presentation and because it also contains a short history of our company, JLG Consulting, I have re-edited it below.
Once upon a time... 20 years ago
And like any other story, this story also starts with "once upon a time". Well, once upon a time, 20 years ago, our beautiful city, Bucharest, looked a lot different than what we see today. Most of the younger audience attending the event couldn't remember this, but the most encountered auto brand on the Bucharest streets back then was still the world-renowned Dacia. An engineering marvel.
Those years, right after the dot-com bubble, that was the time when the new technology was quickly starting to find nurturing ground on Romanian soil.
Work from home.... had a different meaning back then
That was the time when the 14-year-olds were selling yachts and shopping malls on eBay from their home office, the Internet Caffe down the street. Trust me, I know. I was born in Hackerville.
Software Market: Ready for takeoff
That was the time when the Romanian software market was starting to take off. Well, back then, Romania has been fortunate enough to have a very performant education system, especially in technical fields like Software Engineering.
Who we are
It is not a coincidence that our company, JLG Consulting, was created in 2003. One of the incentives of our founding fathers was to make the best use of the highly qualified talent available in the engineering and software development fields. In fact, Politechnica University was a constant stream of well-prepared engineers that joined our company over the years.
Our mission was to solve an increasingly challenging problem back then - designing, developing and supporting high-performance, mission-critical software for the Aviation Industry.
Building the foundation
Ever since the beginning, we have focused our energy and resources to build a solid culture of innovation. This foundation was meant to support our ambitions to solve the most complex problems in this domain. Therefore, our engineers have specialised in building very niched software applications that can be categorised as follows:
Incident and accident reporting and investigation platforms
Real-time, mission-critical ATC software & simulators
Data mining, query systems, advanced statistics and dashboards for integrated data analysis
High-throughput, low-latency Web HMIs, airspace design toolkits & simulation builders
How we started
The first validation of our innovation culture came in 2006 when our company started a long-term strategic partnership with INDRA Systems, a world leader in providing proprietary solutions in Transport, Air Traffic, Defence and many other industries.
INDRA partnered with JLG to extend their teams working on the next-generation Controller Working Position software for the iTEC Alliance. This revolutionary new software was designed for maximum performance and reliability, enriched with modern graphics and advanced multi-gesture touchscreen interaction, upgrading the Air Traffic Controller job experience to a whole new level.
As part of this collaboration, teams of JLG engineers are still working to develop and support the operational ATC systems in DFS, LVNL, NATS, ROMATSA, ENAIRE, AVINOR and PANSA, major ANSPs in the European Space.
JLG - EUROCONTROL partnership since 2008
In 2008, JLG started another life-changing collaboration with EUROCONTROL by becoming the selected development partner for their Safety Tools products. This collaboration, nurtured with hard work and mutual trust from both sides, gave birth to some of the most remarkable achievements over the years, promoting the European ATM Safety Management amongst the global leaders and enforcing a growth trajectory on Air Traffic Safety.
The long road ahead of us started with the complete redesign of ASMT, the Automated Safety Monitoring Tool. This product proactively analyses the traffic situation from the radar data and detects safety events like SMIs, TCAS, STCAs and many more.
Currently, ASMT is deployed in more than 20 European countries and has analysed more than 1.3 M events during its lifetime.
A few years after starting the work at ASMT, JLG was commissioned by EUROCONTROL to develop eTOKAI, the Toolkit for ATM Occurrence Investigation.
Our engineers began this process by redesigning the Risk Analysis Tool, migrating the business logic of the RAT methodology developed by ECTRL from an Excel file into a modern web application that was much easier to use, deploy and maintain. The rest of the eTOKAI modules were carefully integrated around the RAT tool, closing the circle of an all-in-one Safety Reporting and Investigation platform for Air Traffic Incidents.
eTokai helped users improve their reporting volumes and quality, cut down data redundancy and manual inserts, and provided a uniform & resilient reporting and investigation experience, irrespective of the cultural and legal differences across the states.
With its brilliant Product Management and long-term winning strategy, EUROCONTROL managed to grow eTokai as the undisputed market leader of its space, becoming the preferred way of managing the entire safety investigation process in many ASNPs in Europe and around the world.
Currently, eTOKAI is used in more than 80 ANSPs worldwide and has gathered and investigated more than 450k occurrences, promoting it as a global success story for EUROCONTROL. Besides most ANSPs in Europe that use eTOKAI (with DFS, ENAV, ENAIRE, Austro Control, MUAC, ROMATSA among them), many non-ECTRL states have acquired a license to use eTOKAI as their safety investigation tool. SANS, AEROTHAI, CAAS and many others use eTokai alongside their European counterparts.
The youngest member of the ECTRL Safety Tools is APF, the Aerospace Performance Factors.
APF leverages multiple operational data streams, like system performance and safety data, and creates a graphical translation tool for safety managers. Using powerful data mining techniques to transform the organisation's mind-map into dynamic data cubes with unlimited facts and dimensions, APF empowers decision-makers to optimise the overall system's performance.
The product is deployed in 12 European ANSPs, IAA, ENAV and ENAIRE being amongst the primary users.
Although we have started our journey in software development for the Aviation Industry, our innovation culture received another small sign of acknowledgement cross-industry at the European level, together with the partnership signed with the European Maritime Safety Agency. The tremendous success of eTokai for Air Traffic safety management has paved the way for building the equivalent platform for maritime incidents.
Therefore, our company designed and built EMCIP, the European Marine Casualty Information Platform, deployed at EMSA HQ in Lisbon and used by more than 30 EU states to report and investigate maritime accidents and incidents.
Another endeavour built on the same innovation culture is the newest addition to our product family. The SkyRoster Workforce Management, Scheduling and Optimisation platform helps Air Navigation Service Providers do more work with fewer resources.
Equipped with a powerful constraint-based engine with Artificial Intelligence optimisation algorithms, SkyRoster empowers Planning Managers to balance different competing goals and create an optimised staff roster for Air Traffic Controllers, increasing flexibility and resilience in the overall workforce planning process. Using SkyRoster, ANSPs will minimise workforce costs and staff leakage, decrease fatigue risks, and increase overall staff satisfaction and well-being. Knowing the pains and gains of Air Traffic Controllers will give you a better perspective on rostering benefits and how to work less for more. Download our free e-Copy and find out more about this topic.
Not only Air Traffic Controllers will benefit from the SkyRoster optimisation power. Our long-term goal is to push SkyRoster as the Workforce Operating System for every Scheduling-Critical industry. Airports, Airlines, Healthcare Providers, Fire & Rescue, Police Forces, Nuclear Power Plants. All these industries will be able to plan and schedule their workforce using our product, already stress-tested on one of the most complex scheduling problems: ATCO rostering.
JLG in numbers
All products I've introduced so far are being used in more than 60 countries worldwide, with about 110 ANSPs and Competent Authorities among the business users, 55.000 individual users and 20 local deployments - these are servers managed remotely by JLG teams.
How we work
Reading all this, you may think that we are some kind of a tech corporation. But we are not. We are still at the level of an early-days startup. And we strive to remain this way because this gives us an unparalleled catalyst for innovation! Some of our innovation culture principles have remained unchanged in our entire history of almost 20 years.
We organise in small but empowered product teams of 4-to-6 members. We nurture the courage to explore, curiosity and creativity. We allocate 20% of our office hours to learning and self-development by working on a side project. Some of the best product ideas and initiatives emerged from this learning time.
All these principles have helped us become a small but highly-specialised company that builds high-throughput, low-latency, mission-critical software for B2B customers.
Work hard, play hard
Of course, we don't only work hard; we also like to play hard! Some of the most cherished activities amongst our colleagues are the coding hackathons that we organise every once in a while.
These hackathons are a relentless stream of creative ideas, innovation, and hardcore fun! That's how many technical challenges of the SkyRoster product have been solved. Actually, this photo is from one of our previous hackathons, where the team engineered the signup workflow for the SkyRoster Cloud provisioning.
As a side note, more than half of the colleagues in this photo are alumni of the Aerospace Engineering Faculty. They have been some of the most trustworthy, adaptable and high-performing employees of JLG.
Growing future developers at the JLG Academy
Another innovation principle that we follow is always scout for new talent, individuals with high-growth potential who can become part of our team. The most recent initiative in this direction is the new JLG Academy, an intensive training program for students with no prior coding experience.
Our goal is to take students from 0 to Junior Software Developer level in 6 months or less. Each class is assigned a technical mentor that meets the students at our office two days a week for 3 hours. The technical mentor will guide the students through a carefully optimised curriculum, designed to prepare them to work on both Backend and Frontend technologies.
We strongly believe that, in life, you are getting more by giving back to society. Therefore, we are providing the JLG Academy program free of charge. All students need to do is invest their time in learning and accumulating as much as they can during the program.
And that's not all. At the end of the program, every student that graduates the final exam will get a full-time work contract with our company.
Alright, but why do we do everything we have chosen to do?
It’s because we deeply believe our world will transcend the current limitations only through curiosity, creativity, courage to innovate and hard work. It’s because we truly believe that, in order to succeed, we need to solve complex problems and bring real value to our customers! And we do this wholeheartedly, following our values each step of the way.
Our values are our virtues, and we will stand by them in the pursuit of our long-term mission: to empower high-performing companies with the mission-critical software needed to protect humanity's sacred gifts: health and safety.
If this mission sparks an interest in you, come and join us!