Airbus is part of the EADS Group of companies and employs around 56,000 people, across 16 European sites, producing a wide range of commercial, military and executive aeroplanes. As of August 2008, Airbus had orders for over nine thousand aeroplanes and have over five thousand scheduled for production.

The Problem

To meet ever-increasing demand Airbus needed to increase output in the UK appreciably. Usually, this would mean an expansion in the workforce; however, in common with other parts of EADS, the UK had an absenteeism rate of up to 8% within the manufacturing base. The UK main board realised that by reducing this to around 3% in conjunction with better manufacturing processes they could provide significant additional manpower at no extra cost. Key to this was the decision to introduce a phone-based self-service absence reporting system and to back this up with much more proactive and timely management with occupational health intervention and support.

Airbus use SAP HR so they initially investigated an SAP-based solution, however, they quickly realised this would have taken a long time to implement and proved too expensive as well as being difficult to manage and customise on a local or site-by-site basis.

The Solution

The solution has been to change the focus of managing absence from an ‘after the fact’ form-filling exercise, to a proactive 5-stage workflow “RETURNS” that provides MI and offers health assessment and return to work support from the first stages of the absence. “RETURNS” comprises:

Register: Each employee is required, within 2 hours of their anticipated shift start time, to call an automated telephone system that identifies the employee and allows them to register the reason for the absence along with an expected return to work date.

Enlighten: Once the absence is registered a number of workflows are started informing managers, SAP, and Occupational health staff and producing confirmation letters to employees.

Track: For absences longer than 3 days employees have an obligation to call and speak to a company Nurse or Doctor; this may result in appointments or further callbacks.

Return: When an employee returns to work their manager has a fixed period of time to complete and submit a return to work assessment. This is an electronic form that is held with the other absence details. The interface into SAP is used to provide an absence history to the manager conducting the interview.

Support: In some cases, employees are found alternative work or given support such as physiotherapy or counselling to assist them in making a full recovery.

At every stage in the process the system audits activities and can be used to provide reports and supporting evidence in the event of any issue escalation. Once the absence process is complete the key events of the absence are posted into SAP.

The Components

To ensure a simple and open solution the AMS is developed using .NET and SQL server with reporting services. Employees interact with the system via the telephone whereas management interaction is via SMS, Email, web pages and electronic forms. The system has a number of key elements:

  • A Customisable IVR component that manages the call tree
  • Absence management database that collates all relevant information
  • A messaging component that manages notifications in the form of SMS messages, emails, letters and management reports which are sent to interested parties
  • Occupational health website allowing staff to update and further manage details of the absence
  • Managers web site provide them with the information needed to conduct the return to-work interview
  • SAP interface

Although the system is not implemented within SAP, the BAPI interface allowing data to be posted to standard info types provides the best of both worlds with the lower cost, flexibility and rapid deployment of a .net application and the robust management and back-end process integration provided by SAP.

The solution is highly configurable and can be used with a variety of phone systems.

Aspects such as the call tree process, notifications, reports, escalation thresholds, letters, and electronic forms can all be easily modified to fit the solution to your local business needs.

The Benefits

Airbus has already seen a marked improvement in absence levels in the UK, down to 4% in just 6 months. They calculate that every 1% reduction in absence saves £1m in lost productivity. The employees have responded well to the system, management and Unions believe that all stakeholders will benefit from the application and Airbus has plans to roll out the AMS across all its European sites. It has delivered:

  • Significant impact on absenteeism
  • Absence is managed and visible
  • All parties have clear responsibilities
  • Data collection is automated
  • Consistent control and agreed responses
  • Rich MI reporting


Blacklight Software

Making Digital Transformation Happen