Two Rolls-Royce colleagues having a conversation beside an open laptop

How Rolls-Royce is unlocking digital transformation with Power Apps

Digital transformation is at the heart of everything Rolls-Royce does. The British aerospace and defence company has embraced scalable low-code apps to build digital tools that are improving everything from productivity, rapid prototyping, R&D, and testing, to employee engagement and wellbeing.

By pulling intelligence from vast datasets, each employee is able develop apps to support all parts of the business. In giving employees the tools to develop apps for their specific roles, Power Apps is helping the company design the engines that power the world’s most advanced jets.

“Our whole business model just wouldn’t be possible without big data, analytics, and IoT, for example,” explains Stuart Hughes, Chief Information and Digital Officer for Rolls-Royce. “Digital transformation, coupled with the transition to net zero and to sustainability, is really changing how everybody works. Rolls-Royce has to be at the front of that to have a long-term business.”

Democratising company-wide solutions

Hughes believes that the company’s digital solutions benefit from being created by people across the business, not just those working in IT. Derby-based test engineer Stephen Toplis is one such example.

Toplis joined Rolls-Royce as an engineering apprentice before developing a Power App to help the engine design team rationalise the voluminous spreadsheets and emails shared between teams at the end of every shift. His Power App clearly lays out new information, can be updated in real time, and offers a reliable way to chart the history of any ongoing concerns.

“If there are any open issues that you encounter during the day, they get flagged to the right people so they can resolve those straight away,” Toplis explains. The app has been so successful that it’s now used by everyone in the test and development department.

Citizen power: The value of employee engagement

For Hughes, technology prowess and productivity have been the biggest wins when implementing Power Apps. “It’s not just the cost savings we have made, or the licences that we’ve avoided. It’s that we’re much more effective now,” Hughes reflects. “What I’m chasing is the people in our organisation feeling empowered, and knowing they can change things. That’s truly what will move productivity and engagement forward.”

Hughes points to an internally developed Power App that delivers a 24/7 on-call system for the company’s research and development department. The team constantly runs detailed, long-term tests to explore how to improve the performance of Rolls-Royce engines and the lead times between maintenance. This is especially important as the company’s commercial model usually charges per engine flying hour, rather than engine sold.

“The faster we can get an improvement out, the better our performance in the business is,” says Hughes. “Now there’s always somebody available to answer a question so that we never stop innovating.”

The power to unlock innovation at scale

Hughes says the traditional IT requirement to submit detailed plans and funding requests for new projects can stifle innovation. In contrast, low-cost Power Apps offer a framework for rapid prototyping, and the drag-and-drop templates mean they are easy-to-use.

The company operates sandboxes in which people can develop and test apps to meet the needs of individuals, teams, departments, or the entire business. “We probably have 10 apps in the sandbox for every one that is actually published — it gives people the opportunity to either refine their idea or learn why it wasn’t going to work.”

Hughes says the benefit of apps such as Power BI, which help Rolls-Royce to capture and visualise data, before trending and interpreting it, is enabling the company to drive continuous improvement. And, as the business evolves, the apps can be adapted and expanded.

“Microsoft Power Apps are helping Rolls-Royce employees to drive efficiencies, improve wellbeing and bring impactful technology into production much quicker, even if they are new to coding,” says Rob Smithson, Microsoft UK’s Business Applications Lead.

All developers are supported by Microsoft’s online training programme, as well as Cobalt, Rolls-Royce’s accelerator scheme. The latter helps citizen developers focus on the function of their apps, while the IT team provides coding to give the apps Rolls-Royce’s corporate look, a simple aesthetic detail that Hughes says helps drive motivation.

Giving kudos to boost community culture

The apps also go beyond external business objectives and help with multiple employee initiatives, including helping to cement Rolls-Royce’s inclusive culture. One app, Kudos, app grew from a single departmental idea to become an important part of the company’s ambitious five-year plan to boost employee engagement and retention.

“The Kudos app was built for my digital team to say, ‘well done’ to one another,” Hughes recalls. Now Kudos is used company-wide, offering a way for Rolls-Royce employees to nominate one another or a company contractor for a job well done.

As a result, employee engagement with the company rocketed by 25%. Hughes says the app promotes Rolls-Royce’s culture so all employees, especially those working solo in far-flung locations, feel part of one community. “Kudos is a really simple, low-cost application, but with huge impact,” he says.

To learn more about how Rolls Royce is using Power Apps in its business watch this video