The secrets of failure

The same technology that affords us the luxury of reading blogs and exchanging e-mails is creating a nightmare for business. It’s easier for internal spies to steal corporate secrets.

Nowhere is that nightmare being played out more publicly now than in the battle between Airbus and Boeing. Boeing is trying to compete with Airbus’ new A-380 jet with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a jet on which the American company has a share of its future based. It’s also a jet that’s behind schedule and over budget.

What popped up on the Internet this week was a 46-page critique of the Boeing project by Airbus, which has led to suggestions the European competitor got its information the old-fashioned way: it stole it.

Says the blog FlightBlogger:

Competitive intelligence is a standard practice in the aerospace industry, but the information revealed in the Airbus analysis reveals a scope and specificity of the data collected.

The document includes what appear to be seven slides labelled BOEING PROPRIETARY with a format style used in Boeing presentations, including two that appear to have been photocopied, raising questions about the methods and sources the European consortium utilizes to collect its data.

Airbus claims the presentation, as well as its competitive intelligence gathering methods, fully comply with all laws. Though when approached about how the information was gathered, Airbus declined to address it specifically, suggesting that a lot of data labelled BOEING PROPRIETARY is freely available online. Airbus added that not all documents labelled BOEING PROPRIETARY are in fact proprietary. A spokesman emphasized that Airbus closely watches the market to draw its own conclusions, as do its competitors.

Regardless of how Airbus got Boeing’s secrets, its report details what surely is a mess for Boeing, and a continuation of a long assembly line of bad news for America’s manufacturing base.

  • This is one of the many reasons why a “knowledge economy” is nonsense. The idea is that we don’t have to build a thing, relying instead on our design abilities. Not only does this attitude neglect the lessons that are learned on the assembly line (and they are many), it goes without saying that reliance on intellectual property laws is not wise in a world where more obvious things like nuclear proliferation and piracy pop up from time to time.

    At least Boeing does make its own stuff, and it is generally beating Airbus even after a large subsidy to the latter. But where they win isn’t in design, since that’s easily stolen. It’s on the line.