Airline CIOs Show How To Move From The Old To The New

Combining airlines can teach CIO some lessons
Combining airlines can teach CIO some lessons
Image Credit: Luke Ma

The day-to-day challenges of being a CIO and teaching the rest of the company about the importance of information technology are enough to keep most of us fully busy. Just imagine if you were handed the additional responsibility of creating a plan to merge the IT operations of two large airlines. You could not screw this up – even the smallest error could result in a drop in ticket sales that the company could not deal with. The blending of systems would have to go off flawlessly. Do you think that you could do this?

The Plan

In late 2013 American Airlines announced that it was buying US Airways. Both of these firms were very large and each of them had developed their own IT infrastructure to handle such tasks as keeping track of frequent flier programs and allowing reservations to be made. The announcement of the merger of the two companies marked the beginning of the IT program that would combine both sets of IT systems.

Since American Airlines was purchasing US Airways, this meant that the US Airways systems needed to be incorporated into the American Airlines systems. In the world of airline mergers, this is one of the most difficult things to do. Of all of the systems that needed to be folded into the existing American Airlines systems, the US Airways reservation system poised the greatest challenge.

An airlines’ reservation system is the key to its success. It stores a great deal of information including flight schedules, bookings, and every single one of the airlines’ customer records. This is a task that other airlines who have merged have attempted to do in the past. Unfortunately, it is a complex IT task and it has resulted in service outages and delays when the project has not gone well.

Secrets Of Success

Maya Leibman who is currently has the CIO job at American Airlines has a real challenge on her hands. She must be well aware that everyone understands just how risky this type of large scale IT project is and so she needs to make sure that her IT department has done everything that it can to mitigate the risks involved.

The first thing that the American Airlines IT department did to reduce their risk was to migrate the US Airways frequent flier program as a separate project. This task has now been completed. The strategy that the airline plans on using to migrate users from the US Airways reservation program to the American Airlines reservation program is called a “drain down”.

The way that this is going to work is to have the switch to using only the American Airlines system take place over a 90-day window instead of performing a sudden “flash cut”. Visitors to the US Airways website who are attempting to book travel that will occur beyond the 90-day window will be directed to the American Airlines system to make their travel reservation. The day after the 90 window closes, the transition to using only the American Airlines systems will be complete

What All Of This Means For You

Every large scale IT project has its own associated set of risks. The American Airlines plan to merge their key computer systems with those of US Airways has more than its fair share of risk. The American Airlines CIO is going to be on the hot seat during this blending of two large scale systems that the rest of the business depends on.

The good news for the person in the CIO position is that in the airline industry over the past few years, there have been a number of airlines that have merged and so this type of project has been done before. The project is scheduled to last 90 days so it’s clear that American is not trying to do a flash cut. The two companies frequent flier programs have already been merged. US Airways passengers will slowly be redirected to the American Airlines website to make their reservations until the old system can finally be turned off.

As CIO we always need to be getting ready for the next big IT project. Over at American Airlines they know what this project is going to be – the merging of major systems with US Airways. With careful planning and the allocation of enough time for the merger to occur, American believes that it can mitigate the risks that come along with an IT project of this size. We’ll need to keep a careful watch on them and see how it goes!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: In this case, do you think that a flash cut would be a better way to accomplish the cut over?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the person with the CIO job you have access to a great deal of information. In fact, some would say that you have access to too much information. Making a decision about the importance of information technology can be a very difficult thing to do. You have a great deal of information sitting at your disposal, but a lot of it may be contradictory. Just exactly how can you go about making a good decision?