CIOs Struggle To Keep Their Airlines In The Air

Airlines run on their IT systems and CIOs have to keep these running
Airlines run on their IT systems and CIOs have to keep these running

Image Credit: Job Garcia

When we think about the person who has the CIO job, we think of someone who spends their time thinking about the importance of information technology including such things as cloud computing, building new data centers, and the arrival of the internet of things. However, when it comes to airlines, their CIOs are spending their time thinking about more practical things like just exactly how to go about keeping their critical IT systems up and running.

The Challenge Of Running An Airline

Just in case you were not aware of it, it turns out that running an airline is really hard work. Just think about all of the different things that have to be managed: ticket sales, flight crew scheduling, plane scheduling, weather updates, maintenance, etc. Clearly all of this requires help from IT and this means that an airline CIO is a very important person. The key to being a successful airline CIO is to make sure that all of these critical systems remain up and available.

That’s where the problem is starting to come in. More and more airlines are starting to encounter outages because a part of their IT infrastructure has become unavailable. Case in point, Southwest airlines had a router fail and this resulted in the cancellation of 2,300 flights over four days. Likewise, over at Delta, a power surge and resulting fire caused their IT systems to fail and this resulted in Delta having to cancel 2,100 flights over three days.

The challenge that all of these airlines are facing is the simple fact that their IT systems have become more complex. Due in part to mergers between airlines, systems that once dealt with thousands of tickets and flights are now having to deal with millions of tickets and flights. The airlines huge IT infrastructure has been built using different platforms and different languages. The challenge for the person in the CIO position is to find a way to get them to all to keep working together.

How To Fix The Airlines’s IT Problems

The most important thing to realize is that there will be no quick fix for the problems that the airlines are currently facing. One of the biggest challenges that they are facing is the fact that there is no easy way to test their systems. Because each of the components of an airlines’ IT infrastructure is being used by customers 24×7, it simply is not possible to take the system offline in order to perform testing.

As CIOs, one of our solutions when we are faced with complex problems like this is to simply say “let’s start over”. The thinking is that if we put a team on it, we could create a new modern version of the old program that nobody can figure out how it works. The problem with this logic in this circumstance is that creating a new replacement system from the ground up would be both risky and expensive.

What all of this means for CIOs is that they are going to have to get creative. There are no simple solutions to this problem. One thing that is going to have to happen is that the IT infrastructure that these firms are using is going to have to be upgraded. All of the major airlines realize this and so they are increasing their IT budgets. However, it is important to note that the spending on IT is still small when comparted to the airlines spending on airplanes and airport projects.

What All Of This Means For You

Airline CIOs have many different jobs that they are responsible for. One of the most important of these is to make sure that the company’s IT infrastructure is kept up and running. An airline’s IT systems are large, complex, and in use 24×7.

Every airline has a handful of critical IT applications that it uses to run its business. However, outages are starting to happen more and more often to airlines because of failures in their IT infrastructure. Due to mergers and increasing volume, airline IT systems have been becoming more and more complex. The fact that they have been built using different platforms and different languages has not helped things. In order to solve this problem, CIOs are going to have to get more funding and upgrade their infrastructure. This is a process that will take time.

Being an airline CIO is very much a firefighting assignment. You are going to have to make sure that your aging IT infrastructure is able to keep operating even as you go about attempting to replace it with more modern applications and infrastructure. Airline CIOs need to find ways to keep their planes in the air!

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

Question For You: Since they know that they will have IT infrastructure failures, what steps can airline CIOs take to minimize the impact of these failures?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When outsiders think about what a CIO does, they often think that we spend our days sitting around thinking about all of the cool new technology that is coming our way: cloud computing, artificial intelligence, big data, etc. However, what they all too often don’t realize is that the person with the CIO job is the person who is responsible for the importance of information technology and this includes the day-to-day operations of the company’s critical IT systems. People only seem to remember this when something goes wrong. Over at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) everyone was recently reminded of this when one of their main trading programs went down.