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1000+ flights cancelled. Millions of dollars lost. Reputation tarnished.

Ailing Airline Tech

On August 8th, 2016, Delta Airlines, the world’s second largest airline, had to suffer the ignominy of having its IT systems crash and burn, in the wake of an ongoing discussion about the legacy technology being put to use in the Airline industry.

The result of the Delta debacle was cancelled flights, irreparable havoc, countless angry customers and an annoyingly slow recovery from disruption.

Delta’s distress was palpable.

Although initially Delta tried to deflect the blame to their power supplier Georgia Power, it wasn’t too long before a deeper investigation pointed the error right back to Delta’s own IT deficiencies. Never mind the fact that power outage alone should not have caused an entire system to crash, because it can easily be argued that Delta should have had backups.

What’s worrying is, Delta isn’t alone in this embarrassment. Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue all have suffered similar disasters due to computer outages.

The question that baffles everyone is, how crashes such as these have been able to extend their grip to airlines such as Delta, which was once known to be one of the most IT forward companies. While on the one hand, we have an imperative discussion on the burgeoning role of technology in the Airline industry and on the other hand, we have episodes such as these, that question the premise of how far we have really come.

How is it possible that in 2016 computer crashes are able to bring down lofty airline companies?

The Domino Effect:

Early Monday, a power control module suddenly malfunctioned. This resulted in an unexpected surge that disconnected power to the airline’s main computer network. What should have happened at this point is, backup systems should have kicked in and all functions should have resumed normally.

Delta’s network equipment and critical computer systems that controlled everything from reservations, boarding passes, to crew and gate assignments, failed to switch to backup.

So, literally all of these disparate systems toppled over each other, because of one error.

  • The issue of outdated technology and legacy systems in the overall airline industry

Commercial airline companies are constantly challenged by three major concerns: rising costs, brutal competition and low margins. Both directly and indirectly, these factors have resulted in airlines continue to use legacy systems and have single points of IT failure, leading to irreparable disasters even when a single thing goes wrong.

  • Mergers between two airlines, resulting in inefficient organizational restructuring

After the Delta disaster, Aviation experts set about trying to explain why it had occurred. They came to the conclusion that one of the probable causes was its merger with Northwest Airlines, which was most likely, an inefficient marriage of two mismatched networks. Typically caused by bankruptcy, mergers within the Airline industry have been happening fairly frequently from the past 15 years. The result is that airlines are essentially relying on a hodge-podge of computer networks, coupled with inefficient organizational restructuring and subsequently, severe integration issues.

  • Falling behind the cloud curve

If the Delta outage proves anything, it is that older IT approaches are no longer relevant or productive. This is why, cloud computing should form a vital component of any technology discussion pertaining to the airline industry. Cloud technologies offer Airlines the opportunity to deliver convenient passenger services, such as baggage drops and self-boarding gates. Cloud can also be used for easy management of aircraft maintenance records. There are, of course, several business benefits of adopting the cloud, but the most important takeaway is that it allows Airlines to focus on their core business of transporting passengers, while allowing the cloud to manage their supporting activities, resulting in better productivity and flexibility.

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Case Studies: How Qantas & EasyJet are implementing Cloud

  • Qantas

Amid the fierce competition that airlines have to battle, customer experience is a prerequisite for any airline’s success. Qantas, seeking to be well ahead of competition, has built applications on the Amazon cloud that enable it to capture incidents of unhappy customer experiences and then use this information to increase the quality of their customer care team. Infact, this ability of gathering customer grievance information allows them to preemptively resolve customer issues even before they crop up.

  • EasyJet

Although a budget airline, EasyJet is well ahead of the curve in terms of technology. They switched to a cloud-based email security system around three years ago, allowing them to achieve over 35% cost savings. EasyJet’s switch to the cloud was a part of their strategy to outsource non-core activities, and allows users to manage and control their own spam, subsequently resulting in a significant reduction in administrative overhead costs.

The most substantial cloud benefit for Easyjet is that it enables their IT team to deliver real business outcomes, provide better technical support and reduce management requirements.

It is also time to consider Mobile

While discussing the benefits of modern technology, it is hard to miss what Mobile can do for the airline industry. Just over a year ago, Honeywell Aerospace introduced various mobile apps that enable airline companies to provide superior customer satisfaction. Their weather app provides both pilots and dispatchers with strategic and constantly updated weather information to pilots, so that they are warned against hazardous weather conditions and are able to choose the most optimal altitude for their route.

They have also recently released two new mobile applications – Pilot Gateway and My-Maintainer. Both these apps enable better efficiency for pilots, maintainers and operators.

Mobile is expected to be an absolute game-changer for the airline industry, both in terms of increasing efficiency for the IT department, as well as, providing superior customer service experience to passengers.

Next logical step for Airlines?

Meeting the expectations of today’s connected customers requires more than just meeting the bare minimum of transporting a passenger from one location to the next. Customer expectations aren’t just impacted by what your competitor is able to do and offer. They are also motivated by the services and standards they have come to expect from the other industries.

This has further amplified the need for aviation companies to step up their game and penetrate into customer expectations from a holistic standpoint, when architecting the flyer experience.

If you are looking to transform the current state of your IT and adopt newer technologies for better business value, then talking to one of our IT experts could be the way forward.

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