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Airlines need multi-speed IT to take off in the digital era

Airline IT organizations can keep legacy systems up and running and drive breakthrough digital innovation at speed and scale.

Today’s airline IT organizations are pulled in different directions, and many have reached a crossroads in managing them. That’s why mastering multi-speed IT is essential.

One speed does not fit all
Consider airlines’ technology needs. As always, IT organizations manage large-scale back-end systems that literally keep the business up and running—and airplanes in the air. It’s about day-to-day systems maintenance, trusted functionality, risk management, efficiency and cost savings. And in this industry, mistakes can cost lives.

But in today’s digital age—where competitive advantage comes from delivering customer-first travel experiences—IT departments have an expanded mandate. The business wants fast, breakthrough innovation around digital solutions for both passengers and staff. This could involve developing a mobile app for passengers to get real-time alerts during the travel journey, equipping ground staff with tablets to improve maintenance turnaround times, and much more.

IT organizations know that legacy systems cannot support such fast-switch IT needs that make for a truly digital airline. As such, the ability to operate at different IT speeds—to balance keeping the lights on with inventing the next light bulb—is so critical.

Getting caught in a speed trap
In this environment, many airlines have pursued agile approaches to support multi-speed IT capabilities. Yet they often find that they cannot integrate and scale the resulting functionality without significant cost increases and time.

It is not uncommon for an airline to have an agile development program originally budgeted at tens of thousands of dollars climb to hundreds of thousands to actually deliver scalable and production-ready functionality.

Flying high with high-speed IT
How can airlines address the challenges of scaling and integrating new IT development with legacy systems?

In the move to multi-speed IT, airlines must define the rules to implement, integrate and scale agile solutions once. This way, definition, implementation and operations efforts occur one time, removing precious cost and time from the process.

This is defining platforms—uniform methodology, infrastructure, architecture, security, interface integration and operations. Most airlines typically need only four platforms, which include packaged solutions, application services and cloud services, custom waterfall development and custom agile development. Simplicity is critical. The more platforms, the more potential for integration efforts to grow exponentially every time new functionality is added.

If airlines define a limited and specific number of platforms—and make governance and cultural changes so that developers stick to them—every part of their functionality will have a pre-defined approach to interface, maintain, operate, expand, migrate or decommission as needed. This enables the IT speed and flexibility that they so desperately need.

Airlines that are looking for more flexibility in how they manage the legacy landscape can make another important change. They can remove “commodity” functionality from the portfolio, such as passenger service systems, by running this slow IT externally. This frees resources to support higher-speed IT needs.

Reaching cruising altitude
Managing through competing IT priorities is a challenge. But by defining a high-speed IT implementation plan and rethinking the legacy landscape, IT organizations can work at the speed and scale of the market.

Learn more: Calibrating multi-speed IT for the varied demands of a multi-speed business


Robert Zippel

Robert Zippel
Global Travel Industry Technology lead