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Southwest Airlines’ Legacy Systems Failed. Are Yours Next?

  • Alyx 

Here’s hoping no one reading this was – or still currently is – stranded at an airport over the 2022 holidays due to the massive wave of travel cancellations, or still sorting through a sea of baggage trying to find their generic black rollaway (protip if that’s you: throw an AirTag in there next time). Weather is a potential nightmare situation for any airline (just ask me how well I know the United lounge at EWR after a nine-hour delay on the way to LHR during Winter Storm Avery) but, for Southwest Airlines, it triggered a total meltdown this year. And, it’s now being widely reported that this was a “ ‘perfect storm’ of well-known vulnerabilities”. From the LA Times:

“The catalyst was the big storm,” [vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Assn., Michael] Santoro said in an interview. “But our internal software can’t handle massive cancellations. The company hasn’t invested the money into scheduling infrastructure to support the network they have developed.

“So pilots are calling in asking, I’m done with this flight — where do I go next? Am I running another plane? Do I spend the night here? And pilots are on hold for hours trying to figure out what to do next.”

That whole “digital transformation” thing businesses have been jumping on the last few years appears to have skipped SWA. We’re not going to turn this blog into a root-cause analysis, unless SWA wants us to jump in to help them implement a new workforce management or logistics platform. We’re just issuing a warning here.

Imagine waking up to this kind of s***storm of angry customers, headline stories and countless social media armchair quarterbacks telling you what a terrible job you’re doing. Still not convinced? Okay, we’ll give you a few more reasons why it’s more important than ever for companies to have reliable and efficient technology platforms to support their daily operations and manage their employees, and how upgrading to modern technology infrastructure can provide significant benefits and a positive return on investment.

Old systems are prone to conflicts and failure. These systems are often built on outdated technologies that are no longer supported, making it difficult or impossible to find solutions when problems arise. Upgrades? Time-consuming, costly and challenging: legacy systems are often difficult to maintain, requiring specialized knowledge and resources that may not be readily available. This can lead to additional downtime and other issues.

Those legacy technology systems also are often inflexible and unable to meet the changing needs of your business. Customer-friendly omnichannel customer service, personalization, and AI/ML optimized employee scheduling are not going to come out of that clunky 30-year-old server in the closet. In contrast, modern technology infrastructure is more flexible and adaptable, allowing businesses to quickly and easily scale up or down as needed.

The upfront cost is worth it – the return on investment for technology infrastructure upgrades can be significant for businesses. Upgrading to modern technology platforms can improve efficiency and productivity, leading to increased profits and revenue. Cloud-based platforms often only require you to pay for what you use, easily scaling and saving you money versus maintaining excess capacity year-round – and reducing or eliminating the upfront cost to upgrade. Modern technology systems are also often more reliable and easier to maintain, which can result in significant cost savings over time. In addition, investing in modern technology can also help businesses stay competitive in their industry, as they will be able to take advantage of the latest technologies and keep up with their competitors.

We don’t know quite what else to say here to change your mind if you’re not on board at this point. Please, let this travel fiasco be a warning to you if you haven’t taken a serious look at your back-end software. No one expects you to control the weather – or whatever it is that causes headwinds in your business – but customers expect you to be able to manage around it. If you need a digital strategy refresh, customer requirements audit, or help picking out the right platform to upgrade your workforce management, customer service or retail infrastructure, reach out and let’s chat.