Don’t Let Your Sales Figures Go Southwest

December 2022 – Southwest suffers from a major operational emergency, leaving thousands of customers stranded during holiday travels. Was weather to blame for part of this catastrophe? Sure, but one could argue that Mother Nature blessed all airlines with the same challenge. So what was the differentiator that CNN reports caused Southwest to cancel 86% of all cancelled flights in the United States?

IT infrastructure or a lack thereof!

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, the vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Capt. Mike Santoro, said the problems facing Southwest were the worst disruptions he'd experienced in 16 years at the airline.

He described last week's storm as a catalyst that helped trigger major technical issues.

"What went wrong is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software is vastly outdated," he said. "It can't handle the number of pilots, flight attendants that we have in the system, with our complex route network.”

"The weather, you know, was a big event that triggered it, although that's no excuse for the lack of scheduling IT infrastructure which really caused the problem,"

This is a major business disaster for Southwest that will cause them pain for quite some time in many forms, including huge effects on their sales figures.

What could they have done better? Evaluated their technology stack to provide better resilience during demand surges. They simply suffered from a ‘tech debt’ crash that can happen to any business which doesn’t make the effort to keep technology running at peak performance.

Airplanes undergo extensive maintenance plans to keep them running properly and safely – the Federal Aviation Administration requires this – but little regulation exists to tell a business they need to keep their technology up to date. This wasn’t a cyber security incident after all, it was a lack of proper technology.

What can a business do to avoid the effects of the next big storm? Make it a point to check on your technology. There are checks you can do daily, monthly, and even annually. Do them and act on the findings!

Although we can only speculate the exact cause of Southwest’s scheduling software being “vastly outdated”, here are some general comments:

  • Implement Microsoft’s Frontline Worker Productivity Tools – Southwest’s flight crews are the backbone of the organization. They couldn’t keep informed and communication crippled operations. Microsoft would have helped, FMT can implement and guide.
  • Modernize Infrastructure using Microsoft Azure – Southwest’s business applications couldn’t keep up with demand due to a lack of horsepower at peak. Microsoft would have helped, FMT can implement and guide.
  • Evaluate Technology Stack – Tech debt will creep up on you! Southwest didn’t assess or didn’t act on assessments and operations suffered. FMT can be your 3rd party ‘auditors’.

Ask yourself the following for your own business:

  • Do you have strong, clear communication with your frontline workers?
  • Are your business-critical applications able to keep up with demands?
  • Is your IT infrastructure operating effectively?

If any of these answers is a ‘NO’, ‘NOT SURE’ or otherwise ‘NOT CLEAR’, give us a call. We can give you guidance and implement solutions so that your business can weather storms. Don’t suffer the fate of your own Southwest tech debt – be ready for the next storm because it’s coming and you can be prepared!

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