The 4th of July holiday traditionally kicks-off the summer vacationing season for many in the United States, a time to take pause from the day-to-day stresses of work. Likewise, Canada Day is a kickoff to summer activities for Canadians.

Some readers may painfully recall that there were a series of multi-airline system-wide outages that subsequently frustrated many hundreds of airline travelers hoping to get-away to vacation destinations only to delayed or stranded by systems that failed.

Very shortly, American Airlines will be converting its customer-facing web site and passenger check-in services to an enterprise Cloud platform to alleviate last year’s disruptions. 

Last year’s systems outages impacted multiple airlines, including American, Delta, Southwest and United. The explosion of online travel booking, major business changes caused by industry mergers and acquisitions, along with passenger needs for real-time information on any device including smartphones, literally taxed the performance of the industry’s legacy systems, many of which had origins in the mainframe computing era.

Last October, American Airlines successfully consolidated its internal operational systems allowing both merged U.S. Airways and American operations to be controlled and managed on a single system. The effort was described as a major undertaking, involving upwards of 500 applications, requiring a large amount of pre-planning. At the time, the CIO of American Airlines indicated to the Dallas Morning News that 1.3 million hours of IT staff time was invested in the conversion effort. As Supply Chain Matters reinforced in October, there is little tolerance for taking down airline operational and customer-facing systems that literally must operate around-the-clock, every day.  Many supply chain management mission-critical systems share such a challenge.

Also in October, American disclosed plans to move major portions of its customer-facing systems, including aa.com and airport check-in kiosks to a Cloud based deployment model. In November, the airline announced the selection of IBM’s Cloud platform over market competitors.

Nine months since that decision, the conversion to Cloud is about to begin.

A posting appearing on Business Insider, American Airlines looks to the IBM Cloud to end travel hell, indicates that the airline is now starting to move its online services to IBM’s Cloud platform. American has apparently declined to indicate when such changes will take effect for customers, indicating instead that development efforts are underway and will go-live soon.  That is an indication that planning and operational stress testing is probably underway. The Insider report does indicate that the airline still has legacy and third-party applications still in operation that will stay in-place on the backend, after the front-end systems move to the Cloud. That is another similarity to today’s supply chain systems landscape.

One item of interest for supply chain management IT support teams was American’s preference for a Cloud system featuring an open source platform that would allow the managing of multiple Cloud-based systems. Supply Chain Matters has previously pointed out that this has become a rather important consideration in efforts to integrate supply chain B2B business networks that involve many different Cloud-based applications such as procurement, planning, customer fulfillment, transportation and logistics. In the light of this week’s global cyberattack that impacted multiple systems including those of the world’s largest container shipping line, selecting an enterprise vendor as a principle customer-facing Cloud platform provides some assurances that information security and systems patches are always up to date.

The American Airlines Cloud conversion will no-doubt, be watched very carefully but both airline industry and other industry business and IT technology executives. There is obviously a lot at stake in terms of an airline’s and a major enterprise tech vendor’s brand images. An operational or system disruption will be closely monitored, but then again, airline passengers are not shy in sharing their frustrations on social media.

For supply chain management and line-of-business teams, what is underway in the airline industry will provide important learning relative to proper planning, conversion of mission-critical systems, and the benefits promised from Cloud platform adoption.

 

We take this opportunity to wish all of our U.S. and other Supply Chain Matters readers a wonderful and safe 4th of July holiday along with a restful summer vacation free of travel stresses.

Enjoy.

 

Bob Ferrari

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