Grounded, Confounded: Recent Failures in Air Travel and How They May Have Been Avoided

May 16, 20243 mins read

It was big and awful news. An airline had a systems failure and canceled almost every single flight for an entire day, leaving tens of thousands of customers stranded… and angry.

It was soon followed by even bigger and more awful news: nearly ALL domestic flights on ALL airlines were canceled or delayed as the FAA had a massive systems failure.

In both cases, the issue was technology: outdated platforms, outmoded processes.

More specifically, in the airline’s case, it was outdated scheduling software. In the FAA’s case, it was tied to a procedural error related to a corrupted data file (which can often be the result of a manual upload/update process).

While this was a nightmare for travelers, it was also a wake-up call for businesses in the private and public sector alike.

We know this firsthand as we’re routinely talking to organizations looking into modernizing operations and systems for one reason only: they do not want what happened to the airline and FAA to happen to them. No one wants to make the front page of The New York Times as the next high-profile failure.

The bad news is that there is no 100% certain way to guarantee systems will never ever fail. The good news is that there is a way to help ensure failures like those called out above do not occur in your business.

Avoiding catastrophe through transformation

For years — decades, longer — technology businesses and industry thought leaders have been touting the benefits of digital transformation. This sounds like a buzzword, but it’s not and never has been. It’s a combination of technologies, services, and dare we say a philosophy for operating a business.

Ironically, the place where those planes should have been on those disastrous days is the same place their information systems should be: in the cloud(s).

Digital transformation begins with the cloud, putting systems, people, and data into the cloud where redundancies (i.e., back-ups) are automatically and constantly created, where new systems and workflows may be quickly incorporated, and where growth — in staff, applications, processes: you name it — is 100% supported and even enabled.

Part of what contributed to the airline’s massive failure was its reliance on software from the 1990s, and on businesses processes that were equally outdated as well. i.e., it had no real way to scale as its business grew, and no real way to pivot in the event of an emergency.

Combine unexpected, drastic weather and massively packed travel schedules (in most cases, highest among of scheduled travelers of the last three years) with outdated back-end systems and processes, and disaster is in the cards.

Digital transformation is about more than the scalability and flexibility of the cloud, of course. It’s also about automating manual processes across the board.

Ask most people about the benefits of replacing manual processes with automations, and their first comment will likely be about cost-savings: fewer people needed to carry the workload. Yes, 100% accurate.

However, a primary benefit of automation alongside reducing costs is increasing accuracy of information and workflows — especially automating updates and upgrades. (e.g., if in fact what happened at the FAA was the result of a manual update, an automatically updating, cloud-based system would likely not have been impacted in the slightest.)

With cloud-based business applications — e.g., customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions — the system is always up to date: no manual upgrades required, ever. Customers are never on an older version (e.g., one from the 1990s, like the airline) and never have to get involved with updates. As one of our customers put it, “[it’s] the last time we will ever have to touch an ERP.”

Wouldn’t that have been great for the airline and FAA — more importantly, for all those travelers? An automatically updated system that scales as needed and requires little to no manual intervention? A system you don’t even have to think about? It starts here, with Argano and cloud-based business solutions.

Written by:
Drew Vabulas
VP of Sales