Anybody there?

While on a vacation last week I got a call from my father in law asking me if I could help him find a flight home due to a major snow storm in the North East coast of the United States. I was counting on him getting back to be my baby sitter while I enjoyed some time skiing. I thought not a problem, a call or two, check in on line like I do all the time and I’ll know in a few minutes what the options are. After all we won’t repeat the European snow experience only a short time prior. Boy was I wrong.

Hours of hold time, frequent unexplained disconnects and airline web sites running super slow and showing inaccurate data in many cases. After 8 hours of trying, the best I was able to do was book a flight 5 days out. What a complete waste of time! Why couldn’t I just talk to some one quickly or check things online and get a quick assessment of how bad things were and just get on with life?

Why can’t we have an elastic workforce?

Then a colleague shared the following MSNBC article with me. I grew up around a lot of airline workers and certainly empathize with all the people that have been laid off with the deep cuts in the industry and also appreciate the low margins of the airline business that makes it hard to keep on staff permanently. That night I was watching a discussion on CNN with some airline expert guy trying to assert that the airline systems are just not designed to handle this kind of load. “You can’t just double your capacity just like that, it’s too expensive.”

Rubbish! I thought. Why couldn’t every employee who was not a reservation agent be turned into a call center agent on demand assuming they had some basic training to handle at least information requests? What about all those furloughed employees sitting at home? Why couldn’t they be brought back on line quickly to handle the peak load and more complex requests? Why can’t the work force be more elastic and adaptable if permanent employment is not deemed to be cost effective? It’s inexcusable that the airline web sites couldn’t handle the load, it’s not as though volume spikes should be a surprise to them in bad weather.

Does your infrastructure enable your business?

Having spent so much of my career being an infrastructure practitioner, it really bothers me to see such poor business agility due to the technology infrastructure. Having a virtual computing infrastructure could have saved so much pain for so many. Many people could have been refocused or brought on line to handle calls and bookings. Additional compute power could have been brought on line dynamically to deal with the load. I really question the wisdom of the business and technology leaders if this happens again when solutions exist today.

Sure you can’t blame the airlines for the weather, but I sure do blame them for their technology planning. Just because you are in a lower margin business does not mean your technology should not enable your business in innovative ways. But I look on the bright side, I didn’t have to sleep on the runway and I did get to ski. Happy new year!