Incident Management

Southwest Airlines Software Mishap: A Wake-Up Call for All Firms

Southwest Airlines has experienced a massive blow to its technical operations due to software inefficiency during this past holiday season. The Southwest Airlines software mishap led to an overall cancellation of almost 15,000 flights during Christmas.[i] As a result, this tech disaster has raised serious concerns regarding Southwest’s software reliability and business management.

What Exactly Happened

A bomb cyclone hit Denver on December 21, 2022. The airport runways suffered a massive setback that led to an operational hazard. The airline started receiving notifications about too many sick leaves after long shifts. So, the employees calling in sick were asked to show a doctor’s note in person or else get terminated immediately.[ii] Several ramp agents quit their jobs due to the weather disaster and long working hours. This eventually led to workforce shortage and the resultant flight cancellations and shutdown.[iii]

Besides, the Dallas-based airline faced severe technical issues with its crew scheduling software – SkySolver.[iv] It is an off-the-shelf application that has led to mismanagement and incoordination between flight schedules and aircrew.[v] It had an outdated optimization infrastructure from the ‘90s that could handle only 300 changes against the present need of 1000+ changes.[vi] It failed to meet current FAA regulations and could not align the changes the airline needed. The software’s computing power could not match the demanding situation Southwest experienced regarding crew scheduling, resting hours, etc. The failure of the airline’s IT infrastructure hampered its entire flying roster. Compounding the problem, Southwest does not have interline agreements with other carriers. Therefore, they could not re-route passengers to other airlines. They could not even provide crews and passengers with hotel accommodations.

The Aftermaths of Carelessness

Southwest experienced many far-reaching consequences:

  1. According to FlightAware, 45% of Southwest Airlines’ operations were affected from December 21 to December 29.[vii]Moreover, the disaster increased the responsibility of producing thousands of passenger reimbursement receipts.
  2. Per Bank of America airline stock analyst Andrew Didora, the misfortune could cost the airline $600-700 million. Earning’s forecast were cut from 85 to 37 cents. Shares fell by 3.2% to $32.60.[viii] The outdated IT system resulted in more than 5,400 flight cancellations in less than 48 hours.[ix]
  3. Governance regulation and cross-department communication took a back seat. The employers did not have enough time to prepare for the issue.[x]

Why Companies Frequently Experience Such a Software Mishap

Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist and a columnist for The New York Times, writes, “software that plays a critical role inside many systems is too often antiquated and in some cases decades old. This failing appears to be a key factor in why Southwest Airlines couldn’t return to business as usual the way other airlines did after last week’s major winter storm.”[xi] 

Furthermore, many companies do not have tech-oriented professionals at the senior management levels. Southwest Airlines’ upper management was inexperienced in airline operations and services. The ground workers’ Transport Workers Union (TWU) had already warned the airline multiple times about updating the obsolete software but to no avail. The airlines overlooked the warning signs and the impending disaster. They were unequipped with the true status of their IT operations and associated projects pertaining specifically to their technology-based failures. Had they been prepared, such a disaster could have been averted.

How to Prevent Such a Software Mishap

R. Ray Wang, a principal consultant at Constellation Research Inc., indicates that businesses should balance their firm’s human and technical aspects to overcome a software mishap.[xii] Here is a list of things companies should practice to avoid such software disasters:

  1. Companies should provide incentives to acknowledge technical debt instead of transferring the issue to consumers or staff.
  2. Businesses should modernize scheduling systems. Updated tools can provide better insights regarding market trends and future business predictions.
  3. It is better to introduce an upgraded software infrastructure to help companies predict potential business threats and accurately monitor their growth. The technology should also provide a practical approach to regulating business data and augmenting business performance.

TrueProject, a predictive intelligence SaaS offering from CAI, provides advanced warning of project health issues to avoid costly problems and failure. TrueProject addresses Ray Wang’s concerns as it provides:

  1. Personalized dashboards for employees to visualize where they stand as compared to their projects and other stakeholders, pertaining to organization technical debt,
  2. Industry best practice comparative analytics on KPI’s so that organizations can gain a true perspective and advanced warning of trouble from early, route cause analysis,
  3. Constant assessment-based feedback on the multiple projects or portfolios that are required for successful deployment of upgraded software via accurate prediction of threats, enhancing overall business performance.

Technology has become an inseparable aspect of every business, regardless of size. Organizations need to introduce updated project management and IT software that give a clearer overlook of business operations. Such IT systems allow organizations to plan their projects smartly and mitigate risks in the wake of a disastrous incident. If companies fail to introduce downstream predictive visibility into their technical operations and business, such incidents are bound to happen.













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