As you may know, SouthWest Airlines is in a bit of trouble. They've had lots of issues with flights getting cancelled and delayed. It started with the recent storm over the holidays. The holidays are generally a challenging time for airlines and adding a storm didn't help. Most airlines were affected by the storm, but most of them recovered. A week or two later SouthWest is still reeling. Why?
Several pundits immediately pointed to Legacy Code. Apparently SouthWest hadn't updated their tracking software in quite a while (20 years). They did know about problems with it. It's caused problems in the past. The unions put it at the top of their complaint list. Supposedly SouthWest didn't have the money - yet oddly the previous CEO left with a very large going away present. Maybe that money could have been put to better use?
Meanwhile there are all kinds of stories about the software. Apparently they couldn't keep track of all of their employees, who all happen to carry cell phones with GPSs in them. It never occurred to them to make an app? They also can't keep track of their planes either. They are rather expensive. You'd think that would be a priority.
Apparently the existing system has no feedback. If an employee and plane are scheduled to fly from Boston to New York, the scheduling system just assumes they've arrived. If for some reason they don't then the crew has to call someone at corporate to have them manually update the database. No this is not 1990, this is 2023.
It Starts At The Top
It is easy to blame Legacy Code. It is a convenient scapegoat. Yet it is an inanimate object. It worked admirably at the time it was created and for a while afterwards, but eventually start to age less gracefully. What about the people responsible for keeping it up to date? Go back and take a look at the picture at the top of this blog. Yes those are all the officers listed on the SouthWest website. Notice anything missing? No this screenshot wasn't taken in 1980. It was taken in 2023. Where is the CTO? CIO? CISO? Anyone related to technology?
How do people buy tickets these days? I've been flying Southwest for 20 years. I've always bought tickets online. I'm willing to bet that is how almost all of their customers buy tickets. It seems to me that a ~$25B logistics company that collects most of it's revenue via internet sales ought to have a CTO. The lack of foresight is just mind-blowing.
Also since there is no CISO, I wonder who is in charge of Information Security. I mean people's flight information and travel itineraries couldn't possibly be important enough to secure. Especially not today when identify theft is rampant and states like Texas are trying to prosecute women who travel out of state for health care.
Oh and the other leadership failure (unrelated to technology) is this - when all else fails, blame your incompetence on someone else. In this case your employees. The real reason people were stranded isn't incompetent leadership, or even Legacy Code, but lazy workers - that old familiar scapegoat.
Every Company Is a Technology Company
This all brings me back to the title of the article. In 2023, every Company is a Technology Company. Bookkeeping, scheduling, ordering, is all done via computer systems now. This is true for almost every company. Companies need to take responsibility for maintaining their technology. They need a CTO and probably also a CISO. The C suite need to stop giving themselves huge bonuses and invest in the technology that drives their business. They need to feed the goose that lays the golden eggs instead of starving it to feed their own greed. In the case of SouthWest they may have already killed the goose. I would be very surprised if they survive this. Maybe they will serve as a lesson to other companies.