What happens when a Disruption gets in a fight with technology?
Well, if you have not kept pace with technology’s evolution into the cloud and deployed an end-to-end solution, you get Southwest Airlines’ holiday meltdown, as Belle Lin reported for The Wall Street Journal. Many reports, including this one from NBC News, note that Southwest has seen systemwide meltdowns increase in frequency and magnitude for the last 15 years with no concurrent investment in technology and operations. Southwest Airlines officials admitted as much to The WSJ: CEO Bob Jordan wrote employees that “We’ve talked a little over the last year about the need to modernize the operation and invest. This is why.”
As Alison Sider reports, the airline, which prided itself on culture and customer service, had to resort to manual operations when its antiquated software could not handle Disruption from major storms that froze ground equipment and jet bridges and congealed fuel. Southwest canceled nearly two-thirds of its planned flights for multiple days and wouldn’t let customers buy tickets for flights in danger of cancellation.
Manual operations are not advisable on any scale, particularly one the size of Southwest, the largest domestic carrier in the United States. According to The WSJ, airline operations technology must account for numerous real-time data points and constraints, “including federal regulations, weather, crew status and location, and aircraft maintenance and routing.”
I’m very much in favor of profit – without profit, you have no employees, no investors, no capital to deploy to serve customers, no business whatsoever. But to have any chance at agility in an age of perpetual Disruption, your operations require advanced technology, and sometimes that means spending capital on operations.
Despite today’s difficult business environment, we are in the golden age of technology. Leadership needs to get on board and invest in artificial intelligence, the cloud, data integration – whatever is required to give your personnel the best chance to adjust when Disruption is the new normal.
Jim Tompkins, Chairman of Tompkins Ventures, is an international authority on designing and implementing end-to-end supply chains. Over five decades, he has designed countless industrial facilities and supply chain solutions, enhancing the growth of numerous companies. He previously built Tompkins International from a backyard startup into an international consulting and implementation firm. Jim earned his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University.