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Modern Data Architecture is Integral for Airlines Transformation

Posted: January 27, 2023

Troubling incidents in the aviation industry are putting a spotlight on the people, process and technology that power some of our nation’s most critical infrastructure. Recent FAA technology issues are highlighting the need to invest in modern data platforms.

If the U.S. government and leading airlines can’t get things right with their data systems, what are the implications for the rest of us?

FAA Failure Triggers Air Travel Shutdown

In early January, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration suddenly shut down all flight departures in the United States, leading to a panic for travelers and airlines alike. People were uncertain if there was a possible cybersecurity attack on the U.S. airlines travel system.

It turned out that an issue with the Notice to Air Mission system was the problem. NOTAM messages are used to inform pilots about any changes or differences on their flights that could possibly impact the safety of the flight. In the world of flying, it’s a critical air safety software tool used by pilots.

When the NOTAM system went down on January 11, it led to a broad shutdown of flights across the country — 1,300 canceled flights with 10,000 more delayed, according to FlightAware, an aviation intelligence company.

Days later, the source of the failure was uncovered – a damaged database file combined with human error. “Contract personnel unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database,” the FAA revealed.

This is a head-scratcher. How did a contractor get security access to conduct such a critical system function? What does this signal about the integrity and efficacy of data and analytics systems for other large enterprises that consumers rely on, not to mention how data is stored, accessed and used at millions of mid-market companies that equally power our economy?

Fortunately, the FAA has now implemented new safeguards to avoid these kinds of issues moving ahead. According to Reuters, the FAA will now use a 1-hour delay in synchronizing databases, in order to prevent any immediate data errors to the backup database. Also, the FAA will require at least two persons, including a federal manager, to oversee the maintenance of the NOTAM system.

Southwest Airlines Debacle Signals Dire Need for Data Fixes

Chances are, someone you knew was caught up in it or you experienced it firsthand. During the peak holiday travel period this December, a disaster occurred with Southwest Airlines canceling 90% of its flights. The cause? Outdated scheduling software could not reconcile shifts in pilots, flight attendants, planes and passengers as winter storms wrecked usual travel routes.

Southwest’s attempts at piecing new schedules together were hampered by strict FAA regulations about when and how much crews can work. Trying to get new crew members matched with flights became impossible due to the company’s archaic scheduling technology, which could not handle all the snafus, leading to an historic Southwest meltdown involving 16,700 canceled flights and up to $825 million in lost revenue and fines.

Hot Take: A Data and Analytics Wake-up Call

These technology failures should be a wake-up call to all industries. Working with dated technology in a world of cloud, security and computing scale will more often lead to events like these. Unfortunately, it always takes an event like the ones above to shine a light on the importance of data.

We believe that all companies need to embrace the new normal for modern database architecture and database management. JetBlue is an example of an airline company that recognized and met its digital challenges head on in recent years. One of its core strategies involved the use of automating or eliminating any transactions with customers that do not bring any extra value to their customers. It’s a strategy that has worked well in its favor, helping JetBlue to become the 6th largest airline in the USA.

Unfortunately, in other cases, senior executives tend to fall back on what’s worked before, their tried-and-true ways, rather than seek fresh ways of thinking and decisive actions to move ahead on projects.

McKinsey & Co. wrote recently about what makes adapting so important to an organization can also trigger fear. This results in making people fall back on familiar patterns or whatever solutions worked the last time. The authors call this the “adaptability paradox”: when company leaders most need to learn and change, they tend to stick with what they know, often in a way that stifles learning and innovation.

It’s critical that individuals and organizations need to be prepared and ready to meet challenges before they occur, not after a problem happens. Being adaptable to changing paradigms and circumstances is the key to meeting upcoming data analytics and cloud transformation challenges. Businesses that stick to the ‘tried & true’ may find that meeting the challenges ahead may prove more formidable without the proper investment.

Take Stock of Your Data Environment

In good times, it’s easy for organizations to coast on the data architecture available to them, without much thought given about the years ahead. These are often seen as the comfortable years, in which companies feel they have a handle on what is needed.

But all signs in 2023 are pointing to an economic downturn, a slowdown, a recession. We’ve already seen thousands of tech industry layoffs, and budget cuts elsewhere. Organizations must be mindful of the future. Slowing down investments in key initiatives like cloud operations and upgraded database management would be damaging in the long term.

For those that experienced the 2008 financial crisis, you saw how quickly the good years and complacency came to a screeching halt. In the consulting world during that time, we found our services were in high demand, as the market didn’t have the data and information necessary to respond to the crisis. Executives needed short-term answers to questions like “What lever do I pull?”, “What is our customer base doing?”, and “How can we forecast in the middle of all this chaos?”

The key question then should have rightly been “How can we intelligently and properly make decisions that drive positive and lasting change during these times of uncertainty?”

An Era of Unpredictability Requires Data and Information Access

Many of the mid-market companies we work with come to us knowing they need better access to the right data and insight to guide their decisions. They are looking for the best practices on how to solve their problems. That’s a perfect starting point.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. When thinking about new data and analytic solutions, push yourself to start conversations with experts and imagine new possibilities.

Keep in mind: the path to improvement doesn’t always necessitate a data systems overhaul; it can build upon prior investments, with tangible business value delivered within weeks or a few months.

Evolution Analytics is ready to help you gain business insight with modern data analytics. Contact our team today to discuss your data goals for 2023.