Optimizing IT Needn`t Be Costly

Imagine it’s 10 a.m. on a weekday in Anchorage, and Alaska Airlines Flight 97 from Seattle is about an hour from landing. On board, a passenger complains that her tray table is broken and her reading light has burned out. Not exactly an airline emergency, but enough to cause a maintenance delay when the plane lands in Alaska’s largest city.

That is, at least, in days gone by. On this day, the flight crew, in real-time, notes the malfunctions in the message it routinely sends to the ground crew as the plane nears its destination. A new line-maintenance system provides technicians with more information than they’ve ever had at their disposal.

The technicians are ready and waiting at the gate to make repairs when the flight arrives. No delays. It may not be business transformation at its sexiest, but in an industry in which time is money, the new system has a profound impact by making ground time more efficient than ever. “Every minute counts,” CIO Bob Reeder says.

Reeder says the year-old maintenance system is a shining example of how a simple IT project–one that optimizes the inherent business value of IT assets–can have far-reaching business impact. He only regrets that he and his team didn’t think of it sooner. “We could have done this 10 years ago, and that makes me want to bash my head against the wall,” he says.

A business process-centric approach is what made the new system possible. The airline’s business process-improvement team had assembled an informal group, including maintenance champions from the IT staff, to review procedures related to getting aircraft back in the air. Once the mechanics’ lack of up-to-date information was paired with the potential for adding unplanned repairs to the flight crew’s in-flight messages, the solution became clear. “It was just a matter of looking at the information from a mechanic’s perspective,” Reed says.

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