Last week a number of airlines across the world suffered disruption when the software used to manage reservations and check-ins suffered a network issue.

Two hours after the first reports of disruption appeared on Social Media the software company involved confirmed that they had a network issue and a few hours later, once IT Disaster Recovery had been implemented and the issue resolved, they issued a statement that said that the technical teams took immediate action to identify what had gone wrong and fix it. They also apologized for any inconvenience caused to customers.

A text-book PR response right? Almost - apart from:

  1. The time it took for the first statement to appear - our experience is that in the world of social media organisations now have less than 10 minutes to get their first statement out if they don't want their share price to dive. 
  2. They apologized to their customers - not their customers' customers - e.g. the people in the booking halls trying to work out if they could catch their flight.

This could just have been and oversight on behalf of the communications team. However, when you marry this with the fact that the statements refer to "technical" teams responding rather than "business" teams and also that the focus of the communication is on the impact to the IT system rather than the people in the booking halls then I wonder if all is as it should be with the relationship between the airlines and their IT suppliers.

When designing and implementing an IT Disaster Recovery solution you should first and foremost work out what disaster you are trying to mitigate and then work from there. If you are a CIO or an IT outsourcer it is tempting to think that the "disaster" is your failure to meet your Business as Usual (BAU) Service Level Agreements. It is also tempting to think that if, when disruption strikes, you focus on recovering systems according to their BAU criticalities all will be well with the world.

However, this is not true. The priorities of the business supported by the IT system will be different when they are disrupted. The business will have devised alternative ways of working as part of their Business Continuity processes and the IT department or outsourcer needs to focus on supporting those first and recovering BAU service second.  

If they don't then what could just start as a small issue in the IT system could rapidly escalate into a huge issue for the business that the IT supports.

I don't know the full facts around what happened last week - but I do know that the airline and airport industry seems to suffer disproportionate impacts associated with their IT provision. This could be due to any number of issues such as the complexity of the industry, ageing IT infrastructure and a economic competition resulting in insufficient investment in resilient IT solutions.

However, as someone who relies on the industry for both pleasure and business, I sincerely hope that it is not due to the IT and business people not talking to each other.