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Global CIO: Delta Air Lines CIO Describes IT's Dazzling Future

As Delta's CIO completes the massive IT integration with Northwest, she turns her passionate leadership to creating EXCEPTIONAL customer experiences.

Delta Air Lines senior VP and CIO Theresa Wise could be forgiven if she cursed the scheduling gods at this week's Hewlett-Packard Software Universe event who slotted her presentation immediately before an inspirational talk from 12-time Olympic medal winner and international celebrity Dana Torres, who did nothing less than win her first medals in 1988 at the age of 21 and her last (most-recent?) in 2008 at the age of 41.

And no mistake about it, Torres gave a marvelous talk—funny, personal, inspiring, and touching.

But Wise was even better, relating a transformative tale of CIO vision, business leadership, cultural challenges, and the facing down of some technology nightmares (with some help from her friends at HP) following Delta's acquisition of her company, Northwest Airlines, and began an integration/transformation process that required the a high-velocity fusion of two teams, two sets of systems and processes, and thousands of interdependencies.

Sounding even more like an inspirational speaker than the transcendant Torres, Wise ticked off a list of strategic objectives she and her team surmounted while relentlessly coming back to her overarching vision of creating EXCEPTIONAL customer experiences. She spoke respectfully of IT itself, but she spoke passionately about the profound value that IT can deliver when it is passionately analyzed, applied, and refined by creative and committed professionals.

In a time when lots of pundits are eager to describe the CIO's inevitable irrelevance as everything moves to the cloud and the wizards of business decide they don't need the IT dweebs any more, Theresa Wise—violinist, proud mother of two, holder of PhD in mathematics, and natural-born leader—offered conclusive proof that those talking heads should find something else to yap about because they are profoundly wrong on their forecasts for the End of the CIO.

"IT can be an invaluable force for exceptional customer experiences," Wise said in her conclusion, "and while we certainly still have lots of work to do, we're well on our way to clearing some of the major technology hurdles in our path.

"The combined focus of business and technology, the application of technology, the common plans that span business and IT, the passion and commitment to success: that's what we're all striving for. These are amazing times, and IT is an amazing field."

Yes, the happy-talk quotient in there is pretty high, and if Wise and Delta had no real accomplishments to back it up, all those words could be dismissed as just a lot of feel-good rah-rah poured out to gloss over the ugly cracks and holes in the business. But take a look at what Wise's colleague, Delta president Ed Bastian, was saying at a different event in a different city at about the same time Wise was giving her talk:

"Mr. Bastian said at an industry conference Tuesday that revenue from corporate sales was up 63% year-on-year through the end of May, and continued to strengthen," according to a news story yesterday on the website of the Wall Street Journal. "Unit revenue on flights to Asia jumped 50% in June, and was up 30% on trans-Atlantic services, he said.

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"Delta, meanwhile, boosted its estimate for second-quarter operating margin to 10% to 11%, from an April forecast of 8% to 10%," the story said.

After the horrendous air-travel numbers from 2009, we could expect a nice jump in revenue this year for corporate sales, but look beyond that to the operating-margin improvements: Q2 estimates increasing to between 10% and 11% after a recent forecast of 8% to 10%.

And all that coming in the final stages of a massive integration that has made Delta the country's largest airline in terms of traffic. Did IT play a big part? Let's see:

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