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.

Bob Evans, Contributor

June 15, 2010

5 Min Read

"Eighteen months ago, we had just closed the deal to acquire Northwest Airlines, and we had started to look at the opportunities we had with our new size to serve our customers in new and better ways, and to run a really big airline more efficiently," Wise said.

"For us in IT, we started asking ourselves things like how can we design and build a new technology platform that can power this big new airline? From delivering real-time global transactions for shopping, to enabling customers around the world to redeem miles, to new demands for security, to figuring out the most effective ways to dispatch aircraft, to decision-support for planning which plane to use on which route, to what price to charge for which seats on which flights, to looking at literally billions of combinations of assigning pilots each month in ways that are best for our customers, for our pilots, and for our shareholders," Wise said.

At this point, Wise began to weave in her theme of "valuing speed" and how she drove the team to find a balance between delivering thorough and precise work while also seeking out innovative ways to get to the final result—and the new value that result would unlock—as quickly as possible.

"Since was realized we had such a critical opportunity through the new company, we decided we wanted to deliver results as soon as possible—but we also needed to ensure we didn't put the two airlines' operations at risk in any way," Wise said. "So our base assumption was that we would do everything in our power to drive a seamless experience for customers, and to do so as rapidly as possible."

Some speed-bumps they faced: in scaling up to handle an airline with 70,000 employees serving 66 countries with 16,000 daily flights, the Delta IT team decided to cut reduce 1,200 apps to 600, which Wise said "we did in 75 projects in 23 swim lanes over 269 cutovers." And here she offered a special thanks to the HP Software folks in the audience for their help in overall and for this step in particular.

"The big key was selecting the right starting-state solution: the superset of features, considerations for revenue potential, considerations for the efficiency potential, etc.," she said. "We wanted to build up speed to a common starting state, and then find ways to build momentum to be ready for next steps."

Some of those next steps that became top of mind for Wise had little to do with IT and much to do with how Delta's front-line employees reacted to and interacted with all that new IT stuff before them: what Wise called "business readiness."

"At this point we turned our focus to meaningful metrics and deliberate decisions," she said. "While technology factors were involved and surely still part of the objective—you know, on-scope, on-time, on-budget—we also looked much harder at 'business readiness' to gauge how well our colleagues on the front lines were equipped to handle the new ways of goind things. So we looked hard at training milestones, and how we pressure-test the various approaches, and so on, and that led to one of our most-important scorecards: business readiness."

Looking ahead, Wise said Delta is aggressively exploring a multitude of new ways that technology can drive those "exceptional customer experiences" so near and dear to her, with many of those possibilities ranging far afield from the traditional airlines business of shipping a set of people or packages from one place to another.

"Today, we're on the verge of something that has the potential for delivering a personalized and end-to-end journey for each customer experience, especially through mobile," Wise said, "We have an idea for being 'always on' and with you every step of way 24/7. We're looking for ways to take our massive repositories of information and our extensive decision-support tools that have always been oriented inward and refocusing them outward to deliver focused and relevant content to customers.

"We can see a time when Delta can promise our customers that we're 'always with you' throughout your travels, taking into account complex things like weather and a storm that may pass through and recognizing what that means to you and your trip, communicating with you during the process and rebooking not only your flights but also maybe even your rental cars, your meetings, your hotels, and beyond," Wise said.

Every CIO or aspiring CIO should take those last two paragraphs and share them with every leader on his/her team because that is the job of the CIO: looking at today's reality and tomorrow's possibility and creating the vision that connects the two by creating new types of customer value, new types of engagement, and new types of revenue.

Creating, on other words, what Delta Air Lines CIO Theresa Wise would call "EXCEPTIONAL customer experiences."

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To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Bob Evans


Bob Evans is senior VP, communications, for Oracle Corp. He is a former InformationWeek editor.

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