Airline Execs: IT Laggards May Be Grounded

SAN JOSE, CALIF. (04/14/2000) - Airlines more concerned with guarding their turf than adapting to the breakneck speed of technological advances in the travel industry run the risk of becoming obsolete, according to industry information technology leaders who spoke at yesterday's International Air Transport Association's (IATA) IT conference.

William Miller, Continental Airlines Inc.'s senior director for telecommunications and technology, urged the assembly to look outside their organizational boundaries to fix their IT needs. He said airlines lack the in-house ability to modify their layered and sometimes archaic systems and insisted that he doesn't know "of a single airline" that runs on a fully modernized system.

"We're not in that high front-end, client/server environment everyone's always talking about. . . . We're somewhere between the Industrial Age and the Information Age," he said.

Lufthansa CIO Bernd Voigt said he's eyeing the possibility of using shared IT resources at the German air carrier. Last year, Lufthansa and its fellow members in the Star Alliance - an airline group that includes United Airlines Inc., Air Canada and All Nippon Airways - started a Los Angeles-based IT organization that will be responsible for network planning and other support for its partners.

Voigt spoke of "decentralized networks" and how technological advancements will erode the industry's traditions of proprietary systems and self-reliance.

"At the end of the day, we are talking about common systems and common structure," he said.

Voigt said he also envisions the wave of technological advancement forcing former rivals to share reservations and inventory.

South African Non-Scheduled Airways CEO Michael Myburgh said IT development "is the key to the success and survival of airlines at this point."

Myburgh pressed CEO's to bring their IT leaders into the decision-making loop in order to keep up with the rest of the industry.

Miller warned of a more fiercely competitive landscape and underscored the importance of replacing the industry's legacy systems.

"By the way, do it at the speed of light," he told attendees. "Because we don't have time anymore."

Independent management consultant and moderator of the IATA forum George Rusznak closed the conference by stating that IT innovation will increasingly define the airline business.

"I think we will be at the point in two or three years where airlines will be asking themselves, 'What business are we in?' " Rusznak said.

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