Virgin Blue CIO David Harvey says the airline is considering Microsoft’s hosted Exchange and Office products as it continues to upgrade its IT in pursuit of efficiencies that will enable greater focus on innovation.
Speaking at the NSC Business Optimisation Summit in Sydney yesterday Harvey told of how, upon his arrival at the company a little over three years ago, many systems were operated on a very informal basis. One slide of the CIO’s presentation showed a server resting atop on a milk crate.
“That box did five million dollars of revenue in an afternoon” he told the audience, after it was hastily added to the company’s systems to boost processing capacity before an online sale of discounted airfares.
Such systems, he said, were only supportable because of heroic efforts by the company’s IT team. Many of the company’s IT staff, he added, were recruited straight from University. Their youth and enthusiasm meant that working long and strange hours became a part of the company’s culture. It also brought unwelcome complexity and lack of discipline, with Harvey finding that because developers had no previous work experience and lacked mentors, they developed their own software development methodologies rather than following mature practices.
The result was a portfolio of over 300 bespoke applications, all created in the first five years of the airline’s life and largely without detailed documentation.
Harvey says the airline is now trying to tighten its IT operations by moving to managed services and less reliance on bespoke tools, not least because its staff are settling down to start families and no longer find 3:00 AM support calls as appealing as they did in their younger days.
“We did a lot of finger in the dyke stuff,” he says, and while this approach worked it did not deliver a level of service approximate for a growing airline that needed reliability to support expansion plans that included the launch of the new trans-Pacific airline, V Australia.
To remove the need for this kind of effort, the airline is working to change a culture that sees its IT team “believe they build better systems, faster” compared to vendors. Managed services and cloud computing are also a part of its plans to give its IT team more time for innovation.
“We’ve just assigned 50 servers to be managed by Verizon,” Harvey says. “That should free up six or seven guys to focus on other things.”
The airline is also considering Microsoft’s hosted Exchange and Office products as a further initiative to redirect IT workload from maintenance of mundane systems and refocus on higher-value tasks. Data warehousing and business intelligence efforts have also increased, to improve customer loyalty through an enhanced frequent flier scheme and a more sophisticated call centre operation.
“We will have a very different IT capability compared to what we had in 2007,” Harvey says.