Since there’s an “a” in the day, that must mean we’re due for another British Airways IT failure.
This morning, again, IT Systems failed leaving massive queues at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City Airport for British Airways customers.
This was of course picked up by the press, resulting in stories in the:
Clearly this wasn’t as substantial as the major outage at the end of May that resulted in their entire operation being disrupted for several days, however it’s the latest in a very long line of these. We must be approaching ten outages that have been significant enough to cause operational disruption since the launch about a year ago, of their new IT platform/project called Fly.
From the recent IAG H1 results, we know that the major May outage cost them around €65m in total. That’s lower than the €100m+ that some suggested at the time, but still a very substantial chunk of change. I’m sure that was substantially more than the budget for the entire Fly IT transformation programme in the first place. We know from looking at the 2016 accounts, that “Property, IT and other costs” accounted for €870m – this looks like about 7.5% of that.
What I find interesting is that these are continuing to occur with some regularity. It suggests a fundamental architectural flaw that is unable to be fixed.
A lot of British Airways IT is delivered by a company called Amadeus, who provide their Global Distribution System (GDS). A GDS is a little bit like Amazon for airlines in that it lists what’s for sale, at what price and how many they have in stock.
Delving into the technical details, a Departure Control System (or DCS for short) which the new platform Fly is meant to be, is a critical piece of software that does things like determine who is on the aeroplane, and who isn’t.
The new DCS systems is based on a product called Altéa from Amadeus which is used by many airlines globally, including the Lufthansa Group and Southwest Airlines. However we don’t hear about those companies having issues every few weeks – Altéa is generally a pretty stable platform.
So when British Airways moved from their old platform to Altéa, the implemented a custom front end, and a middle-ware component to talk between all their different systems. Apparently it’s both the front end and more crucially the middle-ware that are not fit for purpose. This was outsourced to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). It’s this system (the front-end and middle-ware) that’s proven to be so unreliable and had so many outages.
Where-as an in-house IT department would probably be looking to re-archichtect where they can, I suspect due to this being outsourced, that option won’t be in the contract; they will simply be there to run with the transformed platform.
Also, I would guess that the performance to date by the contractors has already reached the maximum level of penalty in the contract so there is very little incentive for them to spend any further resources on fixing this as they’re probably already making a loss on the deal.
That said, I would also imagine they’re already treating the platform with a level of “hyper-care” in that they have people in their operations centre monitoring it 24×7, so the fact it’s broken even under that level of attention is telling.
So what happens next? I would guess these problems will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. I suspect that things will only start to change once there’s a change of leadership at the IAG level, either with a new CIO, or a new CEO.
However if anyone misses a flight due to an IT failure like this, it would almost certainly be eligible for compensation under the EU 261/2004 regulations as it would be an item within British Airways control.
However, it’s probably worth avoiding them as much as you can. I’m flying them Friday – wish me luck.