World’s largest airline halves number of software apps after mega-merger

Delta Air Lines has halved the number of software applications it uses, after its huge merger in 2008 with NorthWest Airlines.

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Delta Air Lines has halved the number of software applications it uses, after its huge merger in 2008 with NorthWest Airlines.

The merger created the world’s largest airline, measured on the size of its fleet, some 966 planes, and on the number of destinations served.

Theresa Wise, chief information officer at Delta, said the combined company had slashed the number of applications it ran from 1,199 to 635, over the course of 75 projects and five “major switchover events”. It was working to rapidly standardise its infrastructure.

“We were changing things at a pace that hadn’t been done before in our industry,” said Wise, speaking at HP’s Software Universe event in Washington DC. “There were times it felt like we were building an aeroplane while flying it.”

The company wanted to clear “some of the legacy application hurdles” that were “constraining” its business, she said. “The key was to focus on applying good technology to improve system access and customer experience, instead of focusing on the technology itself.”

Delta, which has around 2,000 IT staff, and runs 140,000 IT devices at its global hubs, has also reduced the number of datacentres it runs to two.

One of the big standardisation projects was merging the customer systems and other back office technology supporting Delta and NorthWest’s frequent flyer clubs. This was achieved “in less than one year”, Wise said. The combined airline flies 170 million passengers each year, but did not say how many are in the loyalty scheme.

Changeover speed was maintained by keeping “simple, clear” scorecards, allowing team leaders to make quick decisions and demonstrating the value of each system in strategic business terms, she said. “We also encouraged forward-thinking IT discussions and created a community of staff that had fresh ideas.”

There was a clear focus on “thorough software testing and QA tools”, she said, using systems from supplier HP. The airline also used HP testing and quality assessment software, as well as HP OpenView configuration management.

More work is ongoing to quickly develop Delta’s use of IT. “We recognise all the technology our customers have at home,” she said. “We’re offering more advanced options for them on their devices, and creating apps.”

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