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Back to basics: What CIOs can learn from Southwest Airlines


We have heard horror stories about Southwest airlines from passengers on canceled flights recently during the holiday break. The key theme of the meltdown is technology debt.


Technology debt refers to the accumulated backlog of technical work that must be addressed for an organization to use and maintain its technology infrastructure effectively. It can occur when an organization takes shortcuts in developing or implementing technology solutions or fails to maintain and update its systems regularly.


Organization at risk

There are several dangers of technology debt for the organization and CIOs:

  1. Reduced efficiency and productivity: Outdated technology or poorly maintained systems can lead to increased downtime and reduced efficiency.

  2. Security vulnerabilities: Technology debt can also increase the risk of security breaches and vulnerabilities. Outdated systems may not have the necessary security controls or may be more susceptible to attacks.

  3. Limited flexibility and scalability: Technology debt can limit an organization's ability to adapt to changing business needs or take advantage of new opportunities. It can also hinder the organization's ability to scale its technology infrastructure as needed.

  4. Increased costs: Ignoring technology debt can result in higher prices in the long run, as the organization may need to spend more time and resources addressing issues that could have been avoided with proper maintenance and updates.


CIOs must step up and influence

CIOs play a crucial role in combating technical debt within an organization. They must influence and potentially lead the process redesign to adapt to modern technology solutions. Leading process redesign may involve stepping into your peer's area of focus, such as the COO or other C-suite members.


The key here is to partner closely with your peer in a non-threatening way. To effectively lead this process, CIOs should:

  1. Understand the organization's current operation model: CIOs should thoroughly understand its current operation model, including its strengths and weaknesses, to identify areas for improvement.

  2. Define the desired outcomes of the operation model redesign: CIOs should work with senior leadership and other stakeholders to define the desired results. This can involve identifying specific goals and objectives and considering cost, efficiency, and agility factors.

  3. Identify opportunities for technology to support the operation model redesign: CIOs should identify opportunities for technology to support the operation model redesign and drive business value. This can involve leveraging technologies such as automation, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence to streamline processes and improve efficiency.

  4. Engage key stakeholders in the process: CIOs should engage key stakeholders, including business unit leaders and IT staff, in the operation model redesign process. This can help to ensure that the new operation model aligns with the needs and priorities of the organization.

  5. Communicate the vision and plan for the operation model redesign: CIOs should effectively communicate the vision and plan for the operation model redesign to all relevant stakeholders. This can involve regular progress updates and engaging employees in the process.


In conclusion, CIOs play a crucial role in leading the efforts to address technical debt and redesign operation models within an organization. CIOs are the few leaders that understand the operation flow from start to finish. Take advantage of the knowledge and help transform your organization by avoiding technology debt. The current Southwest Airlines situation is a great case study.

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