Technology, and software in particular, is something that businesses across all industries have come to rely on. Organizations use these assets for everything from maintaining operations to delivering information to consumers. But when these resources malfunction, it can lead to a slew of problems and cause significant backlash as a result. Southwest Airlines recently experienced this at the end of July when the company was impacted by a glitch that crippled its systems. Looking at this case, there are some key QA management takeaways that businesses can learn from in order to prevent similar situations from happening to them.
As any developer knows, even the smallest mistake can lead to a large-scale breakdown in operations. Southwest's glitch affected flights over four straight days, leading to 2,300 cancellations and thousands of delays, according to the Dallas Business Journal. The problem stemmed from a router malfunction but was made worse by the fact that backup systems didn't overcome the problem as expected. Although Southwest had redundancies built into its systems, they didn't work, and it resulted in the worst outage in the airline's history.
This situation shows why software testing is so important — to adequately test everything and ensure that everything works as needed. According to USA Today, the lost bookings alone during these four days could cost between $5-10 million. Not to mention the significant hit to the airline's reputation. Passengers were unable to board their flights or rebook their plans, which has garnered animosity toward Southwest. The organization plans to make things right by replacing its legacy reservation system next year, and creating a three- to five-year plan for updating its other technology systems.
Outdated Processes Are an Issue
Although Southwest is building strategies to innovate its technology and processes, these legacy resources and practices could potentially cause more problems in the meantime. On Oct. 12, 2015, Southwest experienced a computer glitch that caused 836 delays out of the 3,355 scheduled flights that day, according to NBC News. Although this wasn't on the scale of the recent issues the organization experienced, it was believed to have been caused by a failure of legacy technology that was asked to do too much.
"The airlines are operating with legacy systems that were designed when the airlines were a lot smaller than they are now," Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware, told NBC News. "If you look at the fleet size in the 1980s compared to today, the growth has been extraordinary. They're trying to scale these platforms for the much larger airline they've become and it's hard to keep up with the passengers' expectations."
It's also important to note that programming for these systems has become far more complex over time. Not only do developers have to support legacy technology, but they must also be able to fix any issues as quickly as possible. However, this is often easier said than done. The scale of infrastructure and requirements make it challenging to maintain outdated airlines systems.
Issues seen by Southwest Airlines as well as other providers over the years show a larger need for thorough testing and technology innovation. With agile test management tools, organizations can write, schedule, and execute manual and automated tests. This integration will ensure that airlines can quickly evaluate new features, test the current system resilience and verify that resources can easily be restored in an outage situation. Developers and testers can work together from across the nation to deliver quality updates and receive real-time progress updates. This will show what still needs to be completed, what defects have been identified and what results have already been produced.