Anyone in IT will tell you that airline reservation systems are one of the classic “highly available” computer systems. This particularly applies to a customer-facing online booking system. These systems are the kind that have many servers, lots of redundant components, and an architecture that ensures that no matter what happens, the thing just keeps running. Has anyone ever heard of a heavily used web site that goes down for an entire weekend just to upgrade? Would Amazon do it? Has anyone ever done it?
I’m just trying to picture the meeting where the head of IT tries to explain to the management how the upgrade process will work. They say they have had the new system in development for 12 months, and this is what they come up with for an upgrade plan? How long do you think a web site upgrade should take? If they were developing it for this long, they would have a development version, a staging (pre-live) version. If they followed industry best practice when it comes to deploying new web sites, the changeover from one site to the other to go live should be a very quick process indeed.
And when do you think people most often book flights on budget airlines? Might it be over the weekend? That’s just my educated guess. The IT staff who operate the current web site would be able to tell you exactly when the site is most in use. Do you think this was taken into consideration when planning the upgrade?
You have to wonder if this comes down to cost. The IT person says: “well, if you want a staging version and an instant upgrade, that will be an extra million dollars” (not unreasonable for a project this size). And the manager (who knows nothing about IT and not too much about marketing) thinks about his profit-share bonus and says: “Naaahh, we can be offline for a weekend, no-one will really care”. Or maybe he’s an airline industry veteran, and he’s thinking … well, it takes more than a weekend to upgrade an Airbus A320, so why not let those geeks work through and get it done?!
Of course, did they consider the true cost of this upgrade. I know it’s damn hard to get Tiger on the phone (they are so cheap they don’t even pay for a 1300 number), but their web site is pretty fast and reliable. I’m sure Virgin are chomping at the bit offering some huge specials this weekend to woo prospective customers who are inconvenienced. So the question is: did the marketing people at Jetstar have a say in the implementation plan for the new booking system?
I reckon this might just go down as the stupidest planned web site upgrade in IT history.