5 lessons from American Airlines' CIO on IT integration

In December 2013, the merger between American Airlines and US Airways was finalized, and on Oct. 17, 2015, the final US Airways flight landed in Philadelphia. As these two airline giants merged, so did their IT systems. This scenario should sound familiar to hospital and healthcare CIOs as mergers and acquisitions, and other types of affiliations, require hospitals and health systems to merge IT platforms.

In an interview with Wall Street Journal, American Airlines CIO Maya Leibman outlined the IT merger process and presented some lessons for healthcare CIOs who are facing the same scenario.

Here are five lessons from Ms. Leibman from her WSJ interview.

1. Such integrations require adequate time for planning and strategizing. Ms. Leibman said American Airlines started the integration of the two airlines' reservation systems two years prior to the final switchover date. "If there was a guiding principle throughout this, it was about reducing or mitigating risk," she said.

2. Instead of a big bang go-live, switching and testing systems piece by piece can mitigate risk and make sure processes are functioning as they should. Ms. Leibman said American Airlines started migrating US Airways reservations to the American Airlines system 90 days prior to the final switchover date. In those 90 days, 90 percent of the reservations were migrated over. "By doing it 90 days prior, if we screwed anything up, we had 90 days to fix it," Ms. Leibman said.

3. Don't do everything at once. Instead of implementing all the changes across the board at one time, the change was brought upon incrementally. For example, although American Airlines had to change the back-end of the system used by airport agents to check in passengers, they made the interface the agents used look like the one they were familiar with.

4. Scenario planning can help reduce stress in times of pressure. Everyone affected by the data and systems integration would sit and do exercises in which they were presented scenarios and worked through steps they would take if that scenario were to happen in real life, such as the self-service kiosks stop working. "When something…happens in the heat of the moment, sometimes there's so much anxiety around getting things fixed and addressing the problem and lines are building at the airport, that you're sometimes not thinking as clearly as you would in the calm before the storm," Ms. Leibman said.

5. Make sure people have food. "We spared no expense on this project overall, but I just saw the bill for all the food we ate in those two weeks [prior to the cutover] and it was the most shocking thing of the whole experience," Ms. Leibman said. "There can never be too many Twizzlers or Red Bull for technical people."

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