Virgin Atlantic's chief information officer (CIO) has explained how the firm is embracing cloud services to end the "mess" of its legacy IT systems, as part of a five-year transformation project.
Speaking at Cloud Expo Europe in London, the airline's IT director David Bulman said there are 300 applications and a further 350 services that need monitoring at the business, due to the IT sprawl that has happened over the years. "It's a real mess," he said.
He used the example of the HP Shares air fare booking service, one of the firm's most mission-critical legacy products, as an example of how the firm's IT estate had got out of control.
"That particular application has been around for decades; it's a very old mainframe system. It does the core functions very well: you can book a ticket, you can collect the money, you can board the flight. It does all that very well.
"But that's not where we are as a business. Over time we've built up a host of services around it. That's how I've ended up with 300 applications. I am in this painful world of a huge amount of legacy."
As such, since joining Virgin Atlantic in 2011 Bulman has been tasked with making the business more efficient. In his two years at the airline, Bulman said he has been working on rationalising IT as fast as he can, although admitted this is "not as fast as I want and certainly not as fast as my boss wants".
In response, Bulman has taken a three-pronged approach to his IT planning: stop buying, stop building, stop designing.
"We are not an IT company, we are an airline. We own very large pieces of equipment which fly around the world, but technology is not absolutely core to what we do. So stop buying it, stop depreciating it and move to a rental model," he said.
Instead, Bulman looks to use best-in-class services and to abandon internal projects that do not differentiate the airline from its rivals.
"We pride ourselves on being different," he explained. "We're having conversations with our business areas and asking, ‘Is that really different?' Why is our HR function different from a million HR functions out there? Why are our business processes really unique to us, and do they really need to be?"
Virgin Atlantic has around 120 IT suppliers, and Bulman believes there is always room to trim that number back, saying that it is up to IT managers to "make your problem [the supplier's] problem" when it comes to reducing legacy services.
He added that the key was to take baby steps, especially for businesses like Virgin Atlantic. "I've got an airline to run. What I have to avoid is having planes falling out of the air," he added.
The work by Virgin Atlantic echoes that of other major companies such as Shell, which announced in December that it is embracing cloud services in order to cut hardware costs and improve efficiencies.
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