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United Airlines, Enterprise Architecture, and Decision-making

By Jack Santos | April 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

United Airlines. Two words that will live in infamy. At least until the next zeitgeist moment arrives….

But there is actually something more subtle operating here that is at the core of many business decisions, and is integral to how Enterprise Architects need to think about decision-making.  The dichotomy between customer experience and design, and operational effectiveness. Because – and let’s face it – the decision for the United employees (at least ostensibly) was “increase the risk of annoying 200 potential flyers in the morning” versus “annoy four flyers now”.   There is a euphemism in the airline industry for the former: “equipment delays.”

Of course there were other options (rent a car for the crew, charter a separate plane, increase the bump money, etc.) But fundamentally it comes down to outward facing corporate objectives (AKA customer experience) versus inward facing corporate objectives (operational efficiency).  Impact your Yelp ratings, or ensure return for your shareholders.  Certainly – this wasn’t a no-win situation- and often times it’s not even win-lose.  But it was perceived and managed as such.

MIT/Sloan/CISR captured this in a 2X2 they frequently refer to: customer experience versus operational effectiveness.   I expect I  will hear about that more at the upcoming MIT CIO conference.  One of my long time favorites from my CIO days.

That thought construct is also central to the advice we give Enterprise Architects here at Gartner. It’s a balance that is at the core of most Enterprise Architecture decisions – whether you are thinking about strategy and investments for your current portfolio of systems, or how you transform to become a digital business.

So what are the takeaways from this experience?

  • It’s never black and white
  • Always look for the win-win
  • Don’t be a slave to policies, procedures, and standards
  • Make sure the decision-making involves all the stakeholders

Of course, the ultimate takeaway is “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

An appropriate message during this Easter and Passover season.

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