American’s CIO carries on

A year ago, American Airlines Inc.’s executives probably thought things couldn’t get much worse. They were reeling from the attacks of Sept. 11 and a lingering economic malaise that was draining the life out of the airline industry.

Fast-forward to 2003. Things have gotten worse. American is fighting desperately to stave off bankruptcy, former CEO Don Carty resigned in April, and the major airlines continue to struggle. Amid this unprecedented turbulence, CIO Monte Ford and his staff keep flying. Here’s an update on some of the major issues facing Ford since CIO profiled the airline last year.

IT budget: Since CEO Gerard Arpey came on board, the IT budget continues to decline, but spending has been much more targeted, says Ford. And there is greater direction from the business units on where to focus money. “Spending is down, but it’s better,” he says.

IT and business relations: Collaboration has also improved since Arpey’s arrival. Every Tuesday, AA’s senior leadership team meets to review projects, generate ideas and set strategy. “(Arpey) expects us to work together as a team,” Ford says. “That’s a pretty tall order. When you run a company as big as AA, to function as a team and understand what’s going on across the various business units is a tremendous task.”

Going electronic: Paper transactions at airport check-in counters have been reduced to a minimum. AA has implemented e-ticketing with more domestic carriers than any other airline; it launched online check-in on last December, and the self-service kiosk rollout continues (there are now more than 700 in 85 airports). Internally, the IT staff continues to enhance the company’s portal, Jetnet, which attracts some 30,000 employees a day who check benefits, get company news and book flights. Ford is also rolling out wireless handhelds for flight mechanics, to expedite maintenance and help prevent flight delays.

IT staff morale: Ford says he’s proud of how his employees have held up in these turbulent times. When asked how he keeps their morale aloft, he says, “I could give you some pat answer that sounds good, like leadership is key, but it really is a dedicated, talented group of people who are really self-motivated.”