United Names a New Chief Information Officer: What Advice Would You Give Them?

United announced a new Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

“Linda [Jojo]’s significant experience leading IT organizations and running complex business and consumer systems will be a tremendous asset to United as we advance our technology to become more efficient and better serve our customers and employees,” said Jeff Smisek, United’s chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Jojo joins United from Rogers Communications, Inc., where she served as executive vice president and chief information officer. Previously, she served as chief information officer for Energy Future Holdings Corporation, Flowserve Corporation and GE Silicones.

Goodness knows technology has been a weak spot for United. All things equal their mobile app is pretty good, but:

  • The reservation system is fraught with problems. From the day they combined systems between Continental and United, moving onto the smaller platform, there were major issues. Lost revenue dwarfed the savings from the ‘owned’ software.
  • Reservations have been inexplicably cancelled on partner airlines. Reservations get cancelled during rebooking.
  • When schedules change with partner airlines on awards, and tickets need to be re-issued, that’s failed to happen and partner space can get lost. At the same time United’s systems have been known not to pass ticket numbers through to partners, causing partner reservations to cancel.

That’s just a few of the issues. The United legacy agents didn’t get sufficient training on the Continental reservations plaform. They had to roll out a new graphical front-end for the thing. And it’s still far more complicated than the earlier system.

The thing is patchwork, pieced together running upgrade processes with check-ins instead of doing true sweeps. Award pricing is similarly hacked together.

At the same time… the mobile app is pretty functional.

What advice would you offer to the new EVP and CIO of United if they want their technology to be flyer-friendly, the business to be profitable, and the airline operation to be world class?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Telco CIO? Bad idea. Telco systems are so easy, airline system the most complex systems out there.

    My advice? Think outside the box and let smaller and smarter companies handle data com/software instead of huge Telco companies like AT&T, Verizon, BT, DT etc.

    Oh, and don’t call Accenture or Mckenzie for advice/help. Ever.

  2. My advice as a software dev:

    1. Bulk up your data/algo and web development teams. United.com is very, very bad. The app is not bad but you can tell it could be more.

    2. Focus on restructuring your infrastructure (software & hardware). It’s pretty obvious that the applications and web sites are built on shaky ground (at best). Bad infrastructure = technical debt = increased cost = hampered innovation.

    3. Open your data and by creating an accessible flight/award/purchasing API and stop being hostile to outside developers. The increased marginal costs associated with this (should be) negligible and the exposure would be a net positive for United. If you say costs to do this are too high, someone along the line is charging too much. Developers only scrape the United site because you don’t allow them access to any of your data. If they had sanctioned access, united could control access, rate limit, or even MAKE MONEY from it.

  3. If they have not thrown out the UA software, roll it out for the staff.
    Keep the old CO interface for the flyers for booking
    Maybe that will bring UA to its knees finally

  4. My advise:
    Run. As far as you can, as fast as you can.
    Unless you have a wish to tarnish your reputation by working for what is arguably the worst US airline.

  5. While not pretty United.com is the most efficient and useful of the major airline websites. Kind of like VFTW.

    You can actually see all inventory buckets, even upgrade space.

    And upgrading online is a breeze, as is searching for awards relative to AA or DL.

    Honestly don’t know how AA and DL fliers put up with their crap sites.
    Who cares about an API. The airlines own the data as they should. See how far AA’s ‘open source’ program got them.

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