Chaos for Southwest Airlines — A Content Optimization Cautionary Tale

During the holiday season, when travel is typically at its peak, airlines predict and prepare for travel logistic changes by increasing staff and having contingency plans in place to get travelers to their destinations.
In recent weeks this wasn’t the case when Southwest Airlines experienced a series of cascading failures, such as an outdated operations model, obsolescent technology, lack of digital content optimization investments, and inclement weather, creating the perfect storm to cripple the airline.

As a result, Southwest canceled about 16,000 flights starting at the beginning of the winter storm on December 19 and into the new year. Not only did this leave travelers stranded, according to CNBC, it could also cost the company between $600 and $700 million in lost revenue from refunds and reimbursements.

Despite the claims that the storms were the main cause for Southwest’s breakdown, the airline had to admit that weather was not the sole factor for flight disruptions when other major airlines faced the same weather conditions and were not nearly as impacted.

Organizational leaders can learn a lot from Southwest Airlines’ recent chaos, and view it as a cautionary tale to prioritize their content optimization efforts.

Is your current process at risk of being overwhelmed?

Content readiness is an industry-wide problem that most organizations are struggling to conquer. The truth is that most content development systems are not keeping up with new demands for content that drives a system of reinforcing learning experiences—classroom, online, performance support, virtual assistant, and more. Many teams are struggling to keep up with the organization’s demand for more content tailored to more audiences, and available in additional formats. These demands are only continuing to grow, making it all but impossible to keep content in sync, a problem we like to call,the content explosion.”

The only way to solve this problem is to move from traditional thinking where content is reactive and treated as a one-off solution, towards a modular and more fluid mindset. Having the right technology in place to support small chunks of information in a shared repository for content teams company-wide, decreases content maintenance headaches while also providing the flexibility and accuracy needed when changes arise.

Are you making digital transformation a priority?

Like Southwest Airlines, many organizations prioritize investments in scalable and modernized technology as a ‘nice to have,’ and a decision that can be ignored until a more immediate need arises. Industry leaders understand that their processes are not sustainable, but pushing off serious investments is common because they can get by with what they already have in place. Avoiding the pain of change management in areas such as implementation, integration, onboarding & training is typical. Hesitancy occurs when leaders realize it may introduce fundamental changes (even though ithat is what is needed) and will upset how teams works today, often requiring different skill sets.

Although the cost to upgrade, staff, and implement new systems is a big investment and doesn’t necessary correlate with a large ROI, as we learn from Southwest, the business risk is clear. Organizations must ask themselves: what is the cost if your team can no longer provide service to the organization?

How quickly can you realign operations when changes arise?

Just like getting people, planes (and luggage) to the right locations or knowing where additional planes are located to rerouted, getting your workforce ready for the challenges of today and tomorrow with the right skills is only possible if an organizations systems and processes are integrated. When systems and processes are shared, teams from across the organization such as HR to training, can share data about current skills, chunk content, and tag it against those skills and skills needed to drive personalized learning experiences.

The ability to share data will also allow you to quickly upskill and skill your team—whether it is skills people have, skills the organization needs to fill open roles, content you have or is missing, provides you with the ability to feed your content when and where you need it and track that data in one centralized place

Do you have a learning digital transformation leader in place?

Digital transformation describes the transitional processes of adopting technologies and digital-oriented business models or changes to work-culture that will fuel the growth of your enterprise. Many teams that are focused on developing learning content often overlook the importance of having a digital transformation champion in place.

This role is pivotal in identifying your organization’s strengths and risks in relation to technology, customers, competitors, and markets. A digital transformation champion will also develop an action plan for implementing new digital business models and continuously monitor progress against your enterprise goals.

In times of uncertainty and change, it’s critical to have leaders who are able to tackle the challenges that come with these situations head-on. Developing these types of leaders is an investment in your organization’s mission and vision behind the transformation.

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