Late last week, Indonesia's national airline Garuda migrated to a new $1.5 million [update: original post erroneously said $15 million] Integrated Operational Control System (IOCS) for the integrated management of flights, crew and passengers. Previously, these three functions executed in disparate systems.
However, the migration has not gone smoothly. As an airline press release today noted:
"The new system monitors quite a large operation, comprising 81 jet airlines, 580 pilots, 2,000 cabin crew and 2,000 flights per week. Despite intensive preparations and simulations, the migration/transition process from old system to new system still encountered problems, such as mix up in the scheduling of cabin crew, which subsequently led to flight delays and cancellations."
According to this story over the weekend in the Jakarta Globe, one reason for the foul-ups was that there was "a problem during the database migration. Schedules of the cabin crew were not properly transferred" as a result. Another reported problem was that a computer cable was not plugged in during the migration.
Thousands of passengers have been stranded across Indonesia and elsewhere as numerous flights have been canceled and many more delayed. The Jakarta Post, for example, says that "more than 5,000 Indonesian hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia" have been left stranded because of the cancellations.
The airline promised when the problems first arose that everything would be back to normal by yesterday (Monday), but it is now promising that everything will be back to normal by Thursday.
Garuda's management better be right this time. The head of air transportation at the Transportation Ministry, Herry Bakti Gumay, said yesterday in the Jakarta Post that Garuda should revert to its old system(s) if things are not straightened out soon, while State Minister for State Enterprises Mustafa Abubakar said today in the Post that he plans to "impose a sanction" on the airline because of the on-going problems.
The Jakarta Post also reports that Pramono Anung, House Deputy Speaker from the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is suspicious of the reasons given for the problems. According to the story, he believes (without proof, he admits) that the foul up with the airline's IOCS is a deliberate attempt to drive down the share price of Garuda's initial public offering (IPO) which was planned for June of this year, then November, but now looks like February 2011.
The story reports Deputy Speaker Anung as believing that "... the company’s official explanation that a computer glitch in the company’s new IT system was behind the cancellations just did not figure."
Mr. Anung is quotes in the paper as saying,
"There is no way that the company officials couldn't be able to prevent the side effects of the switch [to the new computer system]."
Alas, if that explanation were only true.
I am afraid that this incident is more likely a simple cock-up than a complex conspiracy, as the many posts of airline IT system screw-ups from around the world such as this one on the Risk Factor blog routinely demonstrate.
[Update - Garuda said as of the Friday, the 26th of November, everything was back to normal. A story in Friday's Jakarta Post said that Garuda suffered "Rp 250 million (US$28,000) in losses and another Rp 2 billion in opportunity losses from canceling scores of flights."]
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.