Can't We All Get Along?
This part is a true story:
Last night I was on an American Airlines flight from Newark to Los Angeles, and it was delayed for three hours because of a faulty altimeter. (An altimeter measures the plane's altitude.) Apparently, American did not have an altimeter in its Newark maintenace facility, so it had to have one driven from JFK, which is an hour away on a good day. Needless to say, yesterday was not a good day.
When we finally pulled into the gate at LAX around midnight, I went up to the pilot and spoke with him briefly. He confirmed what I had suspected all along:
- The Boeing 757's altimeter is a standard part which is used by all the major airlines, including American, United, Delta, and Continental.
- Since Newark is one of Continental's main hubs, there were probably several altimeters in the Continental maintenance facility.
- If American had been able to borrow or buy an altimeter from Continental's facility, we would have been in the air with only a one hour delay. There are, however, no agreements between airlines for sharing parts and maintenance resources.
It seems that if (1) and (2) above are true, then American and Continental could both benefit by sharing Continental's maintenance facility at Newark. American has a relatively small presence at Newark and could eliminate the high fixed costs of supporting its own maintenance facility for such a small presence. Continental, in turn, could earn a higher return on its larger maintenance facility at its Newark hub by charging a premium for these parts to the other airlines and improving parts turnover. And the 200 passengers on our flight last night would have been less irate, and the unfortunate flight crew would not have had to face their ire.
But I was not one of the irate passengers. First of all, I had a great weekend in New York and was glad to be coming home. Second of all, from what little I know, I thought we really did need the altimeter to fly. Finally, because I'm in the software industry, I realized that I should not be the one to cast a stone.
Think about it. The airline industry actually has standard parts such as an "altimeter." They have the technology standards required for interoperability. What they are lacking is the social organization for interoperability, in the form of maintenance facilities and inventories sharing agreements.
The lack of sharing agreements between airlines is a high hurdle to overcome, of course, but not nearly as high as those for interoperability in the software industry. In our industry, many participants continue to fight even common technological standards, trying to put up walls and moats around their own proprietary technologies and standards. Needless to say, a social organization or culture of sharing is much farther away still.
If we, as customers, would like that from vendors in other industries, why wouldn't our customers want the same thing from us? Don't our customers want the ability to select and use applications and components from a variety of vendors to meet their needs?
Are we going to be late getting them there as well?