IT costs fuel Qantas worry 01/09/2005
IT'S not just the skyrocketing price of jet fuel that is burdening Qantas. The flag carrier is also facing IT project costs in the hundreds of millions as systems written 30 years ago come up for renewal.
Speaking at the ICT Outlook conference in Sydney, Qantas chief information officer Fiona Balfour said the airline was one of the first Australian companies to embrace IT and as a result, still had software written 30 years ago "embedded" in its technology platforms.
Ms Balfour admitted the cost, complexity and timing of replacing systems written in ancient computer languages such as Cobol, Fortran and PL/I kept her "lying awake worrying at night".

Qantas has about 700 business applications, many of them written in out of date languages.

Other early entrants into IT, such as Telstra and the big banks, faced similar problems, Ms Balfour said.

Ms Balfour expressed concern as to where the company would in the future find staff trained in old languages, as first generation computer technicians, who learned their basic skills in the sixties, retired or passed away.

As an example of a hoary old system that still had many hooks in current Qantas applications, Ms Balfour pointed at the airline's engineering and maintenance systems.

"Our engineering and maintenance systems are (written) in Cobol and they sit on old Sperry Univac environment," Ms Balfour said.

"These systems are very old. We can't run the airline without them because they are our compliance systems for the aircraft and as we buy more aircraft we have huge data sets that we have to keep online as part of compliance."

Ms Balfour said Qantas had made three attempts in the last decade to build a business case to move the engineering and maintenance systems onto a Unix platform.

"The cost of replacing them is over $100 million dollars and the business risk is extraordinary," she said. As the systems were being modernised, an error in data conversion could ground the entire Qantas fleet.

"They are deeply embedded systems and in the last four years we have changed our reservations system, our inventory system, schedule and our HR system. We are working on a project to change our general ledger at the moment."

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