What happens when the things we just expect to work stop working, and who's to blame? When it comes to Enterprise Mobility, leaders need to ensure that they are treating their mobility infrastructure more like the power grid than a consumer app. This goes from the data center to the device and the app running on that device.
"The most costly disruptions. . . . Always happen when something we take completely for granted stops working for a minute." - Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen)
When we think of those disruptions, things like the power grid or the water supply come to mind. These are things that have been part of our society for so long that we just can't imagine them not working. And when they do go out, like in the case of a power outage, it is extremely disruptive and needs to be immediately addressed. I had my power go out about 2 weeks ago due to a transformer blowing out during some construction work. My whole neighborhood shut down and everyone went outside to figure out what was going on, only to see street lights out, traffic acting like ants that had someone step on their path and a general sense of confusion. The real issue was that power is so reliable and so taken for granted that its failure is something completely out of the ordinary in our society and is rarely due to the systems running the power grid, but, as in this case, caused by something extraordinary like the construction accident.
Now everyone understands that the power has to work, but what we're starting to see in our new connected world is that there are new points of failure that we don't know about. Take for example what happened to a major airline just the other day. This airline replaced all of their manuals with iPads and software for the crew to use for pre-flight checks. It was a great leap forward and this airline was one of the first major airlines to switch to the iPad back in 2013, providing their crews with over 8,000 iPads throughout their fleet. A huge win for Apple, a huge win for mobility and what amounted to a huge cost savings for the airline as they were able to get rid of over 24 million pages of documents saving "400,000 gallons of gas, or $1.2 million worth of fuel, every year."
But what happens when that technology has an issue? Well they found out yesterday when, suddenly, the iPads stopped working, or, more specifically, the mobile app used by the pilots that runs on the iPad. According to airline spokesperson who spoke with The Verge "Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads….In some cases, the flight has had to return to the gate to access a Wi-Fi connection to fix the issue." From what's been reported it seems that there was an app update that didn't get properly installed on a number of the devices. When the pilots took the planes out of Wifi range, the apps either hadn't been completely updated or the update was corrupt and the pilots had to return to get an updated, working version.
Many people have lamented that the airline should have had paper backups for the app just in case this happened, but that's troublesome for two reasons. The whole purpose of the app is to remove the need for paper, thus saving weight, which equals fuel cost, for the plane. The second is that we have reached a point in mobility where this type of issue should be as rare as a power failure and should not occur due to the hardware/software running the systems, but, once again, only in the case of something extraordinary.
This should be a shining example of the need for a mature enterprise mobility strategy that takes into account all aspects of the development, testing, deployment and delivery of mobile apps that are critical to the functioning of enterprise systems. In this case there are a number of factors that can, and I'm sure will, be reviewed to ensure this type of incident doesn’t occur in the future. Some of these include:
- When deploying updates to mobile apps, scheduling needs to be addressed. From reports it looks that the issue here was a corrupted app update. While this is a worldwide airline that runs 24/7 for all intents and purposes, should they have deployed an app update on a Tuesday evening?
- What type of testing protocols were in affect for the app update? This isn't a simple consumer app that if there's an issue people will just not use it. This was a mission critical application and should have gone through the same rigorous testing that any mission critical app would.
- How strong is the airlines relationship with the app developer? As this was a 3rd party app, how closely is the airline's Mobility COE involved with the vendor's development and testing teams?
- And lastly, while this was a software failure, one has to ask the question; should the pilots be working with devices that don't have cellular connectivity? In this instance, when the devices stopped working, the pilots had to return to Wifi range to get the updated software. With these being mission critical devices running mission critical applications, the mobility team needs to think of what levels of connectivity these devices really need.
All in all it seems that the only real impact here was delays to passengers, but as our world becomes more mobile and more reliant on the devices and software of the mobile world, enterprise mobility professionals need to think of scenarios that fall well outside the traditional consumer mobility space.
Image: Michael S. Wirtz