Transforming an IT Ecosystem at 30 Thousand Feet

Hilton Sturisky, CIO, Spirit Airlines
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Hilton Sturisky, CIO, Spirit Airlines

Security lines, weather delays, maintenance, turbulence are all travel experiences that conjure up frustrated, anxious feelings. As the CIO of an airline, those headaches can multiply quickly when your customers are relying on your department by the millisecond – 24 hours a day 7 days a week. There is literally no relief. Couple those emotions with one of the most complex, highly regulated industries in the world and you’re bound to identify some of the most dynamic and robust technology challenges of our times.

The Challenge

Air travel is changing. As the on-demand economy grows with technology, travelers are becoming savvier than ever before. The expectation for a hassle-free, end-to-end travel experience, from the beginning of the trip planning process to the time a passenger collects their bags – and every step in between - reflects the shifting cultural change and personal reliance upon IT as an essential service. While innovation paved the way for Spirit to bring the ultra-low cost model to U.S., it has also created rapid growth and incredible demand on an IT ecosystem responsible for maintaining the entire customer experience.

  ‚ÄčWe are making major improvements to our website and mobile platforms while building a digital platform  to help improve operational integrity. 

Spirit’s primary goal is to offer the lowest price for air travel. Safety is always first though and we have the fittest fleet in the U.S. It is our mission and a responsibility every team member takes very seriously. On average, we save customers about 30 percent on total price compared to other airlines according to DOT statistics; a standard which requires agility and flexibility in every department. We strive to cut costs and operate efficiently, while offering a high level of service. For the IT team, this requires a willingness to expand skillsets and a desire to identify creative solutions to complex situations.

Tactics Migrate to cloud infrastructure

By leveraging hyper-converged and heavily virtualized infrastructure with public and private cloud capabilities along with content distribution networks, Spirit is able to stay agile and identify unique business opportunities. This structure gives our innovators the opportunity to try new things, such as changing direction or accelerating processes, as the needs of the organization shifts. This flexibility allows us to take advantage of best of breed services and expertise across a broad market, rather than relying exclusively on in-house resources. It also allows for services to be delivered at scale, a major cost benefit and important strategic move.

Spirit’s infrastructure incorporates the technologies of Nutanix, VMWare and Citrix to provide maximum output and efficiencies while minimizing the datacenter footprint and power needs. We have the ability to spin up additional resources on demand and break them down once no longer needed. Our network layer further builds on this strategy with the adoption of Cisco’s Nexus line of networking gear, Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV) and Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). This gives us the ability to extend our on-site network into our datacenter and increase security via micro-segmentation. Our utilization of the cloud leverages Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Auto Scaling Groups from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide maximum web presence at a minimal cost.

Implement Innovative Security Solutions

Utilizing innovative next generation solutions is critical to keep up with constantly changing and growing security threats. Protection against sophisticated attacks and advanced persistent threats is the key to lowering the risk of downtime and data theft. Such solutions provide a sustainable way to reduce risk, minimize incident volume and response time, and lower overhead and operational costs.

The solutions we have implemented offer the ability to prevent large scale Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) and web application attacks without reducing performance, provide threat intelligence for dealing withthe latest threats, and grant the expertise to adapt to shifting tactics and attack vectors. This focus on implementing end to end security enables our team members, customers, and partners to operate freely and securely which ultimately improves our security posture while lowering our overall security risks.

Focus on customer needs

Technology touches every part of a Spirit customer’s journey. This elevates the responsibility of the IT department, putting each aspect of a team member’s job on display, both publicly and internally. Fully understanding the importance of customer satisfaction, Spirit is investing in the future of its long-term IT infrastructure. We are making major improvements to our website and mobile platforms while integrating innovative technological solutions to improve operational integrity. We know that by focusing on a formal digital strategy for the future, we’ll set a foundation that can meet the commitment we’ve promised our customers.

Expand team knowledge

As varying challenges arise and the company grows into new territory, Spirit recognizes the importance of establishing a collaborative work environment that fosters innovation. Even as technologists, we realize the importance of internal metrics to demonstrate our team’s value through clear measurable results to the company. To achieve this goal, team members must adapt beyond the typical IT role, factoring in customer service, marketing or even inflight experience into the results of technology-focused programs. As a leader I know it is essential to leverage the diverse talent and skillsets of my team, to encourage them to step outside their typical boundaries, and to infuse their expertise throughout the company. This is one of the ways we are driving change across the organization and establishing ourselves as true partners.

The Results

Our company has redefined the way people fly by empowering a whole new population of air travelers. From grandmothers flying to see their grand children for the first time to college students looking for a spontaneous getaway, our ultra-low fares can create memories for a lifetime. My team is successful, driven, and committed to providing a seamless experience for our customers because each of us approaches every project with a mission to deliver “Less Money, More Go.” We live this brand promise because we really are friends flying friends.

Spirit is committed to utilizing technology to enhance the customer experience and protect their privacy. We’re rebuilding our customer-facing website and laying the groundwork for mobility with responsive design. We’re using this transformative IT approach as a positive force to foster teamwork and growth, establishing an innovative culture where everyone feels empowered to step outside their comfort zone and tackle problems in unprecedented ways. Through creativity and collaboration, we are intersecting data with intellectual capital to make better decisions. We are the foundation of the fastest growing, most profitable airline in the country.

After all, it is technology that allows Spirit to be different than the rest. We deliver something the customer has never experienced in air travel: choice. Adding this on-demand level of service requires advanced technical support and foundation. Once you believe every passenger should have the power to pick and choose only what they want, you can reach for the clouds andtake to the sky.

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