As Chief Financial Officer of the worlds fifth-largest airline, Larry Kellner played a key role in bringing Continental Airlines Inc. from bankruptcy to profitability in the past five years. And it was Kellners IT savvy that provided much of the stimulus.
So it was no surprise to André Gold, Continentals director of Internet engineering, in Houston, that Kellner made more large demands on IT when he was elected president of the company last May.
One of Kellners first demands was to bring in-house any outsourced operation that was deemed too expensive. No. 1 on that list was Continentals online consumer booking agent. (Gold declined to name the outsourcer of the application.)
"Cutting out the middleman was one of the initiatives of our new president," Gold said. Previously, when travelers purchased tickets on Continental.com, the transaction took place on an outsourced infrastructure, and Continental paid a premium per ticket for that service. Gold said Continental was paying $13 to $19 per ticket.
But to take over and run the consumer booking operation on Continentals infrastructure was not easy. Gold didnt want to run into a situation where traffic would constantly bog down the servers, which would require him to continually purchase newer, larger and more expensive boxes.
So Gold purchased LinkProof intelligent load balancing switches from Radware Inc., of Mahwah, N.J., which allow him to sustain a steady service level for customers using Continental.com.
The complex applications that run the booking engine on Continental.com require access to distributed resources across Continentals nationwide applications infrastructure. Gold said it doesnt matter where applications reside because Radwares load balancer will find the healthiest, least-used server to acquire the needed resources.
And as Continental grows and more services are created, Continentals systems can grow as well. "Now, with the Radware product in our infrastructure, I can load balance any application in minutes," Gold said.
Although Gold would not comment on Continentals return on investment, Michael Rothschild, product marketing manager for Radware, said the payback has been exemplary.
"As for ROI, Continentals investment paid for itself in three months," Rothschild said.
Rothschild said ROI is so much more important today than it used to be. Whereas before, he sold directly to IT managers who had carte blanche to buy anything within their IT budgets, now he has to speak directly with chief-level executives and convince them on the merits of the product.
"They want to know right away, If I write this check out, what is it going to do for me? and ROI is the biggest part of that," Rothschild said.
Now that LinkProof is part of Continentals environment, Gold said engineers and application developers are changing their perspective on how they write and set up Web applications. And since executives have seen the ROI Continental gets from LinkProof, theyre more confident in calling on their IT infrastructure to reach out to customers.
"The consumer booking engine has seen some of the best cost savings," Gold said. "Now, upper management has a huge initiative to go paperless and sell more tickets online rather than through the call center."