The Bottom Line Per…Robert DeRodes

As the man in charge of formulating technology strategy for Delta Air, Chief Information Officer Robert DeRodes knows what it’s like to operate in crisis mode. Already reeling from an economic slowdown, the airline industry has been devastated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent falloff in air travel. DeRodes, who was a technology executive at Citibank before joining Delta two years ago, talked recently with Baseline about decision-making in an uncertain time. Following are excerpts:

PDF Download

A: It means making sure that whatever dollars we spend are going to have immediate payback, and are of utmost importance either to the airline’s safety and security or to its operating efficiency. Right now, everyone in the industry is in cash-preservation mode.

Q: Have you canceled programs outright as a result of the fallout of Sept. 11?

A: No, we really haven’t canceled programs, although we have suspended some projects. The three major programs that we had in place at that time are all still under way. One is the renewal of our call centers. Another is our drive for improved revenue management technology. The third is the replacement of the inventory-asset management systems in our technical operations area. All of those programs have significant payback, and we expect to stay with them.

Q: What kinds of projects have you suspended?

A: Well, for instance, we had planned to enhance a product we have called virtual check-in. In this security climate, of course, not much is virtual, so we’ve decided not to enhance that service for now. Same thing with our kiosks; we were ready to upgrade our kiosks to speed things up at the airport. Those products specifically make less sense in this environment, so we’ve deferred them.

Q: Does what’s happened ever make you wish you were back in your old industry?

A: Back to banking? No, no. Although I will say airline executives have become a favorite of headhunters. I guess they think that everybody’s down on their luck here and it’s time to go in and find some good talent and pull it out. The fact that you’re here and in the middle of this is invigorating—people are focused on getting through this. Thoughts of getting out and doing something different aren’t uppermost in my mind or most of my colleagues’. But the phone does ring a lot, honestly.