When Cheryl Smith, the new CIO, arrived at WestJet, she was asked by the CEO to advise whether the company had an adequate IT infrastructure.
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Assessed Aspects of the WestJet IT Situation
One of the overarching purposes for WestJet to hire Cheryl Smith was to receive an accurate assessment of its own IT infrastructure. The managers and business leaders did not understand the purpose of the IT department and its functions in correlation with the company’s business goals. To accomplish this task, Smith decided to press for aggressive solutions. She was not afraid of giving critical assertions and directly changing the existing infrastructure. Namely, she assessed the following areas (Munro & Khan, 2013):
- Operational and decision-making structure.
- Project management and budgeting.
- The relationship between business and IT.
- Skill adequacy of employees.
Upon the completion of her analysis, Smith concluded that, while many of the employees were highly proficient in many IT-related areas, the department itself was largely disconnected from the company and its current objectives. It did not have a clear project management and budgeting program and used an ad-hoc approach to project management and decision-making. These organizational aspects are important, as without them the department struggling fulfilling any tasks beyond maintenance and small alterations to the existing IT infrastructure, as was shown when WestJet faced the issue of needing to adjust its systems to global standards.
Assessment Summary and Critique
Smith’s assessment of the situation was largely correct. The purpose of IT is not just to maintain employee satisfaction, which was something that the current infrastructure was able to do, despite its shortcomings. It is also supposed to be an integral part of the company and help advance its competitive advantage by adopting and optimizing new technology to support the needs of the company. Her approach sought to modify the existing structure to meet these challenges (Munro & Khan, 2013). I completely agree with her assessment.
Justification of the Major Changes in IT at WestJet
As a CIO, Smith forced many changes into the existing IT structure. Namely, the governance model was overhauled to forge a stronger link between business units and the IT department. She introduced a new structure, which separated the homogenous blob of generalist specialists and introduced a yearly project budget (Munro & Khan, 2013). Instead of facing a day-to-day struggle with minor projects, the new IT department had to undertake larger tasks on a less frequent basis. One of Smith’s major successes involved introducing emergency servers to back up information and provide support in case of a major failure caused by natural disasters or a critical systems malfunction (Munro & Khan, 2013). All of these changes made WestJet’s IT performance more efficient, thus improving the company’s competitive advantage.
Lessons Learned Based on the Experiences at WestJet
WestJet’s case study clearly shows the drawbacks of an IT department that was not optimized for a long time. While adequate in maintaining the status quo, its structure was no longer efficient to be able to adapt to the realities of the air transportation market. It struggled with any large-scale tasks and resisted changes when Smith tried to introduce them. I learned a few important lessons from this case study. An IT department must always have a connection with the company’s business units rather than exist as a distant, separate entity. It should undergo periodic changes and reorganizations, as employees become entrenched in their habits and beliefs without it. Lastly, an ad-hoc approach can work only with an abundance of high-class generalists. A well-structured and compartmentalized IT department would be able to handle advanced projects. It would also be easier for HR to find replacements if required.
Munro, M., & Khan, S. (2013). WestJet Airlines: Information technology governance and corporate strategy. Web.
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