January 9, 2023

What the Waste Industry Should Note From The Southwest AIRLINES Meltdown

By Bill Bradley, CEO/Founder of Starlight Software Solutions
Live dispatch map

Watching the news coverage of the Southwest Airlines operational meltdown this holiday season I could not help but ponder how outdated technology could also impact the waste industry, and cause substantial losses for individual operators.    

According to Southwest’s CEO and industry analysts, the popular airlines cancellation of more than 16,000 flights over the holidays, and continued cancellation of roughly two thirds of its flights daily for more than a full week comes down to out dated, inadequate software. One Southwest pilot posted on Facebook that the blame lies on the airlines’ software system which has been described by him and others as “fried,” “outdated” and basically inadequate to manage the airlines’ complex workflow, tight turnaround times, and scheduling needs.  

While this sudden implosive collapse might not happen in the waste industry, it’s a very realistic example of how software that can’t keep up or respond when it should can distort and degrade operations processes.  For haulers and operators this can be a slow motion but pervasive version of degraded operations.  The costs can be under utilized assets, lost revenue, nagging inefficiency and even lost customer loyalty.  

As illustrated by Southwest, software-driven operations failures can be enormous. For Southwest, the cost for two spectacular weeks of operations failures will ultimately run into tens of millions of dollars, or more.  Add these numbers to the cost of lost customer loyalty, and the price could be insurmountable for even an airline that was once the poster child of its industry for customer satisfaction.  

This kind of “Big Bang" failure stands out because it all happened so fast and the damage spiked and then stopped in just two short weeks.  Equally damaging but much less noticeable and harder to diagnose, operations slowdowns from software that can’t keep up or can’t plan and foresee operating inefficiencies can have the same effect over a longer time.  Like sand in the gears of your business.

From what we have learned, Southwest’s software did not allow for instant monitoring of crews’ locations or the ability to change routes, schedules and assignments in real time. Without the ability to see where inventory and staff were, staff members could not identify the locations of crews online, real time or future time, and had to make phone calls to find pilots and crew who had not timed out and could take on a flight. In some cases, they had crew at the right airport, but their software would not allow aligning the crew with flights ready to go. 

The inability for waste and recycling operators to visualize locations for inventory, trucks, drivers, and so on in real time could cause similar but more persistent costly disruptions. Waste management software that does not allow dispatchers to visualize real time locations of its assets, inventory, drivers, crew and more can be crippling and costly. When hauling customer’s waste schedules and needs go unmet, they too lose productivity and profitability. Hauling customers have many competitive options to choose from in any given market, and the process and cost of switching waste haulers is typically low stress and low cost.  

As a current owner of a 37-truck roll-off fleet, the ability to instantly visualize all aspects of my operations – drivers, roll-off dumpsters, trucks, and more – has been critical to avoiding software-driven operations breakdowns like we’ve seen with Southwest. This driving need inspired me to create a software system that could help me and other waste hauling operators to consistently have the ability to instantly visualize operations in real time and adapt all areas of hauling operations.  

To maintain operations as planned regardless of weather, natural disasters, or other elements we cannot control, haulers need to have systems that allow for live monitoring of dispatch and inventory, provide live key metric reporting, customer self-service to keep projects rolling as planned when staff cannot respond as quickly as usual, and route management in order to maximize productivity. 

Following are some capabilities all haulers should expect from operations software systems to avoid costly meltdowns. 

Live dispatch and inventory mapping: 

Its one thing to know where your drivers are, and an entirely different one to know where your inventory is, and be able to view locations for both assets plus timing expectations of customers, all on the same map, at the same time. Southwest might have been able to visualize their planes at the gates or on tarmacs but could not identify locations of crews that could have gotten to airports to help with flights and keep them moving. With a robust system that can identify inventory, status, trucks, staff and customer timing expectations updated constantly, dispatchers can keep operations performing as planned, and meet customers’ needs regardless of uncontrollable circumstances.  

Customer Self-Service: 

Just like self-check-in kiosks at airports allow customers to avoid long queues, software systems that allow customers to view your available inventory and place direct orders online can keep processes moving forward and take pressure off your staff in crunchtime. Starlight has developed an exclusive application for roll-off operators that enables customers to place orders directly from smart phones, iOS and Android, circumventing long phone holds that might occur if your staff is tied up on long phone calls dealing with unexpected situations such as weather delays. 

Driver / Route Management: 

Being able to seewhere your drivers are and view productivity numbers for each driver and each route in real time are key to keeping your processes moving and your profitability in place. With the ability to monitor and manage key metrics instantly, you can see which routes are costing more, which can be optimized for greater ROI, and which drivers and even trucks are driving the greatest efficiency. Instant key metric visualization and analysis is a capability that few software systems provide yet it is critical to managing and improving performance and outcomes at any given time, any given day.  

As you review your operations workflows to assure you can weather storms like the airlines industry just faced, it’s important to take note of your ability to visualize assets and make changes in real time, on the fly. Scalable, real-time software should stay ahead of your operations at all times, giving your business the efficiency and consistency it needs to take off.

Questions?  Email us at jeanette.mcmurtry@starlightsoftwaresolutions.com or complete our Contact Us form and we will be in touch shortly.



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