Kyndryl, the mainframe modernization and IT infrastructure services company spun off by IBM in 2021, inked a five-year partnership agreement with Delta Air Lines this week.
The deal extends a nearly 20-year partnership between the two companies, Amy Salcido, president of Kyndryl U.S., said in the Thursday announcement. It encompasses core operations systems, near-term customer experience innovations and broader long-term modernization initiatives.
The resilience and reliability of aviation industry IT came under scrutiny in December, when a winter storm created a nearly two-week crisis for Southwest Airlines, leaving tens of thousands of holiday travelers stranded and costing the company approximately $800 million.
A January failure in the Federal Aviation Administration’s NOTAM system intensified concerns, leading five of the six largest domestic carriers, including Delta and Southwest, to emphasize prioritization of tech investments during quarterly earnings calls.
Kyndryl’s Delta deal was in the works long before the Southwest meltdown, Brian E. O’Rourke, VP and senior partner at Kyndryl, told CIO Dive.
Delta’s prior agreement with the managed service provider expired at the end of December and the two companies had been negotiating an extension for the better part of year, according to O’Rourke.
Kyndryl will continue to maintain and update operational systems for Delta — including crew rostering and scheduling, maintenance documentation and passenger rebooking software.
Delta’s IT infrastructure manages more than 4,000 daily global flights. Kyndryl supports the infrastructure, as well as a CRM platform for more than 23 million SkyMiles members and a technical operations platform that handles maintenance records for nearly 900 aircraft, O’Rourke said.
The long-running IBM partnership the Kyndryl’s deal grew from dates back to the mid 2000s, when Delta was emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and undergoing financial and technological restructuring. IBM was brought in to update and streamline IT operations, according to O’Rourke, who worked for Delta before moving to IBM in 2006.
Driving down IT costs while pushing innovation remain key planks in the relationship. Managing cloud adoption is a newer priority.
Delta signed a multiyear migration deal with AWS, its sole cloud provider, in July. Kyndryl forged strategic partnerships with all three hyperscalers — AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft — in its first year apart from IBM.
Kyndryl provides Delta with the mainframe expertise to bridge the gap between on-prem and cloud, and helps AWS grow its business by easing the carrier’s path to a hybrid ecosystem, O’Rourke said.
Ongoing modernization allows Delta to mitigate the disruption caused by storms and other operational challenges, keep its planes in the air and add new sustainability and passenger personalization technologies.
“We’ve identified areas where we can go into the data centers and look at energy and consumption offsets as a starting point,” O’Rourke said. “We're also looking at where we can help Delta around user design on their front end systems, so there’s consistency in how they communicate and interact with their customers globally.”