British Midland's – BMI – Dirty Little Online Checkin Secret

Flew Dublin – Heathrow again last week – this time with BMI (British Midland International). It’s what all Java consultants do – pop on the plane to London to see a client. Now I like BMI, not least because they provide a bit of competition for Aer Lingus. I like Web Checkin. A lot. See my post on how to use Web Checkin to solve Dublin Airport’s problems. But BMI have a (bad) secret about their online check-in that they don’t tell you until after you have paid for your flight.

BMI Logo
Online or Web checkin means you print your boarding card before you leave home. It means you arrive at the airport , walk straight through security and enjoy a coffee while waiting for your flight to board. For Aer Lingus it’s great on a day trip; print both boarding cards the night before you leave. For BMI there’s a glitch; you cannot print your return boarding card until after you arrive in London.

What? On your busy-day-with-client-not-one-second-to-spare you are expected to start printing pieces of paper. What is worse, you only find this out after you pay your money. Called the Flight Helpdesk ‘we have a lot of people complaining about that Sir’. Mail to BMI customer service, no reply.

The moral of this story is not to complain about BMI (although here’s my Ajax related Rant about Scandanavian Airlines if that’s your thing , or Mulley’s lost baggage saga if you prefer). And yes, I should be glad of a choice of flights to Heathrow (see Limerick Bloggerand Bock the Robber)

No, the moral of the story is that IT systems (yes the geeky bits) can have a huge impact on customers in traditional business (you know, the ones that pay you money). Being the helpful people we are, we’ll even show BMI how to fix this using Business Rules. Somewhere, deep in the bowels of the BMI system code, Someone, a long long time again decided ‘no one will ever want to check in before they leave’ . And now that it’s spaghetti code, it can’t be fixed, leaving a lot of unhappy customers.

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Information Storage for Dummies (and how to make it secure)

Doing a lot of database work for a client right now so now it’s a good time to recap on where you can store your information. This might be basic stuff , but it’s essential basic stuff.

  • Spreadsheets, of which Microsoft Excel is the most popular. How the PC and Microsoft began their 25 year reign. Ironically their availability online (care of Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets) threatens to end the PC era and usher in the Web 2.0 one.Spreadsheets are never secure. If I can get a copy of them (and letting me read one means that I have a copy) then I can read everything. Everything. Most Excel passwords can be cracked within seconds.
  • Take a couple of spreadsheets, glue them together and put links between the sheets. Now you’ve more of less got an entry level database, such as Microsoft Access. It’s aimed at people who need more power than Excel, but are not developers.

    The trouble is that Access is not secure (see problem above) and that it doesn’t scale very well (for more than a couple of people using it at once). Both Access and Excel come with versions of Microsoft Office.

Access Splash Screen

  • So you have your information, and now you want to stick it on the web. MySql is the database of choice. Free, lightweight and with excellent tool support (e.g. phpMyAdmin), MySql is what powers this website. If you know what you’re doing (e.g. Google or Amazon) it will scale very very well.
  • For most people , the next step up is to a serious Enterprise database. Oracle, MS Sql-Server and it’s cousin Sybase are the main contenders in this area. DB2 from IBM is a distant fourth place while Sybase is strong in financial institutions. While MySql is catching up in features, most companies chose one of the main three because of their track record, a long list of people and vendors that support them, and because of ‘lock-in’. Once you choose a database it’s very hard to change.

So there you have it. Don’t let me see you trying to run a company on Excel or Access again. Or at least, don’t complain to me when it falls over!