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Reducing data risks: lessons from the UK flight chaos

Reducing Data Risks Lessons From The UK Flight Chaos

by James Reeve

What the aviation industry's recent mishap can teach us about the importance of good data governance

UK travellers experienced chaos this summer as flights across the country were cancelled due to air traffic control failures. The news made headlines as many were left stranded following the suspension of around 1,800 flights.

The fallout and reasons for the failures are still being fully assessed. But from what we have heard from the UK’s air traffic control services provider, NATS, it appears the cause of the disruption was likely the submission of incorrect flight data to the flight planning system. In a statement released following the failures, chief executive Martin Rolfe said that its systems had responded by “suspending automatic processing to ensure that no incorrect safety-related information could be presented to an air traffic controller or impact the rest of the air traffic system.”

The cancellations and ensuing chaos will have frustrated many. But what this episode should highlight to everyone is the importance of thorough data checks and processes to ensure systems remain functional.

Though the ramifications are more extreme than many would face, NATS has likely gone through something that many businesses will come across. The accidental or malicious inputting of incorrect data which causes a system to break down. 

So, what can NATS and other organisations do to reduce these risks going forward?

Put people front and centre

Simplicity should be at the forefront of any data platform. Making these systems easy to use and understand so that staff can see where and how they need to input information is key. User-friendly platforms and straightforward instructions will help reduce the risk of errors. It will also give those using them confidence that they know what they are doing. 

At the same time, training and standardised data entry procedures are things that can empower employees to input data as accurately as possible. Your people are as important as your data, so ensuring they have the tools they need to know how to use it will reap rewards. 

Security from the start

As mentioned, it’s not just accidental, manual data entries that pose a risk to organisations. Malicious attacks on systems are also a growing concern for businesses with any kind of online presence. Firms need to recognise that both of these are potential threats. 

Automating data input and transfer processes can address both these challenges. It removes the risk of input errors, while at the same time allows organisations to build in robust validation and security protections from the start, ensuring only those who should be accessing or inputting data are able to do so. 

Upgrade your software, no matter how difficult

Often, one of the main reasons for mistakes or malicious data inputs is that a firm is using outdated software. In our experience, many organisations are aware of this and would like to upgrade or replace the systems they have in place. But, the platforms they need to change are at the heart of important operational processes. This means they would have to alter or halt activity to make the necessary upgrades. 

Businesses can’t remain idle when it comes to outdated systems. This is especially true if one mistake or attack could bring down the whole organisation. If they want to make  upgrades but are worried about the effect it will have on operations, firms should seek advice and guidance from digital transformation specialists. These experts can identify, understand and look to implement any changes that are needed. They can also ensure that day-to-day operations can continue to operate at as optimal a level as possible. 

These turbulent few days suffered by the UK’s aviation industry should demonstrate to everyone that good data governance, hygiene and standards are vital to every organisation. Businesses can’t be lax, or they risk serious financial and reputational damage. Through empowering staff, robust data engineering and working with specialists who can ensure the right systems are in place, we can all ensure that systems and processes are protected both now and in the future.

James Reeve's avatar

James Reeve

Managing Partner - Central Government

Contact James
Bill Roberts's avatar

Bill Roberts

Director of Government Data

Contact Bill

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