Cathay Pacific Airways successfully migrated 117 mission-critical applications to two new data centers with IBM services. The closely-watched foundational project gave the airlines the agility, performance, and robustness it needed to meet customer demands while setting the groundwork for driving digital transformation for the entire company.


Business Challenge

Migrate 117 mission-critical applications from legacy platforms to a new standardized, modern platform within a tight deadline.


IBM worked closely with Cathay Pacific Airways to streamline approval process while delivering application development, baseline and regression functional and non-functional test execution, and deployment services.


  • Smooth migration with no rollbacks
  • Reduced IT team workload and freed time for value adding with IBM Services
  • Set a strong foundation for digital transformation plan

Business Challenge Story

Overhaul for the Digital Transformation Long Haul

Strong commitment to excellence has kept Cathay Pacific Airways flying for decades a premium carrier. In January 2019 alone, the airlines, together with its subsidiary Cathay Dragon, flew over 3 million passengers and 166,735 metric tons of cargo. With its headquarters and hub based out of Hong Kong, the airline is also facing growth opportunities as initiatives like Greater Bay Area become a reality.

However, the airline is also facing strong headwinds of change. Tremendous competition from other international carriers and low-budget carriers, and soaring demand from an increasingly connected consumer base are some challenges which set the company to embark on a long-term IT transformation plan.

“People expect everything to be digitized. Announcing new enhancements to the system and waiting for a year does not cut it anymore; it is all about speed to market and simplification,” said Kerry Peirse, General Manager, IT Infrastructure and Operations, Cathay Pacific Airways.

The first step was to migrate its 117 legacy, mission-critical applications to a modern platform. They called it Target Application Migration (TAM).

TAM was a high-risk project and would impact other projects. However, the airline knew that it had to deliver on it if it wants to stay competitive, agile and responsive to a dynamic market landscape.

“TAM is a foundational project for digital transformation. You cannot do digital transformation right if you do not have the right foundations. You can try, but you will fail,” said Peirse.

The migration will also simplify the infrastructure, which will be essential for application developers.

“One of our goals is to make IT easy. We had to make sure that the people who are developing the applications find the backend infrastructure easy to understand. They can then deliver to our customer needs better,” said Peirse.

So, they searched for a trusted, strategic IT partner who can help them navigate the various steps required to migrate their mission-critical applications. In the end, they chose IBM.

Transformation Story

Crosschecking and Pragmatic Planning Matters

From the onset, IBM knew the schedule would be tight. Multiple scheduled and ad hoc code change freezes and the short decommission window for legacy components meant that the company had to migrate 90 percent of the applications within 20 months.

Application development, baseline and regression functional and non-functional test execution, and deployment activities were delivered through Waves and Batches, which were in turn run in parallel due to various constraints and dependencies.

IBM also worked with Cathay Pacific Airways to streamline the approval process, implementing a three-day auto approval when no comments were received.

Since some of the applications were real-time based and had dependencies, the IBM team took the initiative to coordinate with a large number of client counterparties and external vendors through a well-defined escalation process. Here, their knowledge about the various third-party products and deep relationships with Cathay Pacific Airways’ departments proved to be essential.

“IBM brought the right people at the right level to make the changes when needed. The thing that really struck me was the professionalism through the process. I knew we were in a safe pair of hands,” said Peirse.

A complex project requires clarity at all levels. So, IBM focused on making communications a key priority throughout the project. The team organized walkthrough sessions for each deliverable with the various stakeholders.

"You can have the best technical people in the world, but if you do not have the communications and relationship, it will not work very well. And through the right communications you will build trust," said Peirse.

Cathay Pacific Airways and IBM knew that migrating critical applications had no room for error. "The migration we did involves critical applications, so we could not get it wrong. Full stop!" said Peirse.

IBM poured its resources into creating a strong migration plan with rollbacks for each application currently running on legacy platforms; upgrading current applications so that they are ready for the new platform that also addressed end-of-life and end-of-support concerns; leveraging virtualization and cloud management technologies to improve application resilience, mitigate failure risks and reduce outage periods.

The focused approach worked with the on-time delivery within 20 months, including the migration of 117 critical applications, four ISD database upgrade batches, and four additional database upgrade batches.

Overall, TAM involved eight Waves, each having two to seven Batches. Four to 10 applications were included in each Wave. Each Wave took around 15 to 25 weeks to complete, with many running in parallel.

“You need to get the basic right. So, for me, planning is the most important. The actual migration is the easiest part. And there were no migration tasks that we had to roll back, even though we had a rollback plan. It was pretty phenomenal," said Peirse.

“IBM brought the right people at the right level to make the changes when needed. The thing that really struck me was the professionalism through the process. I knew we were in a safe pair of hands.”

-- Kerry Peirse, General Manager, IT Infrastructure and Operations, Cathay Pacific Airways.

Results Story

Navigating a turbulence-free path to agility

The success of TAM gave confidence to Peirse and her team while setting the right infrastructure for digital transformation initiatives. It also gave Cathay Pacific Airways an opportunity to relook at the current IT workloads and find more efficient ways to address them.

For example, TAM allowed Cathay Pacific Airways to consolidate and standardize, allowing the airline to take advantage of managing the infrastructure “which would not have been possible in the old environment,” said Peirse.

The move lowered the IT team workload and freed up valuable time for Peirse’s teams to add value in other areas of the business.

“Since the program is primarily driven around risk, the risk profile dropped considerably, and the worry factor decreased. Also, another intangible benefit is the ability to provide an agile, faster and stable environment to our business units and ultimately our end customers,” said Peirse. 

Peirse and her team were appreciative of IBM's pragmatic yet flexible approach to a high-risk project. "I saw IBM and our team working as a team. There was no finger-pointing, and this happens because of good processes and planning."

Overall, Peirse applauded the strong support from different parts of IBM. She summarized the entire experience in three words: “Professional, practical and transparent.”

“And that is what you need in these types of projects because they are complex, involves legacy and are not always going to go according to plan,” said Peirse.

"IBM is excited to work with Cathay Pacific Airways, our longtime partner and client, to successfully deliver this complex project and build an agile and solid foundation for their digital transformation," said David Chow, General Manager and Partner, IBM Global Business Services, Hong Kong.  "Digital transformation is at the core of every decision being made in the travel and transportation industry today, and Cathay Pacific is at the forefront of their journey to enable disruption and innovation by becoming a cognitive enterprise."

“Professional, practical and transparent.”

-- Kerry Peirse, General Manager, IT Infrastructure and Operations, Cathay Pacific Airways.

About Cathay Pacific Airways

Cathay Pacific Airways is an international airline registered and based in Hong Kong, offering scheduled passenger and cargo services to over 230 destinations in 53 countries and territories, using a fleet of around 200 aircraft. The company was founded in Hong Kong in 1946 and with its subsidiaries employ some 32,400 people worldwide. Cathay Pacific Airways is listed on The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited. It is a founding member of the oneworld global alliance.