At one point:
"The kinds of programs American and others are installing are neither terribly expensive nor "a great leap" in technology, and thus could have been in place years earlier,"
Then, 6 paragraphs later:
"And as American was preparing to make big investments in computers, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred, and sent the airline industry into a deep decline."
Huh? Why the need for "big investments" if the solutions are not "terribly expensive"?
This is not a programming problem. Not even a business problem. It's a MANAGEMENT problem. Stop looking at your portfolios long enough to decide that you want something and what you want and WE WILL BUILD IT FOR YOU.
Maybe that's why so much energy is going into Web 2.0, social networks, etc. Because big business is either too dumb or too lazy to articulate their business problems well enough to get a solution.
Hell, input this problem into a Y Combinator start-up in January and get a solution in March.
See how easy?
Thus arises the management consulting industry.