CIO explains strategy for making IT the key business enabler at BA

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CIO explains strategy for making IT the key business enabler at BA

Justin Richards

"There are no IT projects, just business projects IT departments bring technological advice to the table to help a business improve," British Airways CIO Paul Coby told a meeting of the BCS Elite IT directors group last month.

Coby said IT was a strategic differentiator in the airline industry. As well as cutting costs, it improved customer service, and it was often the anvil on which business progress could be forged, he said.

With the rise of self-service systems, BA's IT department has had to completely re-engineer customer systems and commercial processes. It set targets, maintained clear governance and mandated transformational targets, said Coby, in line with four key objectives:

● To deliver a robust and reliable worldwide IT operation, 24x7, at lower cost

● To deliver the systems on time

● To deliver year-on-year productivity improvements

● To simplify BA's business by the smart use of IT.

To achieve these goals, BA had to align the IT architecture with business strategy. The IT department found "snap back" to be a key tool for this, requiring the complexity in each stage of a business process to be justified or removed.

This helped to turn complex, duplicate, fragmented and error-prone systems into simplified, standardised, measured, error-free and customer-enabled systems, said Coby.

Board-level sponsorship was vital, with early agreement to investment plans and deliverables providing the IT team with a mandate to achieve their targets, said Coby.

BA learned that, to achieve its long-term goals, a business has to integrate its business propositions and processes with technology. Coby said BA's IT department had to become almost the "anti-IT department" by forcing itself to think about the processes and the people first and foremost.

Ultimately, BA had to transform its IT department from a technical support group into an enabler for change in business.

The airline's experience offers lessons for other businesses, the Elite group was told. Through collaborative project management, with an accountable finance manager, and with a chief executive who understands the leverage IT can give a business, it is possible to turn any business around, said Coby.

Related article: IT spend is key to 20% profit rise at BA

Related article: Wise up to technology, CIO tells boards

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