BA/Dell partnership on course to take-off

Last week Dell became one of only a handful of companies to become a strategic supplier for British Airways. The agreement signed...

Last week Dell became one of only a handful of companies to become a strategic supplier for British Airways. The agreement signed illustrates how IT firms can forge closer relationships with businesses.

At BA there are less than 10 IT suppliers that the company would describe as "strategic", of which Dell has now become one of the coveted few. The recent deal will see BA replace legacy PC hardware serving 25,000 users with Dell Latitude notebooks and Optiplex desktop PCs, during the next year.

Measuring success
For Paul Coby, chief information officer at BA, the strategic side of the relationship will be measured by Dell's ability to suggest creative uses of technology that will assist the airline's business. He cites "how would I be able to use wireless technology internally or externally such as within BA lounges?" as an example. For this to work, Coby has shared with Dell his post annual report on the IT strategy for BA. In effect, he has provided the computer manufacturer with intimate knowledge of how BA plans to use IT over the next years.

While the crux of the partnership is designed to help BA use IT strategically, Coby clearly expects Dell to offer BA competitive pricing and appropriate technology for its needs.

Coby said one of the most immediate benefits of the agreement is that BA is now able to offer a standard hardware and software PC "build" across the airline. This has allowed BA to reduce the number of configurations it needs to support to less than five. It means Dell is able to deliver standard hardware and software configurations for each core department within BA through the Dell custom factory integration programme. Machines are pre-configured at the factory and can be customised for different types of user. For instance, the arrangement with Dell allows revenue management or the sales operation within BA to receive PCs from Dell configured with each department's unique software and hardware setup, Coby said.

A model for e-procurement
While BA has standard polices for procurement, Coby found the Dell e-procurement model attractive. Dell actually offers two types of service: The more basic Premier Dell service allows businesses to browse, buy and track orders on a Dell Web site customised for the user's requirements. The site enables authorised users to select pre-configured PCs for their business unit or department. A more advanced version, Premier B2B, supports e-procurement systems such as Ariba and Commerce One. This provides automatic requisition and order fulfilment once an authorised user has chosen to buy a PC from Dell. While he has no plans to use such services yet, Coby said: "We are actually looking at putting e-procurement on our E-Working intranet." This would allow authorised staff to purchase PCs through a portal that connects directly into Dell's systems, effectively creating an extranet.

The desktop refresh programme at BA will see Windows 95 PC hardware that is over four years old replaced by modern PC desktops systems running Windows XP and Microsoft Office. Along with the roll-out of new desktop and laptop PCs, BA is starting a home PC purchasing scheme in conjunction with Dell. The agreement also involves establishing a BA and Dell co-branded cyber cafe at the airline's headquarters.

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