CIO interview: BAA chief information officer Philip Langsdale

The chief information officer at the airport operator talks exclusively with Computer Weekly about making the move to an outsourcing provider, handling disruptions and keeping IT running smoothly.

BAA CIO Philip Langsdale has a lot to do. In the next few months he will have to oversee the shift caused by outsourcing the airport operator's IT and also deliver the IT elements of improvements set by the Heathrow Winter Resilience Enquiry, to ensure there is no repeat of last December's snow chaos.

Langsdale is secretary of the inquiry led by BAA's non-executive director Professor David Begg, released last month, to look at the company's response to the disruptions, which caused the cancellation of more than 4,000 flights around Christmas and damaged Heathrow's international reputation.

At the same time, the CIO has been busy finalising its contract with new partner Capgemini, which will be responsible for BAA's core IT services, including applications, infrastructure and projects for around 10,000 users. The deal will commence service next month.

As if this was not enough, Langsdale has a bulky portfolio of ongoing technology projects, including some large systems infrastructure implementations. Despite all the pressure, the IT chief is keen to mention some of the recent achievements by his team.

"We halved the cost of IT [in relation to the company's £4.8bn five-year investment period] and increased service levels significantly," said Langsdale. "Reducing cost does not mean reducing service quality. We have used this as an opportunity to look at our processes and how we can simplify and improve them."

The Begg inquiry

There are several IT implications to the recommendations aimed at improving BAA's preparedness for events such as the heavy snowfall seen in the UK around the end of 2010 and the start of this year.

For example, the Begg inquiry advised that Heathrow's communication infrastructure should be enhanced to optimise situational awareness, facilitate informed decision-making, and enhance communication with key stakeholders.

This includes real-time video displays of the airport, as well as software analytics; advanced incident management systems to facilitate improved communications, logging and better problem resolution; and to normalise operations as soon as possible in the event of disruption.

According to Langsdale, last winter was one of the most challenging periods he experienced since joining BAA in September 2008, with a "sheer volume of work" to get on with, while having to provide a professional response for the inquiry.

"You have to be able to respond well in times of crisis. As a result of the [inquiry] work, 14 areas [of improvement] were identified, so now there is a huge focus on delivering as much of those recommendations as we can," he said.

Langsdale says the technology-based improvements are important to enable BAA to get real-time information access and know how to respond to adversity, as well as how to better communicate with passengers.

"We are also doing a lot of work around social media, to ensure that we offer a single, clear, authoritative version of the truth and customers know what is happening in the airport. To do that, we need to look into our systems for web information and make sure they are more agile," he said.

The transformation is set for September, and while BAA will not deliver all the improvements at once, the CIO says the firm "certainly intends to deliver a lot of them by then".

The handover to Capgemini

The contract with Capgemini has recently been finalised and service will commence next month - on 3 May, about 175 BAA IT staff will transfer to the IT supplier out of a team of 460. Two years ago, BAA employed 800 in-house IT employees.

According to Langsdale, the outsourcing changeover has been challenging, but management has been clear about its plans throughout the entire bidding process, which also involved Fujitsu, Logica, Siemens, T-Systems and Tata Consultancy Services.

"We have always been very transparent with the team about our intentions to outsource, since September 2009, in terms of where we are in the process," said Langsdale.

"People don't like uncertainty and there is a lot of it when you are going through a competitive tender, but as soon as you move to choosing and consultation, the process has been very fair with a lot of integrity and people respect that."

Technical milestones

Langsdale says BAA has a huge portfolio of ongoing technology projects. Recently completed work includes activity around IT infrastructure at T5C, one of the satellite terminals of Terminal Five.

Planning and design around infrastructure for the new Terminal Two is also underway. Work on technology for the new Heathrow terminals has benefited from lessons learnt at Terminal Five, which opened in 2008 with major teething problems.

"Over the past two and a half years we learnt a lot from T5. We have done hundreds of airline moves during that period and none of those has been quite as complicated, " said Langsdale.

"But we now have a much more rigorous processes in place - looking at things like baggage IT systems before we go live, for example - as well as very careful management of stakeholders and a lot of attention to detail in terms of testing and assurance. These are small things, but very important."

BAA is also rolling out a new airport operating system for Heathrow, which will provide a single point for planning and running the facilities and getting planes off stand more quickly. Other BAA airports will also get a new, broader system supplied by specialist FS Walker Hughes.

The company has also undergone a recent migration to Windows 7, Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint, which Langsdale says has "gone well". In the back-end infrastructure, BAA is replacing its legacy Oracle enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, which was heavily customised over 15 years, with Oracle's 12.1 ERP using the supplier's on-demand service.

BAA's server farm, which will now be managed by Capgemini, is already "a state-of-the-art facility" and no significant revamps are on the cards for 2011, other than continued use of virtualisation technology provided by VMware and Citrix.

Innovation plans

Despite the focus on tackling the basics, the company is also thinking about innovation projects. Without disclosing many details, Langsdale mentioned that BAA is looking at using iPads to better communicate with customers.

Another project aimed at driving innovation is a trial of automatic ticket presentation - currently, staff need to scan air tickets to allow passengers to move to the next stage of security checks and BAA wants to automate the initial process.

"We have to get the basic infrastructure right, and that has been the process so far. Now we are looking at ideas for how to use technology to improve the experience in the terminal," said Langsdale.

Despite all the complexity of his dual role, pressure around taking cost out of IT as well as managing a move to an outsourcing set-up, Langsdale remains positive and - just like many other fellow CIOs - says he has "the best job in the world".

"I know a lot of CIOs who moan about their jobs, but what I have got is such an interesting role. You have the challenges but you respond to them. You just get on with it."

Photo: Paul Grover/Rex Features

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