IT can keep the UK flying high

If the UK is to maintain its position as a leading world economy, its productivity must improve, writes Paul Coby, CIO of British Airways. Research by the...

If the UK is to maintain its position as a leading world economy, its productivity must improve, writes Paul Coby, CIO of British Airways.

Research by the IT and telecoms skills council e-skills UK indicates that effective use of technology is the single most important productivity-boosting step the UK can take, offering potential gains of £35bn over the next five to seven years.

Technology enables UK businesses across all sectors to access new markets, improve performance and save costs. It is also fundamental to the UK's ability to attract high value-added business and investment.

Making the most of IT means focusing on how to improve business performance, rather than on the technology itself. For example, in the past six years smart use of technology has helped us to transform British Airways by simplifying business processes, cutting costs, better serving customers and enabling staff.

Simplification and ease of use is central to our philosophy of IT-enabled change. Every one of our 43,000 employees, including air crew, flight crew, office staff and baggage handlers, has access to e-mail and can check their pay and work schedules anywhere in the world. We anticipate that four out of every five passengers at the new Heathrow Terminal 5 will check in online or at the self-service kiosk at the airport.

For transformational IT projects to succeed, UK companies need IT professionals who can understand and respond to changing customer and business needs, and who can develop products and services and drive innovation. This requires a high level of skills.

IT today is global. Workforce globalisation should not be seen as a threat to the UK, but an opportunity. We need to make UK businesses more competitive which, in turn, will help them to succeed and attract more value-added business. But to seize this opportunity it is critical that we invest in IT and related business skills.

UK companies need not just skilled and professional business-oriented IT experts, but also business leaders who understand how to use IT effectively. Equally important is a general workforce that is trained and able to use technology to do their jobs. In the next few years each of these communities will require skills at increasingly advanced levels.

The development of IT skills is vital throughout the UK economy and education system. We, and companies like us, already invest heavily in training. We also work closely with e-skills UK to promote skills development across the industry. If the UK gets this right, it will be a winner in the new world economy. Get it wrong and we throw away the essential foundation of a competitive world-class economy it would be a mistake we might never recover from.

Paul Coby is CIO of BA and chair of the CIO board of e-skills UK, the sector skills council for IT and telecoms

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