Business-savvy technologists and IT-smart business people are the key!

So what would you say when called on to do a keynote speech to a group of young IT professionals?

I was asked to do this by eSkillsUK at this morning’s conference for our Professional Programme (growing their business skills with the OU and Lancaster Business School).  Difficult!

I was asked “to give you some insights into both your company and your IT career” –  a subject fraught with challenges for me, if ever there was one, especially now with volcanic dust clouds and strikes.

So where did I decide to go with this theme?  I started with my view that British Airways – and all airlines for that matter – have been a technology-enabled companies, right from the late 1960s when my predecessors connected global stations with copper wire, minimal storage and processing power.

Since then, airlines have invented Frequent Flyer programmes, Global Distribution Systems and low cost fares on the web.

Almost every process that gets an aircraft airborne is supported or delivered by IT.  About a third of our bookings and more than two-thirds of passengers now check-in online.  Well, so what is this telling us?

My background is not technical – I was a civil servant and I have a degree in history. But I have always been passionate about using technology to solve business or public administration problems.

Those on the Professional Programme, I said, have one of the scarcest and most valuable skills sets in the economy today.   Business people who understand IT and how to deploy it – and IT people who understand what the business needs and can articulate it – underpin the competitiveness of many industries in our globalised economy.

IT matters in fashion design, architecture, benefits administration, the NHS, retail, pharmaceuticals, transport… You name it, it needs IT.

So, I told them, their career choice of IT was a great one: they should tell their colleagues – who had gone into finance or the law or wherever – how central they and their fellow IT professionals are to the economic future of the UK.

I suspect there was some scepticism about this message, but I reminded them that such a statement would not sound eccentric in Shanghai, Bangalore, Boston or Palo Alto:  the UK needs to recognise the importance of technology to business success and the value of business-savvy technologists.

Then I ran them through my schedule for today – from looking at improving customer service though innovative IT at Gatwick Airport first thing to this morning to an eSkillsUK Board this evening , and much else between.

Just one day’s illustration of IT in business and business in IT.

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

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