The Fog on the Tyne

“The Fog on the Tyne…” was the name of the first cassette – yes, a pre-recorded cassette – that I bought back in 1971, by Lindisfarne of course.

Actually, there was no fog on the Tyne when we celebrated 20 years of BA’s IT in Newcastle, UK, recently – it was a beautiful Friday evening. And the next morning, as I headed back to London, the rising sun shone over the stunning Millennium Bridge…

British Airways established an “IT Shop” in Newcastle way back in 1990, and its anniversary is indeed cause for celebration. In the afternoon, there were awards to the 12 founder recruits of “OnTyne Systems”,.which became “Im Newcastle” and is now “BA Technology Services Newcastle”.

There were pictures on display culled from corporate and personal history over what has clearly been a pretty lively 20 years. There were cutting-edge in-house animations and a showing of the now justly-famous “Road to Amarillo” video – you need to be an insider to appreciate this one, but you can imagine…………..

Willie Walsh was there for the whole event and thanked everyone for their magnificent support of BA over the last two decades, and especially during our recent volcanic ash and strike periods, when BA Technology Services Newcastle staff volunteered as cabin crew and worked shifts in the call centre, as well as managing the many IT system changes required with effective professionalism.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, British Airways have stuck by our investment in IT on Tyneside. Back in 1990, when the then Prime Minister John Major – yes, John Major – opened Cragside Court on the banks of the Tyne this was a very important sign of the future for the North-East of England. Several of the original recruits to the IT team had previously worked in shipyards, which had then closed or were closing down. Indeed, the author of the excellent Speedbird NCL Twitter-feed on airline news telle me that he worked in the shipyards early in his career.

So what is my point? Well, since 2006 we have expanded our Newcastle IT Centre both in numbers of staff and in our skills. This is decidedly counter to the prevailing outsourcing trend over the last decade, which has seen much IT work go to Bangalore and Mumbai.

Great things have happened in Indian IT, of course – and I wrote about them recently on this blog– but great things are happening in UK IT too. OnTyne Systems started as a coding shop doing the “less exciting” back office HR and finance systems.

Now we have Newcastle fully integrated into everything we do in BA Technology. They still support legacy HR and finance, but the crew and airport systems are also supported and developed there, as is our award-winning web-creative centre of excellence. We also have our outsourced IT call centre there, so our Newcastle Office includes something of everything.

Why Newcastle? Well, we have great people working for BA there at very competitive rates, reflecting the cost of living – as well as the great quality of life – in the North East. Our Newcastle Centre itself works with Indian partners to support its work, making Newcastle even more cost-competitive. We have also run two graduate recruitment campaigns and we have strong ties with local universities and schools.

The quality of our recruits both experienced and new graduates, is excellent – and some of them do great animations as well!

So I do urge UK companies to consider investing more in UK IT in the Regions. It’s not an alternative to India – it’s part of a cost effective smart-sourcing strategy that ensure you keep control of your own strategic systems whilst securing overall high quality and lower costs.

And of course, as Willie mentioned in his speech at the event, not only do we have excellent IT skills, we have committed colleagues who are also volunteer trained cabin crew and call centre agents – and perform miracles with the systems!

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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