My Introduction to the Air Transport IT Summit 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2014 Air Transport IT Summit, jointly hosted by SITA and Airline Business.

This year the theme for our IT Summit is: ‘More Ground To Break’. In choosing this theme we wanted to capture the exciting things that airlines and airports are achieving with IT and communications. But we also wanted to look ahead to consider how to build on those achievements, and focus on the potential for technology to deliver even more value to the air transport industry.

In preparing for this Summit, our research with previous delegates and customers told us that you wanted to hear about how IT can drive industry transformation, and how IT supports the industry’s change agenda. What trends and technologies will help us evolve the passenger experience – while anticipating the demands of air travel of tomorrow?

One major factor shaping air travel is the increasing expectations of tech-savvy passengers. Nine out of ten of the world’s airline passengers say technology helps them when traveling… according to SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey. Over three quarters of them carry a smart phone when they travel…compared to just 28% in 2010.

Yet usage of mobile services, such as: check-in and booking – is still below 5%. With passengers at the edge of really ‘going mobile’… this is an excellent example of an opportunity to break more ground.

We must also plan for growth. By 2017, we can expect: 4 billion passengers, a growth rate of 5.6% a year… and 5.5 million more tonnes of freight – a growth rate of 3.6%… that brings the total to 37 million freight tonnes.

From an airport perspective, ACI figures show that passenger numbers will ‘more than double’ to 6 billion by 2031.

With that order of growth, along with higher passenger expectations, our industry will need to break new ground – in order to work in much smarter ways. This means we must harness the full potential of technology. We know the industry recognizes the value that technology can bring to its customers and operations.

Three-quarters of airlines expect to invest more heavily in new IT projects this year – according to our 2014 Airline IT Trends Survey. This is corroborated by our latest Airport I.T. Trends Survey – which records a rise in airports’ total I.T. spend to $6bn in 2013… versus $4.3bn in 2010.

So if I may be so bold as to propose the drivers of the industry’s IT, they are:

  • Improving airport operations;
  • Enhancing the passenger experience throughout their journey; and
  • Improving manpower efficiency and effectiveness, and
  • Services for connected aircraft

Common to all of these are quality data and business intelligence. Better intelligence is the heartbeat of a smarter air transport industry. 100% of airlines and 90% of airports are investing to provide business intelligence across their operations – according to our IT Trends Surveys.

Within the 24/7 ‘connected everywhere’ air transport environment… ground-breaking change will come from the power of this intelligence combined with advances in:

  • Social media…
  • Mobile…
  • Analytics, and
  • The Cloud.

This combination lies at the root of services to passengers:

  • from managing flight disruptions
  • real-time flight and bag status information
  • to searching for fares.

We have, I suggest, only just begun to scratch the surface of the potential in: merchandising… tailored advertising… personalized customer interactions… and more.  This is across multiple touchpoints and channels, on the ground, and now of course, in the air.

As we move towards real-time analysis and use of data, as well as predictive and prescriptive analytics, there is great potential for airlines and airports to evolve increasingly smarter operations.

To truly harness this potential, we must work together to exploit the data and intelligence that will truly break new ground for our passengers and operations.

Customer Trends for 2014-15

This post isn’t all about JLAB but I am pleased to say that the interest continues at a high level in the media and from potential entrants.

With JLAB in mind, I’ve been thinking about the prominence of technology and innovation as the engine of changing times for retail in the UK.    At the Retail Week Awards last Thursday, for instance, Chris Brook-Carter of Retail Week  said in his introductory speech:

‘Have the rules that define British retailing changed irrevocably under the cultural and economic forces that have driven the recent evolution of consumer behaviour?   Rapid digitalisation, combined with a reappraisal of financial norms, has broken down old barriers but opened new pitfalls too.   The Oracle Retail Week Awards is more than a roll call of the leading achievements in the industry. It is a window into the industry’s development. Those looking for themes this year will note how closely the roster of winners reflects the opportunities these changing times have given birth to.’

John Lewis was fortunate to be recognised as the Multi-Channel Retailer of the Year for the second year running.

Rather than reflect on the past, I thought we should look ahead.  So I had a word with John Vary, our Innovation Manager and JLAB leader, about what are the Mega Trends for Customers in 2014-15.  This is what he came up with, with a few thoughts thrown in by me:

1) Multiple touch points

We are increasingly expecting things which interact with all our senses, offer us a range of touch points to play with, and involve us  in immersive new experiences – see larger HD TVs and game consoles.

2) Hyper-efficiency

We are seeking ever-smarter and more efficient ways to solve age-old issues such as keeping fit, lack of space and, most of all, limited time – see wearables and home control technology like Nest.

3) The open industrial revolution

Science is no longer a closed world, just for us geeks. Digital and technological advances are enabling more of us to create in new ways, perhaps giving us a new appreciation of the digital hardware and apps as things of beauty – see the iPods, iPhones, iPads, brilliantly designed and sold to millions.

4) Escape

In a world of austerity and grown-up responsibilities, consumers have an increasing desire to let go, let loose and indulge in child-like escapism – see GTA and Candy Crush on everyone’s mobile.

5) Mindfulness

In a world full of hype and surface interactions, people are seeking depth and meaning. They are craving time away from the always-on stimulus of the media, making their leisure time more about self-development – see learned groups on Twitter discussing The War of 1812, Norfolk wildlife, crows and everything else…..

6) Super personalisation

Personalisation has been taken out of the hands of consumers. So it’s not just the bespoke products you select – it can be the bespoke products that find you. Advances in technology mean that producers are increasingly able to know consumers and give them what they want – see most retail web sites these days.

And finally, here is a rather jolly picture from the Retail Week Awards last week:



I was lucky enough recently to award prizes to the Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) which is run by some of our female John Lewis Partners in St Vincent’s R C Primary School next to Westminster Cathedral in London.

CC4G is a programme run by e-skillsUK to help address the gender imbalance in Technology which starts with the shocking lack of girls gaining ICT qualifications in schools – only 9% of A Level students are girls – and only 15% carrying on to study Computer Science at university.

CC4G is a club designed for girls.  It shows the exciting ways that technology is used in music, sport and fashion through interactive and fun games and challenges.

It was inspiring to meet the class of 10 and 11 year olds who had done projects on building a website.  The subjects included fashion and nail-art!  They were all well-designed, brightly coloured and fun.  Even more impressive, each of the girls stood up and talked about their designs and why they had enjoyed building their sites.  Some even said why they were now interested in taking up IT!


How CC4G works is that a group – in this case IT Partners from the John Lewis IT Directorate – or parents decide to support a “computer club” for school girls, usually aged 10 to 12.  They need to do the security checks to work in a school, of course.  They can then download materials from the CC4G website which enable them to run club sessions on fun topics that girls report that they enjoy.

When St Josephs came in for the prize-giving our team showed them how we are piloting RFID tags in clothes in our shops.  Normally the Club takes place over lunch time in the school.

Great fun was had by all!


Since 2005, when eskillsUK launched the programme, more than 135,000 girls in over 3,800 schools have experienced CC4G.  84% of girls involved in CC4G state they are more likely to consider further education or a career in technology as a result of CC4G.  98% of teachers who run the clubs say that the girls’ IT confidence levels have improved.

If anyone is interested in running a CC4G, then you can see the materials at   There is 2-week free trial and then a licence costs £350, which hopefully companies will feel is well worth while part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) outreach.

We received the school’s permission to take and display these pictures.

John Lewis Press Release on £1billion Sales as it Launches Web Platform

Online sales at John Lewis have passed the £1bn mark on a rolling 52 week basis, alongside a successful launch of a new multi-million pound web platform.

 The milestone comes a year ahead of the retailer’s forecast, which had estimated reaching £1bn of sales in 2014.

The department store has invested nearly £40m in its new website during the three year project, which is the foundation for future online growth and its customer-focused omnichannel strategy.

Mark Lewis, who has recently joined the retailer as online director, said: “Passing the £1bn milestone almost an entire year ahead of schedule is a fantastic achievement for us, and a reflection of how central online shopping has become to our customers.

“We have a leading omnichannel strategy which our customers love, but to continue to deliver the service our customers want, we need a website which will serve us as well as the old one did, and maintain our position as a leading innovator in online retailing.”

The new website features new functionality including an enhanced wish list function, search history, and more inspirational content, with more customer-focused functionality planned for the future. With mobile now accounting for over 25% of traffic to, the retailer has also revamped its mobile offer to mirror the creative design of the main site, and plans to launch a new app with details to follow later this year.

Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, said: “With sales up over 40% for in 2012, we are seeing an unprecedented pace of online growth and customers are making more demands on our website, than ever before.

“The billion-pound success of is a reflection of our strategy to put the customer at the heart of our online operations. Early testing at every stage of the build, and inviting over 3 million customers to use our beta site before full launch, has resulted in what we believe will be an outstanding experience and journey for customers.

“We have designed the new site to incorporate the best features of our previous site making it not only easy and intuitive to use, but inspiring to shop.”

The site also features a prominent feedback form, which generates around 300 pieces of feedback a day, which the retailer will use to prioritise issues and spot trends.

The Great British Technology Innovation for Retail Event

As John Lewis IT Director, I am getting very excited by an initiative that we have just launched: John Lewis’s “The Great British Technology Innovation for Retail Event”!

Innovation and John Lewis

Most people in the UK know John Lewis for our customer service and for the breadth of what you can buy.  We are increasingly known for innovation in our
shops, our formats and products – and, most importantly, we are known for our unique – at this scale – Partnership Model, which is the foundation of our business and our service.

What is perhaps less well recognised is the John Lewis heritage of technology-enabled innovation.  In the 1960s we were one of the first retailers in Britain to introduce computing into the heart of our business.  John Lewis was an early adopter of electronic point of sale (ePOS) in the 1970s, and we have been a leader in the “bricks and clicks” world with our development of our award-winning channel, which is now a quarter of our business revenues and growing fast.

We are now looking at how we can introduce new technology even more effectively into our shops.  One recent example has been the “StyleMe” Virtual Fashion Mirror in Oxford Street, which I blogged about here.  In our new store in Exeter, opening this October, we will display our full Store Assortment in about half the space we normally require, using technology.

We want to build on our heritage of British innovation in technology to
build commercial success in the new emerging omni-channel world of retail. We are aiming to build up an “eco-system” of John Lewis technology partners in retail innovation.

So we have invited some of the most innovative and exciting British technology companies and universities to work with us to solve key business challenges through innovation.

We have asked them to identify where they think technology can help meet our business challenges.  The best ideas will be short-listed and the companies asked to showcase their ideas and concepts at an Innovation Day on 5 November 2012, hosted at our Founder John Spedan Lewis’s former home at Odney, on the Thames in Berkshire.

A panel of experts, including John Lewis Business Directors and myself, will then work with the companies to test these ideas and an overall winner will be selected.

The winning idea will be prototyped with John Lewis and, if successful, then rolled out across our business.

This is exciting for us and, I hope, for the innovators – and who knows what will come out of this.  If anyone out there would in principle like to participate, let me know before 31 August.  We are already quite full!

Topics at Women in IT Dinner

I was very pleased to be asked to kick off the discussion at a recent dinner for Women in IT, hosted by Spencer Stuart and Qedis.  I promised I would post the topics – and you will see why.

Apparently I was supposed to talk about “multi-channel in retail” but, being in blissful ignorance of this, I had notes on four topics which I am concerned about and I hoped the group gathered around the rather large table would be concerned about too.  These topics are not original but I think they matter to a UK IT audience.

Topic No 1: Social Media is Revolutionising Economy and Society

I started with the usual “Raise your hand if you:

  • use Tripadviser
  • are on Facebook
  • use Twitter
  • pin or browse on Pinterest
  • have a blog.

I find the hands go down as you go down the list, and that’s fine of course.  No one has to use social media. There are, however, still quite a lot of people who see it as something young people do. Or think that it’s nothing to do with the IT department – just for the luvvies in Marketing.  We had a good discussion and several of the women there had great examples of creative use of social media to connect with customers.

My key point on this topic is that the old web used to be one-way.  Customers bought stuff on your web site and employees got information from the Intranet.  Not any more, though: we all expect our views to be listened to and we expect to connect.  So it is up to you as a company whether you want to listen to your customers and to the people who work for you.  I think there can only be one answer to that…..

Topic No 2: The British Disease

The British Disease is not taking IT seriously.  Sometimes this important question gets reduced or personalised into “Why aren’t there more CIOs on Boards?” – which, to my mind , is not really the problem.

I do think there is something much more corrosive here for our competitiveness -which is that the British political and business class still does not get IT.  It is still OK for top business, political or cultural leaders to make a joke out of technology.  This is emphatically not the case in Berkeley, Boston, Bangalore or Beijing.  In India you pray your bright son or daughter gets a place at the elite Institute of Technology.  But in Britain, Computer Science has one of the highest graduate unemployment rates of any degree course.

In Holywood they make a film about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, in Britain we have “The IT Crowd”.  They are very few IT experts on the Boards of FTSE 250 companies: they are mostly dominated by accountants.

Would it be acceptable for a CEO or the Permanent Secretary of a government department in the UK to say they cannot read a balance sheet? Of course not – but they can still say “I don’t understand IT” and make a joke about sandals and bad hair.

In discussion many of the women there agreed that this really matters because it conditions attitudes to IT as a profession and to the role of technology in business and society.

Topic No 3: The UK IT Skills Crisis

I have gone on about this problem before on this blog, but a reduction of more than 50% in students studying Computing at A Level and a fall in UK resident applications for Higher Education Technology courses of 44% in the last decade say it all.

The UK IT industry is ageing with the number under 30 at less than 1 in 5 now, and over 50s doubled.  Again this is not the case in other countries who compete with us.

In discussion, we agreed that the unattractive image of IT in the UK and the low status of IT in schools and colleagues were a large part of the reason.  There was great enthusiasm for the new GCSE that e-Skills and others are developing, which will offer school students real programming challenges and opportunities to apply technology to solving real-world problems.

Topic 4: The Gender Imblance in UK IT

As is well known, there is a shocking gender imbalance in UK IT and it’s getting worse.  Only 18% of IT and telecommunications professionals are women.  And only 8% of A Level candidates and 15% of applicants for university IT courses are female.

We discussed why – and, again, image and perception matter here.  Several of the attendees had participated in CC4G (Computer Clubs for Girls) and similar initiatives to encourage girls to keep on IT as an option.

There was general agreement round the table that role models mattered. So remember Ada Lovelace Day this October – what should we be doing to mark the occasion and to raise the profile of women in technology?

So, having urged  everyone to get stuck into social media, I have done my duty and posted these topics. I look forward to your thoughts in return.

Do you have a view on the NHS IT Programme?

I’ve not been sleeping too well lately – probably, you will say, due to too much Christmas fare and festivities. So I have had time to mull over two IT-related things that happened to me before Christmas – over and above my normal technology-related responsibilities, that is.

The first thing came totally out of the blue and was rather surprising.  I noticed a tweet about Mike Lynch of Autonomy, who is one of my heroes in technology.  I followed it and found that Mike – with total justification, I think – had been chosen as “Most Influential Individual in UK IT” by

As you do, I started flicking through the rest of the list – and stumbled across a rather fetching picture of yours truly at number 15.  It is fashionable to affect disdain about awards, but I must confess I was rather pleased and I emailed the family to tell them. (Well, your children do wonder what you actually do at work all day…)

Seriously, I am not sure what it means to be listed one place ahead of the UK CEO of Google – and only two below Sir Tim Berners-Lee himself – but it certainly made me smile!

Furthermore, I was struck by how many public sector IT figures were there in the list above me – Joe Harley and Ian Watmore included.   I was delighted to see this, since Joe and Ian and their colleagues in Government and Local Government IT are making a real impact for good in UK society and economy.   But it did start me thinking about the importance of UK public sector technology and just how important and challenging it is.

I was on a plane earlier this month and, settling into my seat home to UK, I opened The Times to see the headline “Exclusive: NHS computer fiasco still costing billions”.  Opening the double-page spread, I read “Software firm is banking in getting £2bn extra for its failed system” and “Project blighted from the start by bad decisions”.

So I have a confession to make that will cause me to be demoted 50 places in the IT Chart:  I was appointed, way back at its start, to be the “Private Sector Non-Executive Director” on the Board of the NHS IT Programme.

It very quickly became apparent, however, that the so-called “Board” was nothing of the sort; that the Civil Service in those days had no idea what a Non-Exec was or how to use one sensibly; and that the loosely-confederated elements of the NHS at the time were in no sense set up to deliver the “biggest IT project in the World”.   So I quickly resigned.  No-one noticed.  You could describe it as a good call, I guess…

But this is a national issue of epic proportions.  Let’s face it, we would all benefit from a Health Service that used technology more effectively.  It has indeed delivered a broadband network that works, the spine for data, GP records transfer and digital X-rays – but not the core electronic records system.  Spend is apparently £6.4bn with a projected total of £11.4bn.   How can you spend all that?

One illustration of the current situation: shortly before Christmas, a relative of mine was taken ill on a Thursday where she works and was sent to the local hospital where many painful tests were carried out, but the cause not discovered…

She then travelled home to London where she was still ill and overnight Saturday went into the hospital that was functioning as the emergency centre. Again, many similar tests were carried out.  And again her problem was not diagnosed fully and she was sent home in pain. Therefore, on the Monday she was sent by her GP to her local hospital, where – yes, you’ve guessed it, the same tests were again painfully (and expensively) carried out.

And on none of these occasions did the doctors have the benefit of seeing and considering the results of the other medics’ tests. So all that ECG data, all those x-ray, ultrasound scan and blood tests results sat useless in paper folders in hospitals miles apart, waiting to be filed away unanalysed, some time in the New Year…

A more powerful case for an electronic records system in the NHS you could hardly construct, from everyone’s point of view – patients, doctors, nurses (and taxpayers).

My point in writing this is that we all – as IT professionals in the UK – should have a point of view on the NHS IT Programme

Not because we should blame individuals: goodness knows, we have all faced major programme challenges (and before anyone says it – yes, T5 Opening at BA) but because we should learn from all of this. And, let’s face it, like my relative, we all have a strong stake in this working.  So here goes…

I personally think that the NHS IT Programme went wrong for all the usual reasons that IT projects jump the rails:

  • the users were not bought into understanding exactly why they needed it
  • there were multiple interest groups who felt excluded from a centralised project that could not enforce its decisions
  • the supplier contracts were win/lose not win/win, which is fatal when you are entering unknown territory
  • the IT teams seem to have over-promised and under-delivered
  • no-one told the people at the TOP (PM, Secretary of State etc) the realities of large-scale new development AND integration, and
  • the top people (as is sometimes the case in the UK) did not fully understand technology, or recognise how hard what they were trying to do really was.

My view is that the UK in 2002 was probably incapable of delivering something so large, so cutting-edge, so integrated and simply so difficult as the NHS IT Programme (which is why when the headhunters came calling I declined to put my hat in the ring).

I will stop there, and simply observe that Joe, Ian and their many excellent public-sector colleagues have, since then, successfully delivered many major public sector IT programmes that are all too rarely celebrated.  So it is good that they have been recognized within our industry.

And anyone doing a large project knows that none of this is easy.

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