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.

Is there another digital divide in IT in the UK?

As someone who always devours the latest edition of Wired Magazine – and as an Apple fan – I was more than delighted to see Sir Jonathan Ives on the front cover of the July edition as No.1 in the “2012 Wired 100”, who the magazine describes as the UK’s digital power-brokers.

Now, it is notoriously difficult to categorise in groups the digiratti, since yesterday’s web entrepreneur is today’s venture capitalist and/or government IT adviser.

However, whilst stuck on a long train journey I did try and categorise all 100 of the Wired power-brokers, because something struck me forcibly when I flicked through the list, and I wanted to see if it was really true.

It is, as I said, wonderful to see Sir Jonathan at No.1 – and it is appropriate that he has been recognised with a “K”.  No more needs to be said on that.

So here is my categorisation of the 100:

  • 25 venture capitalists
  • 20 web entrepreneurs
  • 9 media/journalists
  • 7 conference and exhibition organisers
  • 6 IT company leaders
  • 6 in government IT
  • 5 in advertising
  • 4 in retail
  • 4 in games
  • 3 in politics
  • 3 in charity
  • 2 authors
  • 2 inventors
  • 1 consultant
  • 1 in telecomms
  • 1 private sector CIO
  • 1 singing artist (that’s Adele).

What struck me was how different this was from the lists that appear in the CIO Magazines that are aimed at the corporate sector, and this is reasonable enough.  Yes, I know Wired  aims to be uber cool and (ahem) perhaps we CIOs and IT Directors are less so…

So my point is that there is perhaps another ‘digital divide’ in the UK, and that is runs between the web entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on one hand and the corporate CIOs and the IT companies on the other.  The more I think about this, the more it rings true.  We inhabit very different worlds – corporate IT and the web investment world.

This is something of a shame, since – in my own field, for instance – John Lewis is now 25% online company, and retail and many other industries are being revolutionised by web technology.

But, more than a shame, I think this ‘divide’ could also have a serious impact on how IT is viewed as a career and how we train young people in IT skills.

Maybe we should be breaking down the barriers between these worlds?

Crisis in Numbers Studying IT at GCSE – what’s the answer?

Analysis by e-skillsUK of GCSE results this year shows that the number of students taking all ICT courses has fallen for the seventh consecutive year to just 70,418.  And this figure is a decrease of 12.5% on last year alone.

The number of students studying ICT at GCSE has been declining dramatically year-on-year from a high of 261,970 in 2005.

This continuing decline should be of great concern to universities and employers – and to everyone interested in the future competitiveness and success of the UK.

We know that demand for skilled IT professionals continues to increase, yet we are as a society failing to inspire a generation of young people to  study technology or to take up technology careers.

Something must be done!

It is for this reason that e-skills UK announced a few weeks ago that our Behind the Screen programme will be available to all schools from September 2012.

Behind the Screen offers GCSE students IT projects to tackle with interactive online materials supported by full teachers’ notes. The projects have been developed in close consultation with a number of employers, including John Lewis, and are based on a variety of real-life business issues.

Our aim is that students learn computational thinking, develop technical skills, and gain creative, team working and entrepreneurial skills – all in a fun, interesting and interactive way.  After all, students these days are the most connected and IT-enabled generation ever.

Young people who play computer games can learn to create games.

Young people who use apps every day can design apps.

Young people who use social media to connect with their friends can use social media to connect with customers.

I am very excited by the potential of Behind the Screen – but with the rapid decline of students even considering studying IT at GCSE, we have no time to lose.

Presentation to Digital London on IT Skills Crisis

Here is the presentation I gave at the Digital London Conference last week.  

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am grateful to the e-Skills UK team for the stats and the images.

Speech to the Chemistry Club Part 4: The Three Dragons we have to Slay

You may have read some of my previous posts based on my speech to the Chemistry Club, so let’s go back now to the 3 Dragons we have to slay.


St George And The Dragon 1456

Here comes Dragon Number 1, breathing fire.  His name is IGNORANCE and his mantra is “IT does not really matter”.

If you accept that technology is fundamental to the competitive success and cost-base of almost all industries in the UK. And that is is also fundamental to how the public sector interacts with us all as citizens and meets its cost and efficiency challenges. Then why is IT something of a ‘second class citizen’ in the UK?

Every IT conference I go to, someone asks “Why aren’t CIOs on the Board?”  Technology is always somewhere on the Government’s policy agenda – but not at the top.  It sometimes seems to me that the “T” in STEM (i.e. “Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths”) is silent.

I was appalled to be given a lecture by an industrial psychologist at a recent business event on how – as a member of the IT profession – “I must get out more and talk to the business”.

That approach made it sound as if I was wearing sandals, flares and a bad haircut. I loved the “IT Crowd” as a show on Channel 4 – but I do recognise that it played (very successfully) on the stereotype of the techie geek.

I just don’t think this kind of conversation about technology happens in Boston, Berkeley, Bangalore or Beijing. As we know, in India and in San Francisco, the heroes are the technology entrepreneurs who have literally transformed their societies, bringing jobs and prosperity to many people.

Two of the founders of the Indian IT industry – who I am pleased and proud to know slightly – are, for instance, engaged in setting up a social security system in the Indian countryside and spreading low-cost mobile banking to farmers.

It should be as unacceptable for a CEO, a Permanent Secretary or a Government Minister to say they do not understand technology as it would be for them to say they can’t read a balance sheet!


The Second fire-breathing Dragon’s name is INCAPACITY, particularly in the quality and effectiveness of IT Training and Education.

We are simply not, in the UK, turning out the number of technology graduates and apprentices that we need:

  • employment in the IT industry is growing nearly 5 times faster than the UK average,
  • 1-in-20 members of the UK work-force is now employed in IT, and
  • at e-skills UK we calculate that over 110,000 new IT professionals are needed each year.

BUT look at the numbers for graduates:

  • only 17% of the intake into the IT industry comes directly from education,
  • the proportion of IT professionals under the age of 30 has fallen from 1-in-3 to under 1-in-5,
  • the number of applicants to computing courses in the UK halved between 2001 and 2007 – down from 31,000 to 15,000, (It has now gone up to 17,000, but is still far too low at 1/2 of what it was and 1/3rd of what it needs to be),
  • The proportion of IT graduates unemployed 6 months after graduation is increasing to 14% – double the average, and
  • more disturbingly, of those employed only 45% – less than half – are actually in IT jobs.

The school numbers are equally worrying:

  • students taking technology A Levels have fallen by 60(yes, six-zero)% since 2003,
  • grades for these subjects are significantly lower than the average, and
  • at GCSE level, the number taking IT has fallen by 57% since 2005.

The problem is not just about overall numbers – the male/female imbalance is catastrophic and shameful. Only 15% of computing degree applicants and 9% of computing A Level students are female.

This sounds like a TECH SKILLS SUPPLY CRISIS to me.

What we need is VERY SIMPLE – we need an educational system that does 3 things:

First – we must recognise the importance of IT in nearly every industry, whether its retail or airlines, media or manufacturing, public or private sector.

Second – we need courses – at GCSE, at A level and at Degree level – that produce students who are genuinely inspired and excited about how you can USE IT to really make a difference in their business or department or charity.

Third – we need to attract talented individuals from the OLD industries into the IT industry of the future.


And, finally, the Third Dragon whose name is INCONSISTENCY: we need a strong voice for IT in the UK.

We have excellent organisations that speak for the IT industry in the UK: BCS, Intellect, e-skillsUK, universities and colleges of further education.  We have excellent allies and supporters in the political and media worlds.

In the UK, we all need to talk confidently and loudly about the importance of Technology  and make our case that excellence in IT and e-skills are today’s successes that will be essential to our future performance in the connected globalised highly competitive World.

So in conclusion I believe that:

  • the UK’s future prosperity and competitiveness depends on us securing a greater share of the World’s high-value-added work,
  • the UK should become a generator of – and magnet for – digital talent and high-value technology-enabled businesses, and
  • we must, in the UK, strive to be a world leader in the development of IT-enabled business solutions.

And, in my view, to do all this we need to slay the 3 Dragons of IGNORANCE, INCAPACITY and INCONSISTENCY.

We will, in my view, in this way generate Prosperity, Growth and Jobs:

  • for IT experts in the UK
  • in other industries throughout the economy, and
  • for people transferring from declining sectors and industries.
Do you recognise these Dragons? And how would you go about slaying them?

What’s Wrong with the UK IT Industry and What we should be doing about it? – Speech to the Chemistry Club

This is the text of a speech I gave last month to the Chemistry Club in London:

I am delighted – and not a little surprised – to be here.  When I received an invitation to speak, I thought it definitely was a mistake! Just look at the list of Ministers, Politicians and CEOs who have come to speak to the Chemistry Club over the years.

So, it’s nice to be invited as someone who practices IT and knows about Technology.  I must confess, however, that I don’t actually know very much about Technology as Technology.  I wouldn’t, for example, recommend anyone to ask me how to code in Java or C++, or to run a test script…

The reason – I imagine – for my being here is that I have experience in running technology in business and as a business:

I was CIO of British Airways for 10 years from 2000 and I am now having a great time as IT Director of John Lewis – a company you all know, and one you all probably know is, uniquely for our size, co-owned by our employee Partners.

I have also been Chairman of SITA – the Societé Internationale de Télécommunications Aeronautique – which is owned by its customers the world’s airlines. I am also privileged to be Chair of the National IT Skills Academy, part of e-skillsUK – of which more later.

I have been asked to talk about my experiences as CIO of BA and IT Director of John Lewis, and to compare and contrast the Travel Industry and Retail.

Well, I am going to take a leaf out of the book of some of the politicians who normally address you at these events and not entirely answer the question I have been asked.

What’s wrong with the UK IT Industry?

What I want to talk about this evening is “what is wrong with the UK IT industry” and – more interestingly – what we should be doing about it.

I understand that this evening’s audience is made up of one-third CIOs and IT Directors from the private sector and one-third from the public sector, and the rest from the IT vendor and consultancy sectors.

Actually, on the face of it, there’s not much wrong with the UK IT Industry – at least if you look at the numbers from one angle.  So the IT and Telecomms industry produced annual Gross Value Added of £81billion or 9% of the UK economy.  It delivers the highest output and productivity growth of all sectors of UK industry – past present and future.  One in 20 of the UK’s working population is employed in the IT and Telecomm sector.

So can we assume we are doing very nicely and there is nothing to worry about?

Absolutely not!  I am concerned that the UK IT industry COULD (and I stress COULD if we don’t act) go the way of other great British industries, either disappear – like Shipbuilding or Motorcycles or becoming an adjunct of Global players with the HQ and product development overseas.

Three malaises in the UK attitude to IT – “3 Dragons to slay”

However if you look closely I see three malaises in the UK’s attitude and support to IT, which we, as the leaders of the UK IT, should address – “3 Dragons to slay”.

Dragon Number 1 is that IT does NOT REALLY MATTER in this country. It does not usually have a seat at the top table and – worse than that – people react defensively or even worse see it as a bit of a joke.

Dragon Number 2 is that IT in schools, universities and colleges of EDUCTION IS NOT DELIVERING the numbers or types of skilled apprentices and graduates we need to sustain the position IT now holds in the Economy.

Dragon Number 3 is that we do NOT WORK TOGETHER EFFECTIVELY as we could as a Technology Sector to raise the importance of IT for the future of our British Economy and Society.

 To be continued…

A Passage to India

Last week I made a flying – in every sense of the word – visit to one of our long-term partners in India, Tata Consulting Services (TCS), NIIT is the other.

Visiting Mumbai with all its traffic in the Monsoon is decidedly interesting – but this is not a weather or a traffic report.

So, can anything new be said about Indian IT? Probably not. But I was forcibly impressed – as I always am when I meet Indian IT people – by the rather different place that technology and technology people and companies hold in the Indian economy compared with the UK. Not only is technology seen as a very valuable and strategic profession – it is seen as one of, if not the, top professions. One that the best students aspire to: we have all heard about the queues of graduates taking the recruitment tests for the Indian (and US in India) IT giants.

It is a truism that India is a country of contrasts.  IT campuses with their ultra modern facilities and lawns, exist sometimes literally next door to areas of urban or rural deprivation.  

But the Indian IT Model is visibly working: the IT sector has pioneered India’s export-led growth, it has been a major driver in growing an aspiring middle-class that is fuelling consumer demand and has pushed for infrastructure investment.

And the leaders and managers of the Indian IT sector are major contributors to philanthropy and social responsibility.  TCS, for instance, showed me their rural micro banking project using mobile phone technology, thumb-print reader and voice read-outs in all of India’s languages.  Another Indian IT leader I know well, is founding a university.

The Indian leaders I met were pleased that our Prime Minister is making an early visit. With Europe in the economic doldrums, the UK clearly needs to develop our trade with an economy likely to grow at around 10% a year.

Yet I suspect some Britons still have some strange ideas about India, with images of the country a mixture of distant history and pictures of under-development from past aid appeals.

Yet we in the UK have so much to learn from present-day India, especially in the IT field. I want to flag up three areas where we should be emulating our Indian counterparts.  And before anyone points to the exceptions that prove me wrong, I am talking about relativities here not absolute differences:

1)  The close links between the elite Indian IT universities (and graduate schools) and business. In the UK we still have something of a gulf between business and university – too often (but with many honourable exceptions, of course) neither sector quite “gets” the other;

2)   The cohesiveness of the Indian IT industry which – through its industry association (NASSCOM) – has been very effective in presenting the central role of technology in Indian Economy and Society, and winning support from Government. In the UK we do not have a single authoritative voice for IT;

3) The way that Government has supported the Indian IT sector with tax holidays and support perhaps not possible in the UK. 

Now, the UK IT industry is thankfully very much still a UK success story. It has created jobs and wealth against the trend. To keep it that way, we should be learning from our Indian counterparts, at the same time that we admire how they have helped to transform Indian economy and society over the last 15 years.

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