Closing of the SITA/Airline Business IT Summit 2012

This is my summing up of the Closing of the IT Summit

Key themes that came up were the ones I had highlighted at the start

Cloud

Big Data

Social Media

Mobility

I also picked two other key themes that had emerged during the Summit, one a business theme:

How the whole air transport eco-system and community has to join up for customers at the same time as airlines and airports compete intensely with each other

and a techy theme:

How web services will enable the joining up of the industry.

There seemed to me to be remarkable convergence during the day on these six themes.

Joining it all up using technology is of course where SITA comes in.

We need to pull it all together to make it easy to fly.

Corporate IT just got interesting again – 6 IT mega-trends that are changing business

Here we are with the World coming out of Recession carrying a massive burden of debt, but with a pressing need – and the opportunity – to grow our economy and to grow our businesses. This makes a nice change!

So, if the challenge over the last two years was to save and save again to survive, now the challenge we face is to keep making savings – but also to grow, find new markets, win new customers and turn losses into profits.

There are several “technology mega-trends” here that are turning the business world upside down.  What is going to happen is that the functionality and the capability that we are all getting to know and love in our personal lives is going to move into how we all work.

So just think about what we like about the iPhone:

  • Ease of use – it’s intuitive, you don’t need training
  • Ability to download the apps you want, when you want
  • Speed of delivery of service – no-one likes waiting
  • Presence – the device, and therefore the apps, know where you are
  • Mobility – you want to be connected whenever and wherever you want, and
  • Affordability – the cost of end-user devices and the cost of apps is accessible: you don’t need a business case to add apps once you have invested in the basic infrastructure.

If you had to characterise the nature of business systems that most companies and most of their employees have to use, though, you would say they are:

  • hard to use – you do need training
  • you need experts to source and load the software for your applications
  • it can takes years to build a new system
  • it doesn’t know where you are
  • you normally have to find a terminal or desktop or kiosk to use IT, and
  • you need to make a business case for a new piece of software because it is expensive and is licensed.

These six technology mega-trends will revolutionise the way we do business:

  1. Touch and video technology mean that the old screen and keyboard is very old hat
  2. New Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) enables users to access systems and data from across their business and partners, whether in legacy or modern technologies
  3. Agile methods of development bring business and IT together in iterative development of the functionality that is needed, with releases every fortnight not every 2 years
  4. Phones, parts, cards and tags will automatically show their Presence and identify, users, customers and their assets and attributes IF they want
  5. Mobile devices will connect everyone with their work-place, the colleagues and friends and the infinite information accessible on the intranet, wherever they are – even in mid-flight
  6. The advent of Cloud Computing means that normal businesses can access the economics that have previously only been available to the likes of Google and Amazon.

These mega-trends offer a future that is totally connected, totally flexible and totally easy to use – and much cheaper.

This is the big challenge for the CIO of the Future:  how do we give our users what they want and are used to at home at an affordable price?

See my last post about SOA for a part of the answer…..

Hold the front page – SOA actually works!

Cautious optimism isn’t news – but I am cautiously optimistic about Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). We all know the trouble with new technologies is that they get over-hyped. Vendors are desperate to convince us that they are selling the “next big thing” – the product or service that will magically cut costs, stop down-time and increase functionality.

SOA has already been the next big thing – but has since been surpassed by all the talk about Cloud Computing. Meanwhile, I think, SOA is actually beginning to work. If you are a CIO, you will have seen the on-stage demos and powerpoints showing how you can just “plug and play” legacy systems and databases through the middleware layers, and build new applications by just dragging and dropping “services” icons.

Well, of course, it’s not that good – or that easy! One of the awful truths of IT is that last decade’s “cutting-edge differentiator” is next decade’s awful legacy. If you are an airline, your predecessors started investing in IT in the 1960s, about the time that 747s were introduced.

So in BA – as with many other airlines – we are engaged in renewing our legacy systems. We decided about two years ago to do our renewals of core systems consistent with a genuine SOA “Common Architecture”. This is designed – eventually – to link up our selling, customer, operations and back office data and processes in real time. Its objective is to make change easier, quicker and cheaper. It should also help us with working with our partners in the oneworld alliance. We aim to achieve this by building a services and integration layer which links back-end services – whether newly-built or legacy – and connect them to the front end systems, whether those are ba.com, mobile or kiosks for our customers, or legacy desktops or user interfaces for our people.

Now it’s easy to write those words but hard to deliver them and, since I am sure everyone knows the theory, it is how we are getting on that is the interesting point. We spent some time agonising over which SOA stack to plump for. We plumped for Progress: others SOA stacks are – as they say – also available. We are delivering the Common Architecture through our SOA Centre of Excellence. This has developed standards and patterns, which have to be used in the development of the areas we are changing. The core infrastructure is now live and we have system-to-system messaging in place across the platform. This is going live in several area including bag messages, our new weight and balance for aircraft departure programme, and across our legacy cargo and flight operations areas.

So SOA is real not hype! We have here an IT architecture, design and delivery approach, which makes core business functions reusable and accessible. This is a profound and potentially revolutionary change because we have here a new approach to Software Engineering, which delivers IT that is built to change – not built to last! This enables our customers and our colleagues to use IT without being tied to massively expensive and time-consuming back-end changes. It offers the prospect of fast and cheaper business change!

Now, we have of course found major challenges in doing this. As ever, it’s the people-affecting issues that are most sensitive and challenging. SOA requires a shift in mindset. Instead of building separate systems, software engineers and developers are now engaged in building one interlocking Common BA Architecture. This means that there have to be rigidly observed “building regulations”. We did this before with components on ba.com but SOA requires another step towards common standards and interfaces.

You need new tools, you need clarity about processes as well as systems, and you need a whole new set of new skills. But I believe the benefits in business agility, speed and, of course, last but not least, cost are genuine – even mouth-watering!

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