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.

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


Big Data

Social Media


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.

Opening of the SITA/Airline Business IT Summit

Here is my Opening of IT Summit 2012

I have highlighted 4 Mega IT Trends as the prime movers in shaping tomorrow’s airline industry:

The IT Cloud

Big Data

Social Media


Summing Up the SITA/Airlne Business IT Summit

Every year at the end of the IT Summit, I have both the honour and the challenge of summing up the proceedings. 

It’s a challenge since I have to summarise the contributions of the distinguished speakers, and often the results of some interesting debates, and then draw conclusions from them.  I hope I will be able to post both my introductory challenge and my concluding remarks here as video clips. 

Meanwhile, particularly for those who were there, here is a summary of what I suggested were the conclusions of the Summit.  This year it was easier than most years because the presentations and the discussions converged in a remarkable way.

In my opening I said there were 4 “Mega IT Trends” that would hit the air transport industry in the the next few years.  These were:

* the Cloud

* Big Data

* Social Media and

* Mobility

From Tony Tyler’s Keynote in the morning to Henry Harteveldt at the close these themes DID keep coming back.

But there were two additional themes that also came through, which I felt were the glue which will join up these 4 technological Mega Trends.  One was a techie piece of glue and the other was behavioural glue.  

The techie super-glue was

* Web Services

And the behavioural adhesive was 

* Collaboration across the Air Transport Industry or as we in SITA call it Air Transport Community (ATC)

First, web services which Madame Xiong and Dr Krieg from Beijing and Frankfurt Airports – 2 of the leading airports in the World – and our own Jim Peters SITA CTO talked about.  Smart use of web services, open APIs and Service Oriented Architecture could join up apps, data, social media and mobile devices across the industry.

Second there was Tony’s central theme of how the elements of the whole air transport industry – not just airlines – must work together to provide better service for customers, and indeed to ensure that the industry was sustainable.  

Competition will intensify and should, but there are areas where airlines and airports, GDSs and government agencies need to share information so that the whole air transport eco-system works better.  

This is where SITA can help.   As the commercial co-operative company owned by the ATC, SITA can provide an honest broker role at the interface between the airlines, airports, government agencies and GDSs.  As a provider of technology networks and services to air transport we can help “join up the dots” in the new world of the Cloud, big data, social media and ubiquitous customer and employee connectivity on smart phones and tablets.   This would be an interesting reinvention of SITA’s original mission from 63 years ago. 

Doctor, Doctor, please help – I have too many blogs…

As a fan of all that is “social media”, I tend to try new things and to start blogs – or at least promise to start them.

In my personal (that is, non-work) life, I have this blog on WordPress plus a Twitter feed, both of which repeat onto my Facebook page.  (I also have a LinkedIn page as many of us do these days – is that work or personal, though?)

I am a great fan of the daily photo site Blipfoto and have just taken a look at Pinterest and Tumblr too, although I have not succumbed to any of those yet.

At work, when I became IT Director at John Lewis, I also started a closed weekly blog for all IT Partners in JL.  (Well, it’s nearly weekly…)

And, in recent weeks, I have started two new social media sites.  The first was in John Lewis to support the roll-out around all our shops of our new “Retail Revolution” Strategy.  We put this site together in less than a month on Googlesites, with some great help from Google. It is intended to be fun and engaging, and has – in my view – been wonderfully successful so far, with many Partners around the country logging on to get more information in the form of the presentations and videos that support the Strategy.  They have also become involved in discussion threads.  We have had votes on which question to “Ask Directors” where several of my colleagues and myself have gone online interactively to answer questions.  We have also held a vote on which IT investments Partners would like to see made in the next year.

The other site, which went live today – and made me think about this topic – is another closed site: it is a Portal for the SITA Council.  This is built around WordPress and is the forum for members of the SITA Council who represent over 30 airlines from around the World.  This site has the ability to privately circulate papers and briefings as well as to start discussion topics.

Social media in both of these examples has the ability to link together dispersed business communities – in SITA’s case globally dispersed – more effectively than conventional emails, circulation of papers and relatively infrequent meetings.

Now, I don’t claim any originality for any of the above.  There are lots of examples like this that you will be aware of.  However, what has struck me is the number of different social media interactions I now have – now not just in the personal space like Facebook and Twitter, but now in the business space as well.

Technology is breaking down barriers both of geography and time: we are indeed connected any time and anywhere.  It is also breaking down the barriers between personal and work in terms of interaction.  But how many social media entries can you – and should you – make?

Fun and Fear in IT in 2012

I have noticed two strongly opposing tendencies in IT at the moment.

At one extreme are those of us who find the new world of social media – the presence of 794 million people on Facebook, probably 500 million Twitter, and the fact that we can be connected any time and anywhere – exhilarating and liberating.

I can now do many things now that I dreamed of but never thought would be possible:

  • shuffle my music randomly or around themes (I used to struggle with CD changers!)
  • connect with other folk around the world who are interested in late Roman shield patterns or obscure locomotives of the New South Wales Government Railway
  • publish my thoughts on IT and on Roman history as real books
  • post my photos of “traces of past empires” on a site for anyone interested to see (rather than keep prints in shoe boxes!)
  • travel the World and still keep in touch with business
  • talk to relatives in Australia for free on Skype (think of the cost before!).

I love all of this and find it enriches my life.

At the same time, though, as an IT Director I am – like all CIOs – simply terrified by the way everything I love, listed  above, also breaks down the barriers and controls that protect our own personal and corporate data.

The flip side of the coin of openness is personality and financial theft.  It is Facebook sites left open, credit card numbers lost, intellectual property raided, and personal and corporate reputations damaged.

We have all heard the scary statistics – most of them unverifiable – about how people share information and devices, and about how companies are hacked without even knowing it.

So what do we conclude?

Well, the world has changed.  This is not about a change that might happen.  It has CHANGED.

The Internet IS integral to the lives of the next generation (and many of is in the current one).  Online communications ARE now rivalling face-to-face contact in many ways.  Attitudes to information, mobile devices and social media HAVE changed both our personal and our working lives irrevocably.

We live in a world cracked open by technology.  To enjoy its advantages and avoid its pitfalls, we have to find new ways to communicate and new rules to live by – whether in business or in our personal lives.

Is the Airline Industry becoming like Retail?

In my latest article in Airline Business I examined the increasing convergence between the airline and retail industries as customers become ever more connected and the way in which technology developments will shape both their futures
I thought readers of this blog might be interested:

A popular theme for airline industry conferences and discussions is how the sector is becoming increasingly like retail.

This is perhaps a bit unfair since, in my view, retail itself is in many ways catching up with the air transport industry. In the UK and the USA many retailers are now going through the “between 20% and 30% of revenues online” barrier – in other words, the point when online moves from an interesting additional channel to market to the mainstream.

This is a stage which most airlines reached mid last decade. Nothing surprising here, given the different nature of the product that airlines and retailers sell – one which is simply a permission to fly and the other a physical product in a shop, or ordered online and delivered from the warehouse.

These industries – and arguably most others too – are converging, however. Travellers and shoppers are the same customers, after all. Everyone is connected all the time everywhere these days, through iPads, smartphones or laptops. These devices are increasingly used not just for personal or business use, but for both. Both retailers and airlines understand that a website is not enough. Customers expect the companies they buy from – and interact with – to be present not just online but in the mobile world of tablets and smartphones, and – of course – out there on Twitter and Facebook.

Just as we in 2012 present ourselves seamlessly in multiple channels as individuals, so we expect our preferred airline or shop to be there too. We expect them to communicate with us appropriately, we expect our business relationships to be just as channel-savvy as our personal relationships. So, for a complex transaction like a round-the-world holiday or a complete house redecoration, we expect human interaction and advice in person.

For an update message that our flight is cancelled because of fog or our online order is ready for collection at the store, we expect a message on our mobile device. And, in between, we may be interested in staying in touch with these businesses through Twitter and Facebook, and in looking at their newest products or their newly launched advert on YouTube.

For airlines or retailers that aspire to be brand-leaders, however, even transacting seamlessly across the channels is not going to be enough. You need to be able to engage customers in your product and get them to associate with your brand and its values. No longer is this just about TV advertising – or indeed paying Google to promote your products in its search listings. It is about creating an experience that reinforces customer loyalty and provides your best customers with benefits and privileges they really value.

Some of this will be delivered in-store – or in the lounge, or on board – but increasingly it will be about connecting with them in the periods between shopping or flying.

Airlines – because of the connectivity limitations and long-standing concerns over interference – have been the one place on or above Earth where you could not be connected. In the last few years this has come to an end, and we are seeing wi-fi on board and mobile and internet connectivity increasingly provided or planned. In the same way, we are now starting to see wi-fi provided for free in-store by retailers, with tailored landing pages. This is also being extended into how airlines connect with their customers before and after they fly, such as the Malaysian Facebook for groups application.

Intriguingly, airlines are now looking to retailers for inspiration – John Lewis in London and Tesco in Korea have used matrix barcodes, known as quick response codes, in public places or other stores to sell their online assortment of products. The customer scans the code and then checks out.

These have appeared at several airline retail conferences, presumably because of the potential read-across to airlines which could use onboard connectivity and the entertainment screen to facilitate customers ordering ancillary ranges of products online.

On their websites, airlines and retailers are using the same methods to encourage up-selling and cross-selling across their product ranges. In conclusion, this is what technology has done for business. Increasingly, all businesses – whether selling flights or sofas – are becoming more similar, as customers buy and interact seamlessly with them and each other in the omni-channel world.


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