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.

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?

Why Technology is the Future Battle-Ground for Airline Customers

This is the slightly expanded text of an article which I published in the latest edition of Airline Business:

The world is being changed by technology – and technology is changing the world – faster than ever before. This is a big claim but, if I am right, every airline and airport CEO and CIO should be thinking about this issue…

Passengers have changed

Look first at who your passengers are.  No-one leaves home these days without a smart-phone in their pocket or a tablet in their handbag.  PCs and laptops are so last century.  We want to be connected anywhere, any how, any time.

We want to make informed travel choices based on surfing the web and social media. We expect information from our travel providers – which might or might not be an airline – to be personalized and tailored to our needs.

We all, whether we are Generation Y or more mature travellers, require technology to be app-easy to use, simple and intuitive.

The Future is predictable

It’s not hard to predict how we all will use technology in the future.  Our personal devices will in the future have enough data about us to learn our needs. So they will new able to recommend what holiday – and what resort or city –  we might like.  They will pull together information – reviews, flights, hotels and videos – from social networking sites and the net, and give us options.

Augmented reality will be commonplace: we will be able to go on virtual holidays to experience what previous travelers have seen and heard, with tags of information in front of the images and audio commentary.

When we have decided where we want to go and what we want to book, making payment through our mobile device will be secure and easy.  Handsets will replace plastic cards for payment.

In the future, self-service check-in will be even more ubiquitous, with mobile phones making way-finding and check-in easy.   Although we will still need to physically drop-off our bags, the airline will send us electronic bag receipts. We will be alerted as soon as we land to confirm that our bags are with us, and we will be alerted again when they are arriving in the baggage hall.

Even Security can be easier

Now here comes the piece where technology can – and should – make the most difference: the queues at Security.  Combining new technologies like biometrics and e-passports offers the opportunity for governments and airports to streamline – and improve – border checks.

Digital attention at the Airport

We as passengers – and our smart-mobiles – are going to be the subject of a great deal of digital attention at the airport.  Airport-wide WiFi will provide connectivity all the time: already many airports have realised that getting passenger attention is more important than charging for connection.

Location sensing will ensure that we no longer have to worry about where the gate is and when it is open.  The mobile will calculate how long we need to get there, calculating queue times on the way in real time, and airport staff will be able to find lost passengers, avoiding late departures.

Augmented reality will give us directions to what we want to find, whether it is the airline lounge, a coffee shop or duty-free outlet. We can opt in to receive promotional coupons from retail outlets we are walking past, and all of this traffic will enable the airports to manage their passenger flows and prevent bottle-necks forming.


More and more airports and airlines, having mastered self-service ticketing and check-in, are looking at self-service boarding.   We will scan our 2-D bar code boarding pass ourselves and pass through a secure gateway to board.  Barcodes will soon be old-hat and sensor technology and NFC (near field communication) will allow our smart phone to share boarding information with the gate.   NFC will enable our travel documents to be retrieved as we approach the gate and security check-point and to be verified by the airport reader.  The hand-set can stay in our pocket throughout this process, making the whole process much less hassle.

Technology On-Board

Everyone will expect to be connected – if they wish – during their flight.  This means that IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) will be revolutionized, and we will watch films, access our iTunes, read our Kindles, look at our Facebook and tweet using our own devices.   So will we still want an airline-provided screen or console as well?

Social networking will be as prevalent on the plane as it is on the ground. We will reward good service (and punish bad service) instantly through our social networks.   As at the airport, access to customers on-board will be eagerly sought by travel partners, retailers – and competitors.

Is it possible that eventually our flights will be free, and the costs will be paid by the providers of the products and services passengers purchase whilst travelling?

This is not a Vision

All of these technologies exist already.  Most of what I have described already exists as pilots somewhere in the world, many developed by SITA Labs.

I personally like this Future: it will be easier (and more fun) to travel like this.  But for it to happen the airlines and airports must work together to agree common-use standards and inter-operability in these new technologies.  It is in everyone’s interest to do so, at least in the Air Transport Industry.

So CEOs and CIOs reading this will, I hope, feel inspired to consider the above technologies – I believe they are going to be the entrance ticket to the future.

How Technology will change the World in 2012

I make no claims for originality in these predictions. A characteristic of our connected social media world is that we take our ideas from everyone else – and these are no exception…

  • With “the integration of everything”, apps will work on smartphones, computers and TVs everywhere. You’ll access your email, social media and applications on any device anywhere.
  • The Cloud will turn computing into a utility (at last – after many years of predictions). This will open massive expandable computing power on demand.
  • The Cloud will be not just for businesses but individual consumers. Look at how Facebook – operating in the Cloud – is conquering the world. And Apple’s personal assistant app, Siri – Steve Jobs’ final initiative – will open an infinity of new apps which will learn what you want and, in time, even how you think….
  • Kindle and iPad were the big commercial volume successes of 2011, meaning that Amazon and Apple will be major platforms for – and could also become major publishers for – what we used to call books, films, magazines and newspapers.
  • The TV will be the revolutionary technology device of 2012, with intelligence provided by connectivity from pads and smartphones, no longer presenting just TV channels but everything that is out there on the net and becoming a key element of social media.
  • Social media will continue to grow and will continue to revolutionise  the way we shop, how people remove tyrants, spread our new ideas, connect with friends, family and fellow enthusiasts globally – in short, everything…

Speech to the Chemistry Club Part 3: How IT is Revolutionising the Retail Industry

The same thing is now happening in Retail with John Lewis innovating customer service using technology.  We have:

  • Partner-assisted self service kiosks in the stores- these were tremendously successful during the ‘Back to School’ season where parents ordered in-store from the Internet.
  • ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ online compared to ‘Clicks and Bricks’ competitors
  • Ratings and reviews online
  • ‘Click and Collect’ – where you order online and collect from a John Lewis store – is going fantastically well, at almost double last year’s volumes
  • We have extended this to many Waitroses and by October we will have 120 ‘Collect’ sites,

So what I am seeing in Retail is what I saw in Airlines,  around 7 years ago – an explosive channel shift that is turning the whole industry inside out.

You can see the “online flood-waters” approaching categories that no-one thought would be bought online and they begin to switch.  So now on a third of sales are in the fashion category.  Customers will now buy a £6,000 summer-house online and certainly no problem about £1,500 television.  Afterall we have trained everyone to buy £5k holidays online

So, what do you do about this sea-change in how customers shop – do you “fight the last war” or do you work out what the new “terms of trade are”?

We think in John Lewis that the answer is omni-channel retail.  What is John Lewis famous for:

  • VALUE – “never knowingly undersold”;
  • our ASSORTMENT – the breadth of what you can buy in Oxford Street JL or on;
  • the SERVICE – that our Partners who co-own the business bring with good advice and real care for customers;
  • and TRUST – that you know you can bring anything back you bought in John Lewis and we will replace it without fuss.

These factors: V-A-S-T – equal “VAST”, an approach devised by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the Partnership, who gave his business to its employees between the 1920s and the 1950s.

We believe that this VAST Concept is as relevant to the Retail World of 2011, as it was to 1921 and 1951!  What we have to do is to present our core values in the new multi-channel world of

  • Shops
  • Online
  • Mobile
  • International as well as UK
  • Facebook, Twitter and Blipfoto

The shopping experience of 2015 will of course be very different from the shopping experience of 2005

  • Customers will expect to try in the shop and then buy online
  • They will look online and buy in the shop
  • They will buy on their smart phone and pick up in the shop
  • They will get advice in the shop and order from the call centre
  • They will bring online orders back to the store for a refund

People will want the same service and the same products in any and indeed all channels.  You will expect our Partners to be able to look after them with the same high level of service wherever they bought the product.

So the IT Director or CIO has to be able to “join it all up”.  This is easy to say and, of course, hard to do.  BUT at least our challenge is very clear.

Now, I mentioned at the end of my list of Channels, Facebook and Twitter.  They are of course but the latest – and staggeringly successful – manifestation of the way that technology is simply very cool these days.  Thank you, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg

You have to be there in the social networks, simply because your customers are.  Any company that does not agree that social networks matter should adopt the dodo as its logo.

The original Dot.Com Revolution was one-way.  People built shops online where you bought things – they even tried to make web sites look like shops.

This Dot.Com Revolution (call it 2.0 if you like) is two-way.

  • If we get good service we want to tell our friends about it
  • If we take a great picture, we want to share it with people interested in our passions
  • If I get poor service, I am going to tell the World – the viral complaint-song “United broke my guitar” being a great example of this
  • Woe betide you if you let someone down and they post on Twitter or YouTube and it goes viral

Recently, John Lewis put up on YouTube – with links from Facebook and Twitter – our John Lewis Oxford Street designer fashion show.

Personally, I try to ‘practice what I preach’ with a Blog on WordPress; my Twitter and Blipfoto accounts – and two books published electronically and on paper on Lulu.

SITA/Airline Business IT Summit – Closing Speech June 2011

Here is the video link to the summing-up of what was a great IT Summit in June.

I think it marked a landmark in Airline IT – but more of that later…

There were some great contributions from airline and airport CEOs and CIOs.  Here are some of statements I tried to pick up on in the Closing:

* Spend more on your IT

* Don’t talk about social networking: do it

* Do more IT for less

* Fresh thinking is needed for mobile and social networking

* The difference is that the Cloud is now easily accessible cheaply and securely

* Emphasis on customers will make the difference

* Get IT out of the ‘techy corner’ and get it listened to

* Technology without business process is asking for trouble

* Need to integrate airports with the end-to-end customer experience

* IT is the driving force for Business Model change

* Every CIO/IT Director has Mobile, Cloud, Internet of Things, CRM and Social Networking on their agenda these days

My personal conclusion was two-fold:

First, that IT matters – really matters – even more than before, because it is leveraging social and economic change much more than ever before.  The role of the CIO or IT Director is to make sense of all this change and of all these possibilities.

Secondly, that IT providers are central to airlines and airports in new ways.  Yes, of course, for Operations; yes, of course, for Selling and for Servicing; but now IT is central to the whole Customer Experience.  That is new and that is the landmark change.

SITA/Airline Business IT Summit – Opening Keynote June 2011

I blogged about the SITA/Airline Business IT Summit earlier on 25 June.

You can now see a video of the introduction which talks about the ways that IT is transforming the Air Transport Industry again.

I suggested at the start of the Summit that IT is now central not only to all the back-of-house processes that make airlines and airports function but also – with the Internet and Social Networking – has become the key differentiator front-of-house too, in terms of customer interactions.

Airlines and airports now have customers who expect ease-of-use and connectivity everywhere.

Four ‘Big C’ Megatrends will change the technology and the airline business:

* Convergence

* Communications

* Connectivity

* Cloud

I suggest that the winners will be those companies that use technology to anticipate and solve customer problems.  Speed and agility in adopting new technologies will be critical success factors for the future – and deciding when to adopt new technology will be a key skill for CEOs and CIOs alike.

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