British Airways Looks for Lean Tech

Borrowing an idea from Toyota, the airline's CEO says a company priority is to simplify IT processes, thereby cutting costs and improving service

British Airways (BA) is borrowing a manufacturing concept originally developed by Toyota for the automotive sector in the 1970s to make its technology more "lean" for the future.

BA CEO Willie Walsh claims "lean" technology and processes will be one of the keys to simplifying the business, cutting costs and improving customer service for the airline in the future.

Speaking at BA's sixth annual 'IT Fair' at the company's Waterside headquarters near Heathrow airport, Walsh said: "IT is a key enabler to business change and has been crucial to the success of BA."

Walsh said one of the company's IT priorities over the coming year, along with the move to Terminal 5 and improving, will be introducing the "lean" process design into IT. He said "lean" design will help in "eliminating waste, simplifying processes and improving customer service".

The idea behind the 'lean' concept is to design single, repeatable processes and only add complexity back in where it adds value to the customer which they are willing to pay for.

Tools and techniques include 'value stream mapping', which is a graphical way of working out where there is waiting and excess inventory in a process, and a 'just in time' inventory strategy, which ensures new stock is only ordered when it reaches reorder level, saving on storage space and costs.

BA CIO Paul Coby said the new approach is about getting the processes right before implementing the technology and working with the people who carry out the processes every day, such as baggage handlers and customer service agents, to do this.

He said: "To do a lot of things you don't need new IT systems. Maybe you are not using the existing ones very well. Sort those things out and then design your IT."

BA is already using the 'lean' concept to simplify server deployment, which previously suffered from long cycle times and poor communications, and required lots of forms to be filled in. Now the servers have a virtual team, a 50 per cent reduction in cycle times and require only a single document. Lean processes are also being used for Terminal 5.

CEO Walsh hailed the success of as "the best airline website there is" and said new initiatives are in the pipeline to improve it further.

He added: "It really has helped to transform our business."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.