No one can afford to get IT so wrong

No one can afford to get IT so wrong

The chaos at Terminal 5 should teach us all that the challenge of IT-enabled change can never be overestimated

By the time you read this, British Airways may or may not have cleared its baggage backlog and started getting flights away on time ­ – or at all ­ – after the disastrous opening of Terminal Five (T5) a week ago.

Amid all the recriminations, fingers have inevitably been pointed at the new IT ­ – in particular luggage handling and staff allocation systems.

The web has also been buzzing with BA staff complaining about inadequate training and poor preparation.

Yet just two weeks before what is supposed to be the world’s most technologically advanced airport terminal opened, BA management talked of the extensive testing and training that went into the pre-launch plans.

Some 2,000 IT tests were carried out in the year before opening, as were training and familiarisation programmes. “Getting people to understand the new role of technology and buy into the new proposition was our biggest challenge,” said Glenn Morgan, BA’s programme head of information management for T5.

We have often written that there is no such thing as an IT project. Business projects combine people, process and technology ­ – all three aspects are equally important, and the most common cause of IT failures is the lack of consideration for the people and process implications.

In advance of T5’s opening, BA was keen to hold itself up as an example of that mantra. So what went wrong?

BA was well aware ­ – and is now painfully aware ­ – of the intense scrutiny it would be under in the move to T5, yet still there were problems. Testing, training and staff engagement proved not to be enough.

The lesson for IT managers is that the challenge of IT-enabled change can never be overestimated. BA now faces a very public grilling of its failures, and a detailed internal analysis of how even the best-laid plans can go awry. Could it happen to you? Clearly, it cannot be ruled out. But the focus on getting the people, process and technology mix right must be ever more intense.