CIO50

CIO 50 2007: Paul Coby

CIO 50

Job Title : CIO

Organization : British Airways

What they say about him: "A real statesman and valued spokesman for the CIO community."

Coby's much-used motto is "there are no IT projects, only business projects" and it is an approach that has proved to be extremely successful during one of the most difficult periods in the airline's history.

He took over as CIO at BA just days after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US, following a long career in the civil service where he spent time as principal private secretary to the Secretary of State for Transport during the 1990s.

The crisis in the travel industry, along with the competition from no-frills airlines, left BA "standing over the edge of the precipice", Coby has admitted.

But IT has played a crucial role in BA's turnaround, initially through its customer-enabled BA transformation programme (Ceba). Tech running costs have been cut by 43 per cent; the BA.com website has been overhauled and made more user-friendly, and is now a huge growth channel; and self-service - for both staff and passengers - has been a key theme, with online and fast bag-drop check-in and an employee portal that allows staff to check rosters and print their own payslips.

The next challenge for Coby and BA is streamlining the back-office systems and the massive new Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport, which BA will occupy from spring 2008. All aspects of T5, including customer check-in and baggage, will be handled by new, state-of-the-art IT systems.

Outside of BA Coby is also chairman of Sita, the airline industry IT body, and chairman of the CIO board for IT industry skills group e-Skills UK.

One of Coby's non-IT passions is history and he's working on a database of Roman forts and military units in the first century AD, while his interest in African and world music (a legacy of time spent teaching at a school in Kenya many years ago) often takes him to the world-famous WOMAD festivals.

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