The troubles of the airline industry have been well documented during this recession, and no more so that at British Airways, where chief executive Willie Walsh offered to work for free in July, encouraged executives to join him and negotiated pay cuts, wage freezes and lay-offs across the flag-carrier's 43,000-strong workforce.

This came after the airline reported the biggest loss in 21 years as a plc, blaming soaring fuel costs, a weak pound and poor demand for the £401m pre-tax deficit for the year to March 31.

With IT spending in aviation down to just 1.7 per cent of the average revenue, and his departmental budget cut by 30 per cent this year, long-serving BA CIO Paul Coby might be feeling the pinch more than most.

"I've always said that the challenge to the IT department at BA is to do more with less and now the challenge is to do even more with even less," Coby told CIO in May 2009.

He stresses that the recession has been even more difficult than the post-9/11 slump, but that the difficulties the aviation industry encountered in that period have been valuable in this time of global crisis.

"We've reintroduced some 9/11 measures, like the much-hated Star Chamber where every single piece of expenditure gets looked at," he says. "We must spend only on the things that matter, that deliver great payback or create direct relationships with customers."

Much of the customer-centric focus has been on the airline's website at, where in June a Dynamic Packaging tool was introduced to give customers at-a-glance pricing for complete holiday packages including flights, hotels, car hire and excursions.

In addition, the Metrotwin project aims to retain customer loyalty through a social networking portal that allows travellers to share tips and recommendations by pairing sights in London with those in New York - if you like Selfridges, for instance, why not visit Bloomingdales? Social networking is also used internally to connect employees informally.

At the management level, Coby has attempted to drive savings by appointing four technology and services partners to the airline's individual divisions. By sitting on the management board of each division, they can gain an understanding of departmental agendas and work with Coby and their respective boards to set appropriate priorities for technology.

Another learning experience for BA has been the opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5, which, despite the highly publicised teething troubles, has provided a valuable learning experience for Coby's team and is now, along with the successful move of BA's headquarters from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3, a source of pride for the organisation.

"BA's systems and infrastructure worked perfectly from day one," he told CIO in May 2009. "The principal IT problems were in BAA's baggage systems. But it doesn't matter to customers where the problems were - they paid good money and deserved to have a great travel experience, which we did not deliver. And we took responsibility.

Walsh has said that BA's CIO and his team played a critical role in ensuring the software problems were resolved as quickly as possible.

Coby has also had to make do with a leaner workforce over the last year, with 600 members of his IT team volunteering to work unpaid or to take unpaid leave, saving the department £2.1m.

He is now planning to standardise IT development on Lean and Agile methodologies, which he believes will be key enablers to technology.

"Lean and Agile are vital, but challenging," Coby explained. "They require top level management leadership, the ability to admit when things are going wrong, middle management to empower the front line, and the right analysis.

"BA is 90 years old, and we've spent all that time becoming more complex.

"If we didn't do it, and lost control of our cost base, all our blood, sweat and tears would have been wasted."