British Airways (BA) is using process methodologies adapted from the motor industry to speed development and make cost savings as it prepares for the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow next year.

The airline has been working closely with airports authority BAA on developing and integrating systems at the new terminal, and BA’s chief information officer Paul Coby said at a tour of the unopened facility that the scale of the IT challenge had led to the adoption of new development processes.
“At BA we have tried to think ‘what's this building for? What are we trying to do?’ We have thought about processes and how they affect people and then designed the use of IT around that,” said Coby.

He said BA was using the so-called lean methodologies – dubbed ‘Lean: Fit for Five' internally – principally to improve process efficiency across its IT projects.

Originally designed for the automotive industry, the lean model is popular in manufacturing circles as a process management philosophy that focuses on standardising processes in order to reduce costs and time waste and improve efficiency.

And Coby said T5 has many qualities that are similar to a factory, in that a core aim in the development of the terminal is to eliminate waste, simplify and streamline processes, create flow and create a culture of continuous improvement.

“Lean is about changing work culture and continuous improvement,” said Coby. “It is not a quick fix or one-off investment.”

BA is using the lean model to assist the carrier to reduce overheads and manage the enormous task of handling business change and the massive integration challenge involved in the project. Coby said that lean involved using simple, repeatable processes and only adopting complex technology when there is no alternative.

He said the lean model had enabled the airline carrier to reduce operational costs, but BA had not precisely quantified the savings.

A spokesperson said: “The main focus of lean has been to deliver improved efficiency and improve operations on the whole. By using lean to deliver improved IT efficiency, we get an improved operation, which results in cost saving across the entire operation.”

Terminal 5 is due to open in March next year and has cost BA and BAA £4.3bn to build and outfit. BA says around £75m of these costs are for technology, while BAA invested at least another £175m in IT systems.

As the numbers suggest, the project is a complex one. T5 will involve 180 IT suppliers and run 163 IT systems, 546 interfaces, more than 9,000 connected devices, 2,100 PCs and “enough cable to lay to Istanbul and back”.

The main T5 terminal will also contain 175 lifts, 131 escalators and 18km of conveyor belts for baggage handling.

Nick Gaines, director of business critical systems and IT, said an essential part of the IT challenge was “safeguarding for the future” by ensuring the technology used was appropriate for many years to come, with “space to keep technology options open”.

T5 quick facts

  1. BA will be the main occupant of Heathrow Terminal 5, which will handle up to 35 million passengers a year when it opens in March 2008.
  2. T5 is being constructed in two phases. The main terminal and first satellite building will be completed by March 2008, while phase two will see the construction of the second satellite building.
  3. BAA claims T5 will host one of the world's most sophisticated baggage handling systems, with more than 18km of conveyor belt. More than 400,000 hours of software engineering has gone into developing the complex baggage handling system, which can process up to 12,000 bags per hour.
  4. BA is also using customer self-service technology to reduce operating costs. It intends to move to 100% e-ticketing, 100% barcode tickets, 80% self-service check-in and 50% online sales.