The new IT director of Virgin Atlantic Airways, David Bulman, has had a very busy first six months in the job as he puts in place his plans to overhaul the company's IT infrastructure.
ComputerworldUK.com caught up with him at SITA's Air Transport IT Forum in Brussels this week, where he spelt out his thoughts on outsourcing, the cloud and why he will not be using Google Apps for the company.
Bulman joined Virgin Atlantic from the advertising sector. He now sits on the executive board at Virgin Atlantic.
It is not commonly known but Virgin has a relatively small fleet of planes, but the brand is everything as they say. The fleet numbers about 40 at the moment, which is not much of a jump from the 20 or so it was flying in the 1990s. Bulman said: "I am very aware that the Virgin Atlantic brand is something most major IT suppliers would like in their customer portfolio."
Virgin Atlantic has a number of big IT outsourcing contracts coming to the end of their life, which were signed by previous Virgin Atlantic IT director Mike Cope, before he left the company about three years ago.
After that departure much of the IT oversight at the airline was down to the CFO, but Bulman was brought in to give the company a complete IT overhaul.
Virgin Atlantic signed a five year £25 million IT outsourcing deal with CSC in January 2009, which will officially end in early 2014. It also has a major five year application services deal with EDS which was signed in December 2008, so one Bulman is set for intense contract negotiations next year.
Bulman said: "We've got a highly leveraged IT operation to offer maximum flexibility and I'm certainly not going to be bringing more services in-house."
That said he didn't expect to reduce the current size of the company's 120-strong internal IT department, despite revealing the company was planning to embark on a wide scale cloud computing strategy.
Bulman said: "We're not planning to outsource everything to the cloud but things like email and finance should be in there.
"The reservation system we use is already effectively in the cloud, and the service levels cloud providers can now deliver in many cases are no lower and often higher than what we can deliver internally."
Cash savings aren’t the only benefits of cloud that Bulman seeks. Scalability and the flexibility that cloud operations can deliver in response to changing business needs are also important.
He also throws in the value of the Virgin brand when it comes to getting the right cloud partner at the right price, with the highest service level agreements he can squeeze out of them. "We also want to really go down a partnering path with our cloud providers," he says.
Bulman explained that Virgin Atlantic wasn't just looking for a cloud provider to simply manage and process data. He wanted to find providers that could help the company develop systems and application programming interfaces (APIs). He said this would help the airline put things like customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and social media management into the cloud also.
Bulman said: "Some of these cloud providers have the resources we are after, and which we can't necessarily provide ourselves, so we should tap into them."
Bulman is planning to put email in the public cloud and finance into a private cloud infrastructure.
The Virgin Atlantic IT chief was blunt about his choice of cloud email and perhaps other desktop and mobile productivity applications. It will not be Google Apps, because of perceived corporate data privacy concerns.
"We may well consider Microsoft [and its Office 365 system] but not Google,” said Bulman. “I don't want Google to have access to our passenger data when they themselves are moving into the transport sector.
"Google may not want to use that data at the moment, but they may well do in the future to try and monetise it - monetising other peoples' data is their business after all. Every Google contract I've seen has a clause that says they have the right to use data that is processed through their systems."
Bulman said it had been a "very busy" first six months and that he expected to see some of his plans soon come to fruition.
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