by Stuart Birrell

CIO Questionnaire Stuart Birrell CIO for Gatwick Airport

Sep 29, 2010
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

As head of IT for Britain’s second busiest airport, servicing 30 million passengers a year, Stuart Birrell is proud of the team he has created.

Where were you born? Fife, not far from St Andrews.

How many people work in your IT department? Currently I have 17 permanent staff, 70 contractors working on separation, approximately 10 outsourced staff. It’s Difficult to split, as we transitioning from BAA support to outsourced suppliers as we separate.

What percentage of annual turnover does IT represent? 3 per cent

What is the basic structure of your IT department? There are four core teams – architecture, service delivery, projects and business solutions. The structure is based on a small internal team of around 20 and we utilise an outsourced services-based model.

Who are your key suppliers? Logica for service desk and apps support; Computacentre for desktop services; BAA is a supplier for infrastructure, networks and 70% of our current applications. We are currently negotiating our own outsource deals.

What devices does your department support and how many? For mobiles, we support Blackberry plus basic phone services. For desktops, we have 1000 mixed desktops and laptops. We have 300 Wyse terminals for Citrix based services. We run approximately 600 Wintel servers, with every generation in the last 12 years (no virtualisation) distributed in two data centres and approximately 60 data rooms. The network OS is Unix – Sun E25/E10s and M5000. We use more than 200TB of Storage Area Networking, based on Sun and HP.

Who has been the most influential people in your career? Tanya Howarth, who brought me into IT and Dr Lillian Lodge, who coached and mentored me through my senior roles.

Do you believe in mentoring? Coaching has been fundamental to my being successful. I continue to use Dr Lodge for support on a regular basis. Even as a more junior manager, coaching has been a major help. In terms of education, I have done a distance-learning MBA through Warwick University. Without this I would not have progressed from an engineer to a senior IT role. It gives the language and structure of business decision making.

Which tools or tactics have given you most success in communicating up, down or across?  Regular face-to-face communications. With the team it is being available in an open-plan office, walking the floor and standing up in front of the whole team on a regular basis for updates. With peers and upwards it is again face to face. This builds a relationship which brings trust and support. You cannot do this with memos.

What has been your greatest success? As an engineer, in my earlier career, creating and setting up the new Walkers crisps factory in Leicester. In IT terms, it was building the current team at Gatwick which has rapidly formed into a high performance team delivering massive value.

How do you keep up to date with the march of technology? Networking, web sites, press and most importantly, tapping into the wealth of experience working in my current team. They do a great job of educating me and stop me getting too excited about the latest fad.

How do you deal with stress? To cope, I do a lot of mountain biking. The trails of West Berkshire are a hidden gem and for real adrenalin I had four days on the bike in Chamonix this summer.

Which word or phrase do you most use/overuse? Basically (according to my wife!) Which business books have been influential in your career? As an engineer, then Skunk works is hard to beat. It is the story of the Chief engineer at the Lockheed secret development centre responsible for stealth technology, the U2 and Blackbird spy plane.

What else do you do outside of work? The last couple of years I have been learning to sail