Union blames Indian IT for BA systems collapse, but CEO points to power surge

British Airways' CEO has blamed a local power supply issue rather than outsourcing tech to TCS, which should be a big relief for Indian IT.
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer

If Indian IT isn't already embattled by President Donald Trump's war against H-1B visas and a surge in automation that is threatening domestic jobs, another problem reared its head over the weekend that threatened to tarnish the industry further: An accusation that Indian IT companies were responsible for the devastating outage suffered by British Airways over the weekend.

As you probably know by now, British Airways experienced a major global computer failure that severely disrupted the airline's IT systems and caused thousands of passengers to be stranded at both London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports due to cancelled flights. The crash affected BA's booking system, baggage handling, mobile phone apps, and check-in desks, affecting more than 1,000 flights and causing mayhem across the two airports.

So what actually happened?

Mick Rix, national officer for aviation at UK's trade union GMB, had a quick and definitive answer as to who was to blame for all of this. "This could have all been avoided. BA in 2016 made hundreds of dedicated and loyal IT staff redundant and outsourced the work to India. BA have made substantial profits for a number of years, and many viewed the company's actions as just plain greedy."

Apparently, CEO Alex Cruz had embarked on a widely criticized four-year cost-cutting program at the airline last year and this had necessitated slashing around 700 back-office jobs and outsourcing some technology to India's Tata Consultancy Services. "They started on this journey to outsource and offshore this work and there have been a number of incidents now that have culminated in what has taken place this weekend," said Rix, to the Washington Post.

Cruz was having none of it, pointing to the outage taking place at the UK datacentres rather than a overseas location. Apparently, the IT failure was caused by a short and sharp power surge at 9.30 am on Saturday that lasted only a few minutes but torpedoed the company's messaging system. The backup system that should have kicked in failed to do so.

"We will have completed an exhaustive investigation on exactly the reasons of why this happened," said Cruz. "We would never compromise the integrity and security of our IT systems."

Cruz told the BBC that he will not resign and that flight disruption had nothing to do with cutting costs. "I can confirm that all the parties involved around this particular event have not been involved in any type of outsourcing in any foreign country," he told Sky News.

At any rate, as some papers have reported, it is common practice that IT services for large corporations and even the UK government are provided by a range of global suppliers rather than any one, domestic player.

This of course doesn't really help BA in any way since it has been plagued by similar issues over the past year. Last September, a systems failure apparently crashed its check-in system, and earlier this month, the airline's baggage sorting system experienced malfunctions.

Indian IT is probably breathing a collective sigh of relief along with outrage at the union chief's accusations -- the last thing it needs during a time of existential crisis and flatlining revenues is a false report maligning its competencies.

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