MCA Management Awards 2007: Technology

Winner: IBM Global Business Services with the Ministry of Defence

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Few UK air passengers are aware that their lives are in the hands of a team of fighter controllers and aero systems operators at interlinked RAF centres who identify each plane, track its movements against the flight-plan and sift data to pinpoint potential terrorist or enemy activity.

This information-gathering system stretches from the Faroes to the far south-west of England and includes remote radar heads as well as Awacs aircraft and Royal Navy ships. Its role is to identify suspicious activity and enable controllers to scramble Tornado fighters to intercept and, if necessary, take action against aircraft that pose a threat.

The problem was that the RAF's 1980s computer systems were obsolescent and hard to maintain, and outdated working environments at the RAF control and reporting centres were putting pressure on staff. But it wasn't just a question of buying new PCs. The new system had to integrate with civil and military flight control systems operated by the Civil Aviation Authority and neighbouring Nato countries. It also had to be reliable, 24/7.

The Defence Procurement Agency asked IBM Global Business Services to provide a state-of-the-art but amenable air surveillance and interceptor command-and-control system. It wanted an ergonomic working environment for operators. And it wanted to do it all without breaking the bank.

In a five-year programme, IBM designed, developed and implemented the advanced system, uniquely using commercial off-the-shelf hardware to run a mix of modified and bespoke software.

Extensive computer automation and an intuitive 'human computer interface' help controllers focus on protecting UK airspace. A graphical display application lets them track thousands of aircraft travelling at up to double the speed of sound - twice as many planes as before. IBM sourced and integrated a multi-radar tracking system from Saab and implemented Frequentis voice communications with touch-panel access to military radios, military and civilian air traffic operators and the chain of command leading to senior government.

IBM also designed and managed a complete rebuild of control rooms at RAF Boulmer and RAF Scampton. Air Vice-Marshall Andy White says it's a 'quantum leap forward - a working environment that, previously, fighter controllers and aero systems operators could only dream of'.


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To keep British skies safe, the RAF had to upgrade its flight monitoring. In a five-year project, IBM built a state-of-the-art surveillance system that can track twice as many aircraft.

- Consult dedicated safety experts on the project from start to finish.

- Capitalise on commercial IT innovation to minimise purchase and maintenance costs.

- Focus on the team - the right mix of skills, expertise and personality pays dividends.

- Invest in the client relationship to enable frank discussions when challenges arise.

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