Peter Hermon obituary

During the early decades of commercial air travel, central airline staff would book passengers for an airplane by writing their details on a card and placing it in a wooden box. Last minute cancellations were a challenge and airlines would lose money if planes flew with empty seats. Arrived in 1965 at the British international airline BOAC (the predecessor of British Airways), Peter Hermon, who died at the age of 93, computerized not only its reservation system, but also the programming of plane departures, the route planning, crew composition, and all the engineering and financial services needed to run the business. The global standards in place today still owe a debt to its success as millions casually tap their phones to book a flight to Seattle or Singapore.

Domestic airlines in the United States had begun to automate their ticketing in the 1950s, but international travel was a much more complicated problem. Hermon persuaded BOAC’s board to purchase two IBM 360 computers at a cost of over £3 million (about £50 million today). “I had a lot of prestige and power,” Hermon said in a 2017 interview for the Leo Computers Society, “and I could really do anything I loved.” The following year, the company invested a further £33 million, training up to 300 programmers to develop a suite of programs for a network called Boadicea. Based from 1968 at Boadicea House at London Heathrow Airport, the system was connected to office terminals from the United States to Asia.

Under Hermon’s direction, BOAC collaborated with IBM to develop the international programmed airline reservation system (Ipars) in real time on its machines at Heathrow. Hermon then sold software and training to dozens of other airlines, including KLM, Japan Airlines and Qantas, so profitably that the proceeds eventually covered the investment BOAC had made in computers. As a result, the company received Queen’s Awards for Technological Innovation and Export.

In 1972, Hermon was promoted to head the management services division, with a seat on BOAC’s board of directors. Later, as a member of the board of directors of British Airways, established in 1971 by then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry John Davies, Hermon played a key role in bringing together BOAC and its European subsidiary, BEA. He drafted the merger plan and then led the integration of the two companies’ business systems for the new British Airways, launched in 1976. He was a member of the British Airways Board of Directors from 1976 until he left the company in 1983, ending his time there as general manager of the European division.

Hermon made his team realize the need to go talk to the staff who would actually be selling tickets to customers before designing the system. “The most important thing isn’t the technology,” he told me in 2000, “it’s knowing what the requirements are. You need to browse the organization at the bottom to make sure you get all the details because if it’s not there it won’t work. These days you’re making the business fit the computer – back then we were making the computer fit the business. »

It was a philosophy he acquired during his first job in IT, at Leo Computers Ltd. The catering company J Lyons & Co had established its subsidiary Leo Computers in 1954, three years after the Lyons Electronic Office – Leo – became the world’s first computer to run a routine business application. Hermon joined a year later as a recent math graduate with no computer experience. Initially responsible for programming the payroll of the Ford Motor Corporation, he supervised in one year the design of a very complicated invoicing application for Imperial Tobacco on the second generation of Leo II.

Then assigned to an even more complex contract for rubber company Dunlop – an integrated sales accounting system on the transistorized Leo III covering 20,000 products and hundreds of outlets – he accepted an offer to move from Leo to Dunlop. There he led the implementation of worldwide computer systems for the company from 1959 to 1965, leaving Dunlop for BOAC.

Born in Oxford, Peter was the son of Beatrice (née Poulter), a seamstress, and Arthur Hermon, an engineer with Morris Motors. The family moved to Nottingham when Arthur was promoted to Morris Technical Representative, and Peter was educated at Nottingham High School. He won a state scholarship and an open scholarship to study mathematics at St John’s College, Oxford, taking his place in 1950 after two years of national service with the Royal Artillery which included postings in Egypt and Libya. He graduated in 1953 with first class honours.

After an unhappy year spent teaching mathematics at Leeds High School, in 1955 Hermon joined Leo Computers. Reflecting back in 2017 on that time, he said: “It was, looking back, like a dream; I really liked life there. The people were wonderful…supervision was something you sought rather than something forced upon you.

After Dunlop, BOAC and British Airways, he held senior positions with the American company Tandem Computers, Lloyds of London and Harris Queensway before retiring from full-time work in 1989. Subsequently, he Undertook occasional consultancy assignments for companies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Argos and Credit Lyonnais.

In 1996, with fellow pioneers Leo David Caminer, John Aris, and Frank Land, Hermon co-edited User Driven Innovation: The World’s First Business Computer (1996).

In his spare time he was an enthusiastic hiker. After hiking Kinder Scout as a youth, he spent most of his vacations as an adult exploring the mountains of Snowdonia and the Lake District, as well as hiking north to south of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. . His two-volume guide, Hillwalking in Wales, was published in 2006. A committed Christian, he preached for the Catholic Association for the Propagation of the Faith and published Lifting the Veil: A Plain Language Guide to the Bible, in 2007 .

In 1954 Hermon married Norma Brealey and they had four children, Juliet, David, Robert and Caroline. David died in 1976 and Norma in 2011. He married Patricia Cheek in 2016, and she survives him, along with his other children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Peter Michael Robert Hermon, computer pioneer and manager, born November 13, 1928; died on November 1, 2022

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