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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on March 5, 2018

Control or be controlled?

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on the importance of taking control of technology.

Writing this article together, in both London and Dublin, separated by 300 miles and the Irish Sea, we noted that technology allows us to collaborate in a way that would have been next to impossible a few years ago.

And we found ourselves wondering that if the pace of change were to continue, could this column be written eventually by robots!

There could be advantages. We are both busy and are looking forward to a break at the end of the year. It would be nice to have the option of escaping from the dark autumn days of Northern Europe a little earlier rather than having to worry about meeting tight deadlines.

We remember reading twenty years ago about a world of unlimited leisure time promised by automation. That promise has not yet been kept. Most of us feel we are busier than ever.

That may change with the latest wave of technology. The recent opening of Singapore Changi’s Terminal 4 provides one glimpse of the future. Highly automated check-in, security, immigration and boarding aim to provide a seamless service – without any people.

Technology is increasingly able to perform what were previously seen as skilled and expert activities.

Should we embrace this level of technological change or be anxious and fearful? On the one hand, there will be painful disruption as traditional roles disappear; on the other hand, we know from previous experience that ultimately new jobs will be created and exciting new opportunities will emerge.

We see the key to successful change as ensuring people feel as much as possible in control:

  • Involve people and listen to them. The Insurance group AVIVA has asked its UK staff whether a robot could do their jobs better. Those who answer ‘yes’ are retrained for new roles. Engaging people in the selection, design and implementation of new systems develops ownership and understanding and a sense of  being in control.
  • Encourage people to take personal responsibility for learning. Acknowledge working lives are bound to change: flexibility, adaptability and new skills will be needed. Ensure teams keep up to date with developments and support them in making time for learning and relearning.
  • Prioritise technology, which empowers people. We should design systems that facilitate people to do what people do best: meaningful work, which requires judgment, co-operation, creativity and the ‘human touch’. We need to say ‘no’ to automation, which creates a form of indentured slavery, with excessively tightly controlled duties and unrealistic deadlines.

A balance of automation and autonomy should allow us to have more time in the sun. 

Arrivals and departures

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has named Mike Stewart as vice president and airport manager for Washington Dulles International Airport. He will transition into his new role following the December 8 retirement of Brian Leuck, who has 
served as vice president and airport manager since January 2017. Carl Schultz succeeds Stewart as MWAA’s interim vice president for airline business development.

Geoff Culbert is to succeed Kerrie Mather as CEO of Sydney Airport in January 2018. He has served as president and chief executive of GE Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea since 2014. Sydney Airport chairman, Trevor Gerber, said: “Aviation is one of the most dynamic and fast changing industries in the world. Geoff embraces innovation and technology and this ongoing focus will position Sydney Airport for future success.”

Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) has a new chief financial officer after interim CFO, Ian Clarke, took up the position on a permanent basis in mid-November.

Former Heathrow CEO, Tony Douglas, is the new CEO of the Etihad Aviation Group. Douglas joins Etihad from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, where he has served as CEO of the Defence Equipment and Support department, responsible for procuring and supporting all the equipment and services for the British Armed Forces.


About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and runs the ACI World Airport Human Resources programme. The next one is in Istanbul Feb 5-9, 2018. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through 


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