Are each and every one of us becoming too dependent on technology? That same question has now been heard for several years, but when asked five or ten years ago, any such dependence we thought we had on technology at that time, is nothing compared to the position we are in five years or ten years down the line. This thought can be directed as much towards our individual lives as it can towards the environment in which we work.
In our personal lives have you tried asking a someone what time it is recently? There’s a fair chance that the answer given to you will arrive via a glance at the screen of a telephone. How many people still use alarm clocks? The telephone alarm, has for many become the sole source of that early morning call. The sign of old age might be asking for your local telephone operator to give you an early morning call – on a landline!
As far as our work environment is concerned, all of us – I struggle to think of many occupations that don’t need direct or indirect use of a computer – are not driven by technology; we are controlled by it. In the travel industry nowadays, just about all facets of the industry are edging towards technological control and away from human control. But is that always a positive move, however?
Two facts from last month. Firstly, a serious hacking attempt was made across Europe and particularly in the UK where large organizations, including the mammoth government controlled National Health Service were attacked. Secondly, British Airways had a complete IT meltdown that shut down almost all of its technology operating systems, and which apparently cost it 80 million GBP or almost 100 million Euro in damages.
No-one has pieced these two ‘”happenings’” together, and its only here in the Balkans that the conspiracy theory prevails, where very often black is never black, and white is indeed never white. BA to their credit were quick to scream that there had been a massive power surge in the electrical supply that had caused the outage, except the utility provider said – “sorry there was no power surge!” So that excuse disappeared, and was replaced by the explanation that, a cleaner…… sorry, let’s make that a ‘contract engineer’ – had unplugged the ‘system’’ which then blew up when the plug was put back into the socket.
You will realize that we are being slightly facetious, but the excuses provided by BA really do take some believing, in this world of technology that we live in, but do they? We should point out that this is not an attack on BA as this recent scenario could have affected any airline, but it’s the whole issue of who controls whom or what, that is being raised. Did the hackers – sorry there wasn’t any – have taken control of BA and its planes, if this was an attack like the other scenarios last month? Or, as even Willie Walsh the boss of the IAG, the BA parent company stated that he can understand the unnamed cleaner – sorry unnamed engineer – unplugging something by error, and damaging the power supply, but how can any serious damage be done when the power source is plugged back in again?
So let’s think about this at home, when we unplug the toaster at home to clean it and then plug it back in to the power supply, do we duck for cover in case it explodes? When we unplug the fridge to give it its annual defrost do we risk activating a Tardis that goes out of control and into another time warp?
The answer is no to both of these so therefore, how can the sock-less and bearded ones, who carry the badge of software experts, design something that is simply not fit for the purpose it was designed for? Actually, they can. This is because very often such designers and engineers are not front end users of a system, and have no first-hand experience of what it is the user wants or needs. In this case the need was for an airline operating system that doesn’t implode when its plugged in again. Quite simple really one would think.
There is a serious side to this, however, and here BA needs to look – like other service providers do – at how they handle themselves in such a situation. Mr. Walsh again admitted that the communication from his organization simply wasn’t up to scratch. Top marks then for the frank admission.
The media were quick to relay news clips from stranded passengers who had similar issues, namely there was no-one giving them any information. Now of course such information can be gleaned from the website of BA, or from its call centers, that is except they had also evaporated.
So what does one do when technology shuts down, you get out the pen and paper and do the things manually, except that this notion has two flaws; Firstly, there is no procedure in place for manual operations, unlike, say 20-30 years ago – think paper tickets for example – and secondly, there are no humans left in employment! Actually, there are one or two humans still around, but they apparently were a bit like the dodo bird in the recent debacle. So no human contact procedure to handle such a scenario.
All of us should learn that we can live with technology, but whether it’s in our business or in our private lives, we should equally learn to cope without it. Just be careful the next time you plug in the toaster, by the way, in case it explodes. If it does, then blame the North Koreans.
Mark Thomas – CEO of HRGJamadvice, Sofia, Bulgaria