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James Parker in World Aviation Festival panel on IT in the aviation industry

Five delegates participate in discussion on people, processes, and technology, focusing on understanding how the industry can move from a historic IT mindset to a more modern agile way of thinking

‘I’m going to get shot for this,’ easyJet IT Director Andrew Plunkett says, ‘but I actually hate the term “digital”.’ Given that he’s speaking at an event about IT, this might seem like a risky conversational gambit. However, Plunkett is quick to clarify his belief that we should focus less on terms like ‘digital’ and ‘data’, and more on the customer – specifically, on building the right platforms to ensure the emphasis remains on providing excellent service.

At a time when tech candidates are particularly in demand across different sectors, and recruitment is so competitive, airlines need to offer more than just the ‘magic’ of working in aviation to attract the best digital talent. How can airlines – and the travel industry at large – refresh their thinking on IT to become more agile, focusing on people, processes, and technology?

diggintravel founder Iztok Franko chaired a panel on this topic at the recent World Aviation Festival. We were thrilled to see our director, James Parker, take part alongside Andrew Plunkett, Joel Goldberg (CDO, Wizz Air), and Álvaro Coromina (IT & Innovation Director, World2Fly). During this enlightening session, the delegates shared their insights on recruitment, policy, and how to bridge the gap between IT and business.

Goldberg states that companies need to be clear on their purpose; for WizzAir, this is ‘to be able to enhance people’s lives by providing low-cost travel’. He believes that the company’s IT policy should be firmly dedicated to this, rather than focused on developing technology for its own sake. Wizz Air prefer to work with small teams and outsource as much IT work as possible – but, in either case, what is the best way to attract the digital talent needed for businesses to deliver their vision?

As the director of an executive search firm with significant dealings in aerospace, James has, in his own words, ‘a unique vantage point’ on such questions. While he agrees about the necessity for companies to have coherent mission statements, the industry faces challenges in recruitment – and, with digital employees often being ‘sector-agnostic’, it is important ‘to work on the reasons why somebody might want to join you’, as James puts it.

He points to the ‘inherently global’ nature of aviation as being a strong pull factor: ‘Everyone loves to travel. It’s always had this allure.’ Digital candidates may be drawn to the challenges of this dynamic industry – not least, to the opportunities for availing of an airline’s network to work from different locations. However, despite the interconnectedness of the industry, companies often do not take full advantage of the diversity of talent this globalised sector offers.

James advises that company culture needs to be prepared accordingly should businesses wish to go down this route – and that extends to all the way up to the C-suite. ‘Our clients often say they want a diverse shortlist,’ he says. ‘And by diverse I'm talking about airlines versus non-airlines.’ He beseeches executives to be brave – even prepared to fail – in considering people from outside the aviation industry, and to recognise the importance of helping these candidates, when chosen, to settle in their new field. At the same time, aviation leaders should not forget about training current employees. ‘If you don’t skill up your staff, you’re not going to find them all externally’, he notes.

While recruitment of digital candidates may currently be skewed towards those with a background in aerospace, a diverse range of experience is certainly not a hindrance for IT professionals in aviation. ‘In terms of the kind of candidates I look for, I'm probably not […] looking for deep technologists’, Plunkett says. ‘I just need somebody who can communicate and work as part of a team.’

Specialised recruitment may be trickier for smaller airlines such as World2Fly, but Coromina recognises the need for synergy between C-suite and digital departments in delivering their IT strategy. James agrees that there is no uniform structure for how digital teams should work. In the end, he notes, ‘you’ve got to put your best people in the right roles’ – the rest can follow thereafter.


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