I made my first big tech purchase in the early 1980’s. At the time, it felt like a rite of passage, like getting your first driver’s license or buying your first home. In fact, it was almost as expensive as my first home. The IBM AT personal computer cost me $5000 (!) It came with 20 megs of storage, 64 K of RAM and a dot matrix Brother printer. It took a couple of hours feeding 512K, 5 ¼” floppy disks into the machine to create back-ups of 10-20 megs of data—an extraordinarily weak machine by today’s standards.
I was immediately hooked. Yes, there were severe limitations placed on the computing process by the expensive equipment, lack of storage, poor printing methods, and exhausting back-up protocols. However, it was still a huge leap forward from the extraordinarily time-intensive manual processes of creating, sharing and updating building data.
With the hindsight of 20/20 vision, looking back over almost four decades of watching new technology come into my personal and business life, I would say the answer to the question posed in my title is ultimately “YES.” I’m not alone in my affirmation of innovation. 42% of adults in the US think that technology is the primary driver for quality of life improvement.
However, I understand—and sympathize with–the ambivalence, indifference or outright aversion to technology of the other 58%.
The speed at which disruption takes place often provokes as much angst as excitement. In the current transition period, as countless new technology-driven services, products and solutions go to market, it’s not always clear how they translate into making people’s lives better. On the one hand, we are getting access to information and an ease of service that most of us could not have dreamed of as recently as the 1990’s. On the other hand, as automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) successfully compete with humans for an ever-greater variety of jobs, it seems only a matter of time before a majority of the tasks people have historically called “work” will be gone forever. Human displacement, both economic and existential, is the shadow side of innovation. These are serious issues that must be confronted in our own industry as the pace and pressure of technological change continue to increase.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity for positive change in building is the opportunity that technology creates for organizing projects that are truly “Of the Team,” “By the Team,” and “For the Team” (as well as for the “Client” and the “Community”). Digital tools such as BIM/collaborative platforms have the capacity to enable communication, data sharing and decision-making processes that fully include all team members. Large inclusive conversations and workflows that provide transactional transparency, data availability and real-time metrics on implementation and outcomes are now readily available to everyone. Collaborative platforms can enhance the ability for every team member to confidently understand actionable items and track them throughout the project and building life cycle.
To date, the implementation of these new building technologies has had mixed results. They are expensive upfront and come with on-going training costs. Plus, increased data points do not always assist in making practical, actionable decisions. Moreover, some use these digital platforms not for the collaborative pursuit of better project performance, but as a method of amplifying their own personal voice and perspective—which brings yet another level of inefficiency to the project process. Used thoughtfully and responsibly, platforms can enable collaborative, productive discussion. Used otherwise, platforms can devolve into digital mobs, filled with people anxious to yell at each other, accentuate their differences, and amplify their insecurities and fears.
Technology has tremendous potential to change people’s lives—both for better and for worse. It’s the way you organize and implement technology that matters when it comes to improving people’s lives. The timing in which change is brought to Building must take into
account the culture of our organizations and the physical, intellectual and emotional ability of our staff to accommodate the on-boarding of new products, processes and workflows.
All in all, I would argue that most of the technological changes we are witnessing are useful and valuable. Innovation may become harmful when the priorities and manner in which change is implemented pits the new products, services and workflows against the staff they are intended to help.
Change is coming—whether we like it or not. How we implement change will determine its’ impact on all our businesses . There is no reason the change shouldn’t be positive.
Speaking of positive experiences, have a Wonderful, Safe and Healthy Holiday season!!