The master has become the apprentice in a quest to use technology to take the FM industry to greater heights. GRAHAM CONSTABLE begins his new thought-provoking series.
It had been a reasonably straightforward panel discussion on the future of work. Marcus had been asked to contextualise the built environment in an otherwise technology-slanted group of experts. While he didn’t see himself as an expert in that field, he was confident nevertheless with his theories around what constituted progress in facilities management and the impacts technological change were having.
By the end of the most thought provoking 45 minutes in his career, however, he was aware of gaping holes in his appreciation of the nature of this change.
Instead of focusing on what practitioners should and should not be doing, he realised how exponential changes have become and how technologies are fast converging, at worst rendering the familiar obsolete for some people and at best unfashionable for the vast majority.
The clincher was when a member of the panel challenged him over his responsibilities as a broker of change. The statistics were compelling in that up to 80 percent of current jobs – globally – are at threat and, conservatively, 40 percent of these exist in Australia.
He didn’t have an answer and his line of persuasion fizzled out. Thankfully, that was the end of the discussion and he could reflect on what needed to be done to improve his understanding and to leverage this convergence of technologies in his industry.
As he left the stage, one of the panel experts, a friend of his – a founder of three tech start- ups in the US – patted him on the shoulder. Raoul quipped: “How does it feel to be an apprentice again, Marcus?”
He laughed then added a word of encouragement. “Don’t worry, I’m in the same boat, always. I just accept it and try to keep it simple. I suggest you go and discover what’s happening out there in your field and then you can help shape and maybe create its future.” Raoul shook Marcus’ hand. “It’s the best thing you can do… if you’re interested?”
Marcus responded, “If I’m interested… are you kidding?” The panel experience and that question had made him feel like he was right back at the beginning of everything. “When’s your flight?” he asked.
“I have time – are you going to buy me lunch? ”
Marcus didn’t hesitate; he couldn’t afford not to, having been challenged like that. “Follow me. Do you like seafood, Raoul?”
“Can a machine improve itself?” He laughed. “Sorry, it’s an in-joke.”
“I get it.” Marcus appreciated his friend’s humour.
The restaurant was perfect – not busy, on the harbour and the food was great. They had been talking about Raoul’s motivation and capacity for engineering his start-ups.
“You know Marcus, I was kind of a corporate leader, doing OK, nothing amazing, satisfying the board, that kind of thing when I read somewhere…” Raoul scratched his head. “I can’t recall, but where doesn’t really matter. I read something that said, if you translate into nowadays terminology, ‘Uber yourself before you get Kodaked’.” He laughed. “How cool is that for a wake-up call? ”
Marcus agreed. “I’ve been trying to convince my own industry about becoming more professional…”
“And how’s that working for you, Marcus?” asked Raoul, filling his glass. “Great wine, tastes like a good Zinny.” He raised it to Marcus. “Here’s to professionalism. What the heck does that mean these days? Would you say I’m professional? ”
“Of course, I am. But am I making a difference? ”
“You tell me…”
“Back then? Marginally maybe, for a localised group of shareholders. More so, now.”
Marcus quizzed his friend: “How so?”
“Right now, I’m building devices so that people with limited motile, vocal and visual ability – the list goes on – can command movement, even speech, and do something extraordinary with newfound awareness of and interaction with their surrounds, all via thought. It’s game-changing and I love it.
“We’re not there yet but, like everything exponential in the digital age, the capability and benefit will increase as will the cost decrease beyond all predictions.”
“I’m no start-up entrepreneur Raoul…” His friend interrupted him. “Nor did I think so back then until I saw people in need. You tell me how someone with a biology degree has ventured into business? I just saw a different platform and space for doing stuff.”
“OK, I understand, but I do care for my kids and their futures. Mind you I’m always impressed by them. My eight-year-old is well into coding and has built his own robot lizard! Does simple things at the moment. Oh, and he’s great at mountain biking! Where was I? Oh yes, I care for the people who work hard in my profession who may get left behind.”
“You mean out of a job?”
“I care for humanity and for the development, and salvation, of humans. And in any workspace, anything that adds purpose and pride in people’s lives. I care about the lack of critical thinking, complex problem solving in ever increasing intricacy, in our roles.”
“And I don’t? Listen AI will erase jobs, but not humanity.”
Marcus looked uneasy.
“Let me ask you. What would happen if you were able to create a digital twin of one of your typical practitioners?”
“You’re a bit two-dimensional, Marcus.” Raoul leaned forward. “What if you were able to put yourself into the shoes – or wheels…” He laughed. “I’m sorry Marcus, couldn’t resist that one. But, put yourself in the metaphorical shoes of your digital twin? Seriously, what would you see differently? What would you do with this realisation?”
“How long can I have before answering?”
“How would your human twin – you – harness the interspace, the cyberspace, the micro space, the play space…”
“Wait, wait, explain.”
“Interspace – everything connecting to each other virtually. This is essentially what makes everything tick. Cyberspace – industries and platforms underpinning all this, like learning. Micro space – 3D printing. Did you know 4D printing is on its way? I’ll tell you about that later. Play space – you can figure that one out.”
Marcus’ brain was in overload, but the light bulbs were all turning on.
“All these things make up the environment in which this digital twin – the practitioner’s, your mindset – can shift to create a future.”
“I’m into mindset change, that’s for sure.”
“A lot of people are into templosion, my friend. Before you ask, this is the collapse, if you like, of everything into ever-smaller amounts of time. This is the exponential change we are seeing. It will change everything… and generate new opportunities for people.”
Marcus’ mind reeled.
“You should see what’s happening in the world of digital biology. Stuff that amazes and scares me in equal measure. My stuff is only touching the surface – literally!” Raoul wrote a list of websites for Marcus to read.
“Marcus, are you still in touch with your NASA friends?”
“Sure. I’m working on a project with them.”
“Really? I must hear about that. First, let me tell you some cool things happening out there.” Raoul waved his hand to the sky.
“4D printing – this is 3D printing only that you take one thing and completely turn it into something else. Transformation! I’m told NASA is looking at this to print food for astronauts. Did you know some entrepreneurs view the moon as the eighth continent? How are we going to feed the thousands of people working remotely on the moon, on asteroids, on Mars? We can’t keep shipping this stuff to them, much as Amazon may want to try.”
Marcus nodded. “Now, this is more tangible for me. Forget ‘templosion’ for a minute. I’ve been wanting to explore the necessity, scarcity and purpose behind progress. This convergence makes it even more relevant. If anything, it’s a means of demonstrating the different paths for my industry.”
“Go do it Marcus and you may find an amazing digital opportunity while you’re there!”
“Will you fund me?”
“Maybe. Come and join me instead. In fact, you and your son can come work for me!” Marcus looked quizzically at his friend.
“Maybe you’re starting to Uber yourself, Marcus!”
This article is part of Graham Constable’s regular column ‘Connections’, published in Facility Management magazine. You can follow Marcus and Harry’s journey in every issue of FM.