I am attending the Barclays Eagle Lab AI Frenzy this week. I am going partly out of curiosity and partly out of a need to educate myself. I am also going out of a desire to see what my and other’s future looks like and how we might apply AI and other tech to the Formation Group, can we get that quantum leap? 

In the past couple of years I have attended seminars and workshops on all things start-up, scale-up, digital and future tech. I have been to places in East London that I didn’t know existed and walked into buildings and offices called ‘hubs’ ‘escalators’ ‘sheds’ and ‘hang-outs’. It has been exciting and befuddling in equal measure. 

Here’s the most important thing…. It isn’t going away and it’s not the future, it’s the present. I blogged recently about a reticence from firms particularly in construction, fit-out and project management to grasp the tech thing. I understand it is hard and difficult, it takes time, there is resistance to change from some and it’s not cheap but you don’t have a choice. It is adapt or die, but few are adapting and if they are they are doing it at a pace that is almost pedestrian. I look at my own firm and get frustrated by the pace of change but have to steel myself as I realise that automation for some people means printing off an excel sheet. I bite my tongue when some say to me:

“You gotta understand David, I’m old school”

They call it old school for a reason! However, its not that someone uses that line, I can live with tired phrases, its more that it is an acceptable excuse not to try something new or be inquisitive at the very least. 

Tech enabled workplace

I have been reading more articles about the ‘tech enabled workplace’ it sounds exciting, doesn’t it?? 

A recent BIFM/2edges report illustrates how forward thinking organisations can take advantage of technological advances in the FM world. From better MI, better insights and in more practical activity to becoming technological analysts to better inform activities such as Procurement. It goes on to talk about how governance issues like compliance can be swept up in the new AI world.  The report also discusses the use of people analytics to better manage staff and resources. 

Inevitably the report talks about the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and data mining. I think the people question is whether tech is making the user experience in the workplace better and/or just better for the providers of services like Facilities Management. A bigger question arises on where the tech ends and human interaction begins. 

Our office in London is fully-teched up. I book meeting rooms and invite colleagues or visitors to it via my desktop or phone. In previous years I would be asking someone to book a room, not best use of anyone’s time. Now, I can quickly see whether a meeting room is available or not and double-booking is impossible, so no more embarrassing questions like “have you booked this room…?”  That is a great example of tech working brilliantly. 

However, I had a problem with my app recently and got into a slightly odd conversation with a chatbot who was ‘committed to helping me’ which for a bit of data code seems odd. I was unable to sort out my problem and had to delve through a website to find a phone number to get some human help. 

I have enjoyed more using self-service apps. I am able to do much more (and faster) self-diagnosis, so no more calls to customer centres and having to start a conversation with an embarrassed.. “it’s probably me but I seem to have frozen my screen/broken my laptop/deleted something I shouldn’t have…” etc etc. It is just much better.   

So is Tech making things better?  

I only have to watch how we do our estimating, the way drawings are done, that our IT is cloud-stored, that Finance produce better MI and reporting to know it is making a difference for the Formation Group. I am less convinced about the customer experience, this appears to be where firms are slow to act. I think this is because it sort of works and it has for decades. We are trialling a number of apps and portals to give our customers more access to the information they need plus the opportunity to feedback anonymously (or not) on how we are doing. I don’t think any of this is particularly ground-breaking but it is a start. I have to look outside of the sector to find best practice and there are a number of exemplars that we hope to bring into our company and the sector. 

How do we improve?

 Where firms (including ours) have to get things right is on these five; 

 Your DNA

I start with this because it’s important. Don’t lose the stuff that makes people buy you. This is unlikely to be a whizzy bit of tech. When I look at the feedback from our customers, it is typically around the human interaction not our beautifully automated supply-chain system. Customers will talk about our attention to detail, our ability to be on-site quickly or the fact we listened to them and took their comments seriously. That’s the good cultural stuff and nothing to do with tech. 

 Early adoption 

I have often and to my fault been an early adopter. I wrote in a blog last month about the benefits of being a late adopter. I stick by this but don’t use watching others fail as a strategy for doing nothing. Be inquisitive about what other firms and sectors are doing around tech and watch and learn. A lot of the workshops like the ‘Frenzy’ above are free and I have yet to attend one and not learnt something. 

That Millennial thing 

I had a coffee last week with a chap who was firmly a Millennial. As our chat went on I became increasingly depressed as he displayed characteristics and behaviours that I would say are quite traditional in Workplace, Construction and Project Management. It was clincher for me that we can’t expect change to happen by simply waiting for the next generation to come through because they will pick up our habits good and bad. We need to change and this will have two key impacts

  1. That you develop a contemporary business, and
  2. You will be an attractive place to work for the next generation of employees

Get the balance right 

I haven’t always achieved this but using tech on the repeatable processes to free people up to do more interesting things is logical, obvious and cost-effective. More than this it is looking at ways where technology will enable you to be more effective, save money, deliver a better customer experience but accept that can’t always be the right thing. Moving Bob in Finance away from a client relationship because you want them to use a chat-bot won’t always mean a happy customer, so make a sensible and commercial decision but be pragmatic, it can be automated but may not be the right thing to do. 

Evolution 

As Alan Partridge once said, “I don’t want an evolution, I want a Revolution, I don’t want to evolve, I want to… errr…. Ahem…“  So ignore Mr Partridge and go for evolution. A focus on getting systems, processes and culture right before a tech change is key. Also, when you make the change people have to make the shift. Too many firms use dual systems where some individuals use the old system, some the new and some a bit of both. You never get the real benefits. I worked for a firm that introduced a new CRM system, there was uproar as everyone loved their green screen system (really!?!)  So for the teams we put a single green screen a room on the floor above. They could use it and for the first couple of days there was a queue outside the room upstairs but within two weeks no-one was popping upstairs. I really think, slowly, slowly catchy monkey on tech changes. Commit to it and make it happen but do win the heart and minds of the people around you. 

To answer the original question ‘Is Tech improving Project Management and the Workplace’ It’s not a straightforward answer. Clearly we all know good examples of where it has created efficiencies, insight and improved working lives.  However, I think the biggest barrier to the effective use of tech in the Workplace is down to business leaders embracing it and not wearing their ‘Old-Skool’ badge of honour. Change is coming and it’s coming fast.

Keep an eye out for my post ‘Frenzy’ session and let me know your thoughts on what I have discussed here, it’s an important topic and one that definitely will not be going away anytime soon 

 

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