Technology: Fast track to the future – panel

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Technology has the potential to do so much good, or so much damage, depending on the hands that wield it. Panellists Tica Hessing, Cushman & Wakefield; Bruce Duyshart, Meld Strategies; and Craig Rogers (Charter Hall) explored the opportunities for technology to improve the workplace experience, while also navigating the ethical challenges it throws up. 

Moderator Ben Peacock, Republic of Everyone.


Ben: How do you feel about this idea that technology is a bringer of good in the workplace, that it will make me happier and push lift buttons for me? Or, will it be a gig overlord where companies can hire you and fire you because your emotions weren’t quite right?

Bruce: All those technologies highlighted by Tica are interesting but we shouldn’t be pessimistic about technologies overrunning us because essentially these things are made by humans. And we’re all humans. 

We’re both the creators and the consumers so it’s up to us to drive the direction it ends up in.

Craig: It’s an interesting discussion. Technology fails and succeeds at the rate of adoption so if people are willing to take this technology on and give us their emotions then it probably feeds into a better customer experience. And what we are focusing on is how do we create place and buildings that actually give people a work environment they want to be in and work in. 

You can only get there by tapping into what they say and think and what they feel and do. And I think if we can use technology to help us understand that, then we can create third spaces, such as 1 Martin Place, which is a space between work and home that is flexible. 

“We’re both the creators and the consumers so it’s up to us to drive the direction it ends up in” 

People come there because they really enjoy being there. Creating this type of space was a bit of a first for us. We ran design thinking workshops and engaged our customers and invited them in to co-create. I think we’ve created a space with our designers that really ticks the boxes and connects with communities.

Ben: So what’s the most exciting application of this technology, but on the flip side, what’s the scariest thing we need to look out for?

Tica: I want to add to your point that tech is made by humans ultimately. And that actually scares me a bit in a way, because if you look at algorithms, for example, the coder who made it is always hidden away. We need to understand the bias, the assumptions he or she makes. If you look at Facebook, for example, Mark Zuckerberg does have an advisory team, but he still owns 60 per cent of the votes. So he has so much power. I don’t trust one person with so much power.

Bruce: These things go in stages and the stage we’re at is gathering the data. We probably haven’t connected the data to see how buildings could perform in real life. That’s really what the smart building process starts off with. That’s the raw state, before the analysis has been done. I think most buildings have been subjectively assessed. There’s always someone complaining on one floor or another. But does that represent the entire business? 

Buildings have been assessed for a very long time. Measuring temperature, humidity, the boring stuff. The first interesting stage is getting that data, then we get to the algorithms and the machine learning and the artificial intelligence and the crazy out there stuff. 

I think there’s excitement but also trepidation as to what we do with the data

Let’s get the raw data and then it’s applying that, providing inputs to sustainability, understanding workplaces and how they work, understanding population and how many floors are occupied. 

The interesting part is where we steer this, what algorithms will be developed by people in terms of giving people more feedback in real time about how they feel about a space and then overlaying that with more empirical data. 

I think there’s excitement but also trepidation as to what we do with the data.

Craig: Just quickly, I like tech. I think there is good tech and bad tech out there. I’m not sure how many people have kids here who might play Fortnight on PS4. Not sure if that’s good or bad tech, but tech has really captured the focus of the next generations.

That it’s 20 per cent about technology and 80 per cent about behavioural change. It’s about how you use the technology

In the workplace I think the dangers are you are just overwhelmed by it. I think we have 20 systems for capturing and presenting data and it would be great to see how that all aggregates and collapses into something user-friendly. 

Bruce: I have an 80-20 metric on this. That it’s 20 per cent about technology and 80 per cent about behavioural change. It’s about how you use the technology, because it provides a solution, but the question is how do you work with it to do good and not evil?

Ben: A smart building is a dumb building if you have people in it not using it right. Do you find it’s better if tech empowers people to understand the issues and are a crucial part of the system and need to use it well, or do you aim to skip the human in the system as it’s always the most faulty part in a bid to automate the building to become as efficient as possible?

Bruce: You need both. Like most things you need the experts to help provide the basics but you also need to outsource to the tech where appropriate.

Are you designing a right to be forgotten for us? Is it possible to do that?

Question from the floor (journalist Jackie Range): I went to Aldi and didn’t get a ticket as I drove in and out of the carpark. And then I realised I’m on multiple servers around the world, and there’s a record of me in my car going to Aldi at that time. Who do I call to say, “can you just delete that?” Because I don’t want someone to know that about me. I have no privacy. I go into a place I’ve chosen to go into, but this is private property and my data is being gathered and I have literally no say. So my question is for companies, for buildings, are you designing a right to be forgotten for us? Is it possible to do that?

Tica: I don’t actually design those products so I can be objective. Your story relates to the workplace in terms of biometrics. 

There are a lot of companies looking into using biometrics such as facial recognition or fingerprint technology to make the entrance to the building more convenient. 

There are a lot of companies looking into using biometrics such as facial recognition or fingerprint technology to make the entrance to the building more convenient

But I think wow, that means records of my body parts are saved somewhere on the server, how can this be safe? It’s not often the landlord that owns the data – but the company that made the software. And this is a bit technical, but they don’t actually save your biometrics but there’s a code attached to it and it gives them the access. 

Europe is working hard on privacy, what about Australia?

People are trying to come up with ways to protect your privacy. In Europe you have the GDPR privacy laws that came in last year. They are not here in Australia yet but we should prepare for them. One part of the GDPR laws is being able to opt out, and that’s something Australia should look into.

Tina Perinotto:My question is around the landlords, it seems to me the built environment is the place where all this data is being collected, so what is the role and responsibility of the owner in all this?

Craig: I agree with Tica, the data is deidentified and it can’t be traced back to you. There’s laws globally around how we capture and manage data. 

And also, every customer is different. Some actually want to be captured and don’t mind it being captured in that deidentified state for the convenience they are getting. I prefer being able to drive in and out of a carpark without having to get a ticket. 

But as a landlord we’ve been on the journey for a while now and it’s a complex space. There are data concerns, and choosing the right technology. 

The things we do though include: 

  1. not forcing technology on people. I think you need to allow people to opt in and be upfront about what you are doing with the data and the end user, and 
  2. the technology needs to solve a pain point, it needs to solve a problem. 

An example is airconditioning. We know people have different experiences and it’s not great, which is hard to believe in this day and age. So we’re playing with a tech called Comfy that’s a cloud-based mobile app that plugs into the building and connects everybody into the building who opts in to use it. 

By using it, you control the temperature in your space in a minor way but it also sends data about your experience back to the operator in the buildings. So, it’s an efficient way of capturing what people are feeling in the space and comparing that to the actual performance of the building.

It uses AI and machine learning to learn about what you like and adjust it to your experience in that zone based on your feedback. 

So coming back to people opting in and opting out, does that add value? 

We’ve been playing with it across four buildings for about a year, we’ve had 31,000 interactions with our customers on there and not necessarily complaints, mostly positive experience with customers having a little bit of control and being able to give instant feedback about the space.

Tina: So how much are you spending on technology? Even as a proportion of the budget?

Craig: We spend the right amount by balancing the value. You need to have partners in this space to help you navigate this technology

We’re not putting the bells and whistles into our smart buildings, such as emotional tech, but we’re preparing it with the IT infrastructure that allows IoT plug-ins like Comfy and makes data easily accessible. And we do the equations and the business case to make sure what we’re getting is value for money. 

With Comfy we’ve seen a reduction in energy usage and service calls and positive outcomes, so it’s running at a cost neutral level. 

Bruce: What I was going to comment on was the operational assessment of the technology. This comes up from time to time. There’s obviously pros and cons and there’s people who are prepared to lead and others that wait according to the technology life-cycle bell curve. Everybody falls somewhere on the spectrum, and if you are at this Happy Heathy Offices event you’re probably the early majority. 

People down the other end, though, are very conservative in their approach, and evidence-based, and they’ll come up with all the roadblocks. And they end up saying, “I won’t go there until all those issues are solved.” 

So, we never really move forward. And the reality is that Charter Hall and others lead the way and learn from it and work out issues around deidentifying data, it’s all part of a journey, so unless you are there at the front of it able to direct the conversations and which way it is going, you are never going to learn and you’ll find the world has passed you by. 

Question from the floor: I am fascinated by the connection between understanding the global scientific evidence how we as humans function and thrive best in the natural world, and how we have created artificial environments for us to live in, which is an issue we have now. How can we make those spaces healthier for us? We are mining the data of our buildings, and now mining our people. When will we accept that spaces for people need to be biophilic? When will the data be enough?

Bruce: Because the knowledge is not evenly distributed. What we’re dealing with here in the room is the 1 per centers. We’re the people who get it and understand it. You don’t have to convince me, I don’t need to convince you. It’s how you convince everyone else outside, the late majority, the late adopters. And we need more data and evidence for that.

Question from the floor: Don’t we have that already? Haven’t the scientists provided that?

Bruce: Again, the information is not evenly distributed and understood. That information hasn’t been put in simplistic terms and distributed. And sometimes it’s about repositioning it.

Question from the floor: So what can we do?

We need to bring people along for the journey to bridge the gap between those that are leading and those that are following

Bruce: ­Be advocates and explain things in simple terms. It’s about having the right information explained in a simple way. It’s a broader communication issue. 

We need to bring people along for the journey to bridge the gap between those that are leading and those that are following.

Tica: I think you are touching on an interesting area that is why do we need technology to make us feel better, to improve lives. Because it feels like when we innovate we create new problems. Like in the workplace when things start getting more efficient, people stopped working normal hours and working more because they now have access to their work 24/7. 

So sometimes innovations in the long term could work counter to output, and with companies innovating we need people in there that think about the ethics and the very long term of the outputs.

And it might be difficult, because as a company you want to innovate otherwise there will be a mountain to catch up on. But you don’t want to be Facebook, in the news with negative outputs. I think as a real estate company you need to be more careful because we are starting to care about occupiers.

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