The engineering world has much to learn from the technology sector. New business models, new ways of working, agility and audacity to name a few. But what does this mean in practice? What can we learn from tech companies to safeguard ourselves from disruption and create massive positive change for our industry? How can we nurture the STEM skills we need in the next generation, whilst also helping develop our existing workforce? And what cultural changes are needed to attract new talent to the industry?
It’s widely acknowledged that businesses which embrace advanced analytics and new technologies outperform their less digitized peers, but that the engineering and construction industry has been slow to reap the rewards. The potential of technology to drive efficiencies and benefits for our industry is inarguable. The asset-intensive organizations that power the industry have recognized it too and are eager to understand how they can harness the power of digital technologies to optimize performance and improve reliability.
The data challenge
We’ve mastered BIM, but what’s next? The good news is that most organizations already have the answer, they just don’t know what to do with it: data. Whether it’s improving data quality, consolidating multiple data collection systems or understanding how to interpret insights – sorting out the data problem is the key to true digital transformation in our industry.
The first step is to capture it: putting processes and systems in place to get all your data in one place. Next comes automation, so you can leverage the efficiency benefits. Finally, you can start analyzing your data so it starts working for you, and you can intelligently predict and plan throughout the asset lifecycle.
Generating what’s next
To refocus our industry around data and analytics, we need to make changes to how we’ve always done things. And that’s where we can learn a few things from the technology sector. In setting up Arcadis Gen, I’ve learned four important lessons about how you build a new kind of organization; one that brings together the best of the engineering and technology worlds, and is fit for the future:
Organize for agility
The flat leadership structures seen in many technology companies lend themselves well to agile, innovative cultures. At Arcadis Gen we’ve moved away from a traditional hierarchical structure to build a fluid organizational shape. This encourages agile ‘teams of teams’ to collaborate on projects and creates better transparency at all levels.
We’re building the agility to improve and iterate at pace. Our people aren’t afraid to experiment; but they’re ready to pivot quickly if something isn’t working. Having smaller groups of people focused on solving a problem means customers immediately benefit from more intimate relationships, better access to industry expertise and from our ability to respond to feedback quickly and bring new products and innovations to market at pace.
Decide what you want your culture to be
Adopting a new structure means making the right decisions becomes everyone’s responsibility. It creates a strong sense of unity and shared purpose that turns leaders into enablers. At Arcadis Gen we are shaping a bold culture, a culture that allows us to change direction quickly with a sense of resourcefulness, responsiveness and inventiveness. It’s important to me that we’re building our company on the basis of trust and transparency, where we develop strong networks, supported by clear and open communication.
In a highly networked organization, the strength of our relationships matters. Modern communication tools mean that we can, and should, embrace global and flexible working – creating seamless connections and collaboration with colleagues around the world. But with this comes the need for a strong commitment to global inclusion – building a culture where people from all backgrounds don’t just feel included, they feel proactively invited to participate. Above all else, invite diversity in everything that you do.
Bring the voice of the customer into every conversation
Without truly knowing and understanding the organizations we support, and their customers, we cannot succeed. Consumer product technology companies have mastered the art of understanding their customers better than they know themselves; and designing products that solve problems they didn’t even know they had.
At Arcadis Gen, we’re exploring different ways to put the needs of our customers front and center, so that we’re confident we’re building products that will help them reach their goals faster. Examples include software pilots that allow customers to assess suitability before committing to an implementation; or long-term co-creation engagements like our ongoing work with Amtrak, where we’re collaborating closely through a series of workshops to develop a solution perfectly tailored to their needs.
We’re also setting up a product steering group, where some of our long-standing customers will become advisors, assessing planned activities to ensure we’re developing new features and products that serve the best interests of our clients, their customers, and the industry.
We should all be having a different quality of dialogue with the organizations we work with, including them in the development process and responding to feedback at pace, so that together we can co-create what’s next.
Don’t forget the T
As part of my work with Engineering UK, I’ve spent the past few years working to encourage children from all backgrounds to develop a lifelong interest in STEM; and to consider a career in engineering. This is a generation of digital natives, who don’t remember life without smartphones. Their expectations for the level of digitization in their future workplace is unlike anything that has come before.
As an industry we’re great at promoting the Science, Engineering and Mathematics aspects of what we do. But if we want to attract the next generation of bright digital minds, we need to start focusing on the role of Technology in a career in our industry. We need to be developing a different type of engineer – one with a skillset that combines engineering fundamentals with digital expertise.
Arcadis’s Expedition DNA program is a great example of how to inspire a community en masse and develop digital expertise in traditional engineers. So far more than 10,000 Arcadians have completed our virtual digital training academy, gaining invaluable insight into what digitization means to our company, the industry and for their own careers.
Digital innovation. People powered.
To crack the digital transformation challenge, data is the key; but we will only succeed if we also recognize the importance of nurturing digital skills in our people and building the right culture. Arcadis Gen has been created to bring together deep industry knowledge with digital and analytics expertise. We’re building a new type of organization, one with a bold, agile culture that will help us bring about positive change and generate what’s next.
This is the first of a series of articles exploring the challenges and opportunities of bringing together the worlds of technology and engineering. Follow Arcadis Gen on LinkedIn to read more or explore www.arcadisgen.com to find out how our products and solutions can help you unlock the potential in your data.