On June 18, 2020, the ACEC Research Institute held the first of a series of panel discussions on the future of engineering.  The topic covered by the panelists was the "Impact of Technology on Engineering."  Panelists included:

• Jose Luis Blanco, Partner, McKinsey & Company
• Mike Haley, Vice President of Research, Autodesk, Inc.
• Chris Luebkeman, Director for Strategic Foresight, Office of the President, ETH Zurich
• Heather Wishart-Smith, SVP Technology and Innovation, Jacobs
• Moderator: Joseph Bates, ACEC Research Institute

A full video of the roundtable can be viewed here

Transcript:

Daphne Bryant :

Behalf of the ACEC Research Institute's, board of directors. Welcome to our first round table and the series, the future of engineering, a big thank you to our donors who have made this session possible. We have a great group of thought leaders, as you can see here today that will share their insights and expertise with us on the impact of technology on engineering without further ado. It's my pleasure to introduce two of my colleagues from the ACEC research Institute, Joe Bates, who will serve as our moderator today and Kevin McMahon, who will be monitoring the chat box and fielding your questions during the session, Joe, it's all yours.

Joseph Bates:

Thanks very much Daphne, and thank you everybody for joining today's round table. Before we get started with our questions, I'd like to introduce each of our panelists for the webinar. Today. First we have Jose Luis Blanco. He's a partner at McKinsey & Company Jose leads, McKinsey's engineering, construction, building materials and construction technology work in North America. And as a leader of its retail real estate practice, he brings deep expertise in optimizing performance and unlocking value through embedding digital capabilities and deploying and scaling up new technologies. We also have Mike Haley, vice president of research at Autodesk. Mike leads a team of researchers, engineers, and specialists to explore the future of how people design and make things. A primary focus of his team, is automation and leveraging technologies and disciplines that include machine learning, robotics, human, computer interaction, geometry, and visible visualization. Next, we have Chris Luebkeman. He's the director of strategic foresight at office of the president with ETH Zurich.

Joseph Bates:

Chris has a multidisciplinary education, including geology, civil engineering, structural engineering, entrepreneurship, and a doctorate in architecture. And he is deeply passionate about curating, constructive dialogue, insatiably curious. He relishes the opportunity to discover the opportunities which will be created by change, and perhaps most importantly, to evolve position solutions to the profound positive solutions to the profound challenges we face today. And last but not least, we have Heather Wishart-Smith. She's SVP of technology and innovation at Jacobs. Heather is a registered professional engineer and certified project management professional with proven, experience managing large design programs and developing, managing, and turning around troubled offices and the architectural engineering professional services market. And also Heather is a fellow of S A M E and she is currently the president elect for the 2020, 2021 Centennial year. Thank you all of our panelists for joining us today. I'd first like to start out with a question fairly broad one for each of you to start out with, and I'm going to ask Mike to start us with this based on your individual perspectives, as you look at the engineering industry, what are the one or two biggest impacts that technology will have on the industry in the future, say in the next five to seven years, for instance, will, will things be going faster? We'll be doing things in a different place,uwhat what's going to happen, Mike?

Mike Haley:

Thanks, Joe. Yeah, it's a, it's a, it is a broad question. There's two things, main things that come to mind for me. So the first one relates to systems and, you know, I think as we all know engineering anything in the world today and especially buildings is all about resolving the various forces that are acting between the systems and systems might be the relationship between the architecture of the building, the structure of the building NDP systems. It could be the relationship between the materials and the methods of production of the building and the sustainability of the environment. It could be the relationship between the people that are ultimately going to be in the building. And today in most practices, we don't have a way of resolving all of those tensions all the time because systems are inherently very complex and they're always changing. So the industries rely on rules of thumb, established practices, standards, these kinds of things.

Mike Haley:

And I can see that changing in the future. We're beginning to have the ability to automate the understanding of systems and be able to bring those insights and that guidance to engineers and designers in that process. So that's my one aspect that then leads to the second one, Joe, which is that with all of this automation and your question about, you know, you know, do, do we, are we going to need more engineers or are we going to need less engineers? What's the nature of the job market? I actually believe we're going to need more. And the reason I believe you're going to need more is I actually think we're opening up the world to greater possibilities right now with these tools. And that is going to lead to the next, my second point, which relates to knowledge and education. And I think as we build automation systems that understand and learn the patterns, we don't just use that knowledge to automate and make the machine do things, but we can use that knowledge to upskill people. We can train people more easily in using tools and using techniques. We can raise the sea level for lots of people at the same time with technology. So I see that as a sort of a commencement great trend that we're going to see in the coming years.

Joseph Bates:

Great. let's, let's go over to Chris. Chris, what do you think?

Chris Luebkeman:

So I, I totally agree with everything Mike just said, and I want to amplify a couple of points. I think there's three things. We're going to see expansion, acceleration and consolidation. As Mike said, an expansion of what we can do and expansion of toolsets and expansion of knowhow and expansion of what we're going to be asked to do. I think there's the acceleration, there's going to be, we're, we're suffering from this already when we like to complain about not enough time to even think anymore, we just have to do do do, and frankly, that's not going to stop. And so therefore these tools are going to help us. I hope and these techniques and our, and our teaming will help us deal with that acceleration. And the last is consolidation. I think we've seen over the past 10, 20 years, an industry wide consolidation, especially in the built environment.

Chris Luebkeman:

And I believe frankly, that will continue, but I also believe we come back to the first one, it's going to lead to an expansion because as we have the consolidation and either, so this core, core, core core, all of a sudden, there's going to be the realization. We need these new typepology, these specialists who can really focus on, for example, getting our, our third world infrastructure back up to what it needs to be in order to to regain our, our, you know, a position of pride and the other parts of this sort of this other is a consolidation of knowledge. I really think that we're going to be able to acquire and that it's not consolidation by what's there, but how we get it. Right. So we're going to be able to in a much easier way, consolidate know how consolidate knowledge in a much more rapid way. So those are my three words. Great. Jose, what about you?

Jose Luis Blanco:

Like how Chris frame it in three specific like you know, sentences or, or, or, or things? Let me try to do the same. I think that for me, the three things that I believe what I would love to see going forward, given what we see in technology is more transparency first. Second, being more output outcome driven. And the third one is actually much more collaborative environment. Let me try to just give you 15 seconds for me to one the transparency of think it's clear, but I think it's, I think right now we're capturing data. Not only we capturing data, we're storing data in a much more way that is going to be, we're going to be able to actually analyze that data and provide like, you know, transparencies and some traditional issues we always have a, in the construction industry and Jane construction English, okay.

Jose Luis Blanco:

Who made that change? What happened? What was the implication? So I think that that's going to be a huge unlock for us, and we wouldn't have a lot of noise that is always around our industry and to move forward. The second one is outcome driven. It's also tied to the first one. I think if we have more data, we have more transparency and then we're going to be able to actually you know, our designs are going to be much more outcome driven is going to be able to provide better service to our owners. I mean, I'm sure Mike and his team are working on Gera design, like crazy these days. And that for me is critical because it's going to be able to fully actually capture what the client needs and actually tell them, like, here are the choices for you, depending on the outcomes you're trying to achieve.

Jose Luis Blanco:

And the third one, which is the collaborative point, I think is much more than just breaking silos because we're going to have much more transparency. It's like for me, going back to Chris' point about knowledge, is really unleashing like the potential talent of fully the potential of like a group of engineers working together, right. Removing all the constraints that we need to do right now being tying like the King of silos and many other things. So these three things : transparency, outcome driven and collaborations is the things I expect and hope to see in the future there.

Joseph Bates:

Heather why don't you round us out here with your thoughts on this subject.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

Sure, so I think that my thoughts on this are really quite frankly, complimentary to what the gentlemen have mentioned. The first really that I would focus on is the interconnectivity of systems. So I've mentioned since, but that interconnectivity and disciplines, and then also the technical workforce. With regard to the interconnectivity of systems, you look at the interconnectivity of society we're coming out of the pandemic, the future of cities the urbanization, everything is going to need to rely on techno technology to really meet that exponential growth and the exponential growth of mega cities. So as was mentioned earlier, this will provide more opportunities for engineers to get involved, to leverage that kind of technology. And, you know, Jose mentioned silos. With that, I mean, I really think that those who are most successful in the technology enabled world will be those who are able to break down those silos and cut across disciplines.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

So much of what we do in innovation is rather than just say creating something in one discipline and then kind of throwing it over the transom for the next discipline and the next discipline; cutting across, and co-creating across disciplines in order to increase that speed to market. But then the workforce is that second aspect. You know, of course there's so many statistics out there about the U.S. In particular, not graduating enough STEM graduates, and of course it's about more than just graduating them. We need to retain them once they come into the workforce in order to remain competitive. But we also need to recognize the value of the trades, particularly as the trades become increasingly complex, as we bring IOT into operations and maintenance and all of that. So I think sometimes it's tempting to view technology as kind of a way out of not graduating enough STEM graduates, but it's, it's, it's really going to cause the need for even more of those graduates.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

They need to, you know, they need to have the skillset to design a program that operates and maintain all the technologies that we think will help, you know, get us out of, out of the, the brain drain if you will. But that, that workforce, it needs to be nimble, adaptable needs to be committed to lifelong learning. And finally, I think it's critically important that that workforce be inclusive and diverse. It's not just the right thing to do. It's been proven by study after study that inclusive and diverse companies and organizations perform better. It allows us as an industry to just really cast the widest net to draw the widest possible pool of candidates, to get as many STEM professionals as we can. And it's really once you that critical mass of diversity, that's when you can get the most benefit from diversity of thought.

Joseph Bates:

So, Heather, I think you've provided a great segue into the next section of questions here that I wanted to ask about. And that's about the increasing speed of design and how that impacts projects and delivery. And in particular, are there generational issues that we need to consider here are our younger people that are graduating more adept with the technology that is out there, or, you know, what, what are your thoughts on this?

Heather Wishart-Smith:

So because the people who are graduating today are digital natives. I think it's, you know, very often tempting to fall into that unconscious bias that people who are have more time in their career might not be as willing or able to change. But I have found and worked with so many people who were at the latter end of their career, who really do fully embrace that technology and innovation. So I mentioned earlier being nimble, being adaptable, having that commitment to lifelong learning, it's really about that mindset. And I think it's also important to be open, to taking on say a reverse mentor. Yes, we absolutely need to be learning from, from younger people. We need to provide better pathways to promotion and success. We, we shouldn't in any way be writing off due to our unconscious bias, any kind of you know, whole groups of people, right.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

I, I'd also add that, you know, not all technologies innovation, not all innovation involves technology. Some of the best innovations we have are those that have nothing to do with technology. It's really innovation in my mind is about how you approach problem solving, constantly asking what is the problem that we're trying to solve. So automation, of course, you know, we all know it should be harnessed to reduce repetitive tasks. And oftentimes also more higher risk operations to get people out of harm's way we should be using it for rapid auctioneering. We all know about, you know, generating just infinite possibilities, filtering them down to make sure that we're presenting to our clients what's best for them. Gone are the days where we show up at the [inaudible] with just, you know, possibilities. So we have a lot more to offer it's design attitude approach rather than the decision attitude approach, because you know, of course, decision attitude is assuming that all the, you know, the good options are out there. It's just a matter of deciding which one is best, but as we move into more automation, I really think it's important to take the design attitude approach to come up with the best alternatives. And then after that, the decision will be much easier.

Mike Haley:

Yeah. I'll answer that a little bit. What had I say that, you know, what, what we've found with the, with the newer generations, the digital natives, as you put it, Heather, is that there's a different expectation about the time to productivity you know, the traditional tools, certainly that we've been building were things that required a long time to become proficient. You had to study them, you had to learn them, you to learn the features you had to, there was a period of learning that was required. And there's, there's a level of expectation now about digital natives that they can pick up a tool and be productive immediately. So there's this relationship between learning and being productive, I think, is going to change. It is we're not ever going to have a world where you learn first and after I think, period, the time you become productive, the two are going to be much more intertwined.

Kevin McMahon:

I've got a question from the audience, one of the audience members wants to know in the future because of the varied nature and multidisciplinary skills that are going to be needed, that all the panels have mentioned, will, graduates be coming out of school with a more varied skillset - majors in civil, but perhaps minors in mechanical and electrical, for instance.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

Yeah. So I'll address that. I would even great question and I would even take it one step further, not just minors in mechanical and electrical, but in programming, in robotics, in all kinds of different disciplines that might not have been considered as related say to civil engineering as in the past. But the challenge for us in the industry is to make use of them. I think the risk is really there where you get the bright eyed, bushy tail, new graduates, and they come in and you're really attracted to them because they have the programming skills, they have the robotics background, they've done all kinds of three D printing. And then we sit them behind a computer and tell them to design things the same way that we've been doing it for decades. And we run the risk of burning them out of just really disenfranchising them. So we can't just be attracted to them. We need to recognize that we need to continue to foster that and cycle them through different opportunities and then listen to them when they come up with a way to challenge the status quo.

Jose Luis Blanco:

I think what Heather just said is super important. And I think that there's, if I may add one, another point is I think there's a very thin balance between and technology needs to help us with that between actually ensuring the that we maintain the knowhow that has been billed by the, I will call the older generation so to speak. I mean, we know that 30 or 40% of the workforce is going to retire over the next 10 to 15 years. So I think technology needs to allows us to capture that kind of knowhow making institutional and at the same time, without the same time, you know, and now we're allowing or empowering the new generation to do new things and doing them right. Right. So for me, that's a little bit of like [inaudible] out the new generation to do things differently, not the same way I've been down before that, for me, it's like what you actually make magic happen.

Chris Luebkeman:

So excuse me, I'd like to build on that as well. Yes. And first to the graduates, and then to what Jose was just saying, I think the question Kevin was a little bit in my mind too limited. Saying gonna major in civil and mechanical, I would much rather say, well, how about civil and philosophy or civil and biomedical or bio or, or, or some earth sciences or something that's actually, I think what we're hoping to see is actually a mix of the hard - the decision sciences with the natural sciences, because the challenges which we require, I think as a society are not just those who are trained how to make a decision, but as Heather was saying, the profound impact of a systems understanding and the need for us to understand more and more about how the elements within their systems sometimes need to be sub-optimized so that the system is optimized. And I think this is one thing. And the second point to build on what Jose was saying is I, totally agree with that. And we have to figure out how to make real lifelong learning, not just continuing education credits, which you go to some lunchtime lecture, which we all do and get a stamp and say, Oh boy, that was good. Thank you very much. But actually to real meaningful, lifelong learning and how I, and I, frankly, I don't know exactly what that means at this point, but I do know we're all recognizing that due to the, due to the rate of change, both professional, informational knowledge, that we need to find better ways to foster, to empower and encourage real lifelong learning and lifelong curiosity to learn. And I think that those are the two aspects there, which are not hand in hand, but in North self evident, but very, very critical for us.

Kevin McMahon:

Joe, we have one very interesting question then I'll let you ask the next question to the panelists. The question is with the super evolvement of technology to the panel is see that where most of the work is still procured locally and performed locally. Do they see a future where the local office, where the client is maybe just a small nub or collaboration, and then the bulk overwhelming bulk of the work is done around the globe or, or outside that core local office. Do they see that future happening in the next five to seven years?

Mike Haley:

I will. I'll say we're, we're beginning to see that happening already. I don't think it's a, I think it's, it's a growing trend. You know, technology is enabled and enabler of it. So as the economy, so it's society, right? All at the same time, we're seeing the shift of cloud adoption. People storing the data in centralized locations that can access it from everywhere. The days of having it on the server, inside your company, and only being able to use it. They're pretty long gone for a lot of companies. I think the gig economy, the notion of being able to hold down multiple contract jobs at the same time, switch between things, manage your workload, manage your life is a reality for a larger, larger number of people year over year. And then I, I just think that the borders are breaking down in terms of how we think about the world. And I think just because you live in another side of the world, you can think about problems elsewhere in the world, quite easily. You have access to that information.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

And I'll add to that. We've actually been doing this for years. It started out, I looked back in my career when I was, you know, managing programs. It started to become of course necessary when you needed to bring in a specialist who you wouldn't expect to have in the local office, but it really has evolved to the point where it's just a normal part of how we do things these days. And I think it will just continue to evolve. And that's a little bit different. I come from a very large firm,uand the smaller firms probably it's not as necessary, but it it's absolutely being done. And in addition to the technology and adoption of cloud, as Mike said, also,uvirtual and augmented reality has helped to facilitate that as well. And it also means,uless travel for some of our staff. So that's better from a work life balance perspective.

Chris Luebkeman:

To me, I agree with both, both of those, again, strange, but to me it's all about access. Now, at the end of the day, you used to not have access to first-class knowledge unless you were in a center. Now we right now are in two different continents at seven different time zones, and yet we're all accessing each other at this moment and the other, almost 300 people. And so it's it's access. And so it's access to knowledge, but it's also access to the marketplace. So I've been for the past five, 10 years, really, really encouraging the integration of small local offices, because at the end of the day, we know with the global move towards segregation. So national segregation and regional segregation, this is, this is going to continue. And so the local offices are going to become key to be networked and to create a new kind of network, which is trans-regional as, as the, you know, globalization screeches to a halt. I think this is, this is going to be a new reality, which we have to really look at. How can we make sure that the small local office can really provide the most excellent world-class delivery. And I, and I think that at the same time, we will still be, the big firms will still work globally and the Jacobs, the ARUPS, and all these they'll be able to flip work around the, around the world and continue doing that.

Joseph Bates:

Great. So I want to move on to the next section and I'm going to have Jose - I'd like to direct you then to start out with you on this one. There's a lot of buzzwords today in technology such as digital twins, data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. I'd like to talk about, first of all, what are the terms actually mean? And secondly, how will they actually affect the industry in the future? So maybe Jose, if you want to start out with one of these areas and kick us off.

Jose Luis Blanco:

Yeah. So a couple of reactions here. I think there's definitely a lot of buzzwords going on. And I think that I would like to separate the reason for that is because I think people sometimes actually confuse you know, technologies that aren't available or venture capitalists sounding, right, or that money is flowing to actually develop reinvestigate versus technologies that are really being adopted, whereas having mass adoption. So we'll make that distinction in the beginning of it. Right. So it's just been, you know, two or three or four, what you say is like, really, if I think about technologists, for instance, that are already impacting the way we work, obviously there's analytics that actually are being applied or advanced analytics are being applied on the field for early flags for projects. How do you explain, or the main factors that explain what a project can turn profitable non-profitable so you can, you can do a reduction analysis to actually do that, and even just forecast that you can definitely do it, you know, analysis of bidding and bidding factors, or even you can apply it to other electronic design for instance, right.

Jose Luis Blanco:

Which is starting to be widely used. Right. So there's things that are already happened, right. When you think about some of the things that may happen in the future, or maybe starting to happen, but not fully implemented, that's when you start entering like a world of lack of potential digital twinning, construction, or potential, like, you know, artificial intelligence where we actually fully explain, I don't think we're doing artificial intelligence in construction, per se right now, I think we're starting to do machine learning. And actually my, my actually disagree with that. I'm not, but actually that is a little bit like how we see. So I think the big, important thing for me is like all these technologies we're exploring and what should we be talking about all of that. Right. And, you know, venture capital is funding as soon as you get amount of them. And we're seeing a lot of them, the ones that actually read being adopted, I wouldn't say that at scale, they started to be adopted as a sizable pattern actually are much limited. I mean, they made it to analytics and we made it too, obviously maybe generated the design, some machine learning applications from project planning in advance.

Jose Luis Blanco:

[Inaudible] ....some Of that is implemented. I just want to hold on. When you say digital twin, the sec for various specific kind of use cases or a specific like areas who still are like ha a little bit like far away from a fully functioning digital twin, we understand in aeronautics to where we understand, you know, their industrial processes. Anyway, that's my perspective.

Mike Haley:

Yeah. I, I think Jose I makes a great point about, you know, I think of it as the hype cycle, right? And the reality is all technology goes through a hype cycle and terms like artificial intelligence, machine learning are, are hype terms. Now we deeply believe in artificial intelligence and machine learning and digital twins, but they have to be ready to Joe's point. One of the things I would add is I, you know, I think the things that are real today, like you said, are our analytics computational methods. You mentioned that Heather as well, the ability to explore alternatives, I think that's becoming a fairly robust capability today. When we start coming back to that systems aspect of things that we were talking about earlier, that's where it starts becoming complicated. And I think this is a big role where machine learning can actually play.

Mike Haley:

If we are to build - digital twins, I've also been around for actually quite a long time. And as you said in other industries too, but the difference is the future to have to understand the system. If they don't understand the systems, they're not correctly reflecting the situation and you're not going to be able to optimize your solutions correctly. The only way I believe you're going to be able to make correctly representative digital twins in the future is through sampling. The world is through measuring the data, learning from that data, generalizing those patterns, and then placing them within that digital twin. And then you, then you leverage that digital twin to optimize your designs and look for alternatives. But that's a pot. That's a path we're on. We're not there yet today.

Chris Luebkeman:

I think one of the interesting things with all of those is, as you said, Joe there's, there are buzzwords and there are many different interpretations. We can look at them with starry eyes and say, you know, I can't wait to do a digital twin and others get terrified of the thinking of the matrix coming down upon us. But as you've asked, I think it's, as we're talking. It's really critical that every firm, it makes the effort to learn about them. Both the potential as is implied by the technology tool makers, but also from those like Jose or Heather, or my other colleagues about what we're seeing is little small implementations that are showing success. So some of the data analytics for mobility and how that's able to really begin through the digital twinning of mobile networks and, and train systems of our airline systems actually to say, ah, okay, well maybe that works there.

Chris Luebkeman:

Maybe I could work on our proposals for this project, if we could try something. You know, I think so for me, the key with the buzzword is that our firms are prototyping a little bit and they're having a person or two who they give a freedom. What say one degree of one degree of freedom to try this. So that when the, when the client, the project, the tools are all right, that we're ready and it doesn't take yet another three years of ramping up to figure out what the heck it is. And I think that's, that's my 2 cents on that.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

Yeah. Joe, I can give a couple of very specific applications if you're interested. Yeah, yeah, sure. So starting with digital twins on water treatment and industrial water plants. So we've got a tool called replica that allows us to optimize those systems to prevent overflows in the event of emergency response, do a lot of scenario and what if training? And it also allows us to optimize the design and optimist and operations and maintenance. Another example for data analytics is for NASA at their Langley site in Virginia, we have about 120,000 sensors that are all around that campus. That measure things like vibration temperature, humidity, and we use predictive analytics and machine learning to be able to anticipate when something might break, which then leads to benefits like improved safety. You don't have to send somebody out to just regularly change a fan belt or whatnot improve reliability.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

That is a huge aspect of it. A site like NASA, they really do need to keep their site going and not have these unexpected outages also financial benefits, money money that saved and energy efficiency. And that we've had - we didn't start with 120. We started with, you know, you know, I think it was a few thousand or something like that, but it's been going on for about four years. And it just goes to show that there are a lot of opportunities in the built environment to be able to harness these technologies. I think we probably, you know, as far as specific discussion about artificial intelligence, but when, you know, when you marry that with automated design, we've been able to automate the design of you know, replicate some some very re repetitive sorts of components, say of rail or other things that, that are used quite frequently. But then bringing that and taking the learning again, starting small. So I mentioned starting smaller with Langley, starting smaller with some other things, learn from that and then be able to use it to scale even larger.

Kevin McMahon:

Joe, we have a pretty interesting question following up with what the panel just talked about from the audience. And it's with the ongoing industry evolution of technology is all for the panels of describe and the new graduate backgrounds that are not necessarily all engineering, traditionally related vertical integration of team, perhaps some of those team members being around the world. What impact does the panel see relative to professional engineering licensor requirements? Also coupled with the political issue today of making sure that America stays strong in engineering and doesn't outsource all the talent, like the manufacturing issue that we're well aware of.

Joseph Bates:

Good question. Anybody want to bite that one?

Chris Luebkeman:

So I I'm perhaps not the right person to answer this one. And I put that up front because I'm no longer licensed. So I really probably don't have the right to answer that question. I think what is critical is there, look at what the responsibilities are and who carries the responsibility because to me, a professional engineer in Switzerland, you don't need to have us go through a special, another licensing exam because the education is supposed to prepare you for that. But at the end of the day, it's who carries the responsibility. And what do you want to trust? Do you want to just, you want to trust a degree or do you want to trust actually that someone has proven their capability to make the right decisions. So I think it's that trust and I hope I've given Heather enough time.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

True friend, Chris, thank you. Yeah. Yeah. I think that's a, that is a great point. I am still licensed. But I think it's, yes, it is trust. I think it's important to recognize despite the fact that there are many forces out there in various States trying to diminish the value of the license and great organizations like ACEC, like NSPE had been working hard to show that value. So despite those forces of trying to diminish the value of it at the end of the day, I think we need to remember that technology is a tool. So the tools have evolved. It used to be that professional engineers just worked at the drafting table. Then we shifted to computer aided design, you know, and then we've, we've evolved. We've got, you know, all kinds of different tools, but the technology is just a tool we still need to, as Chris said, trust the people who are applying the tool and that's for the professional engineering, licensure comes in.

Chris Luebkeman:

Good job Heather, thank you.

Joseph Bates:

So in the interest of time, I'm going to go ahead and move on to the next question that we have here. Okay. We could, we could probably have a round table on each one of these questions. This next one. I'd like to direct it at Heather and, and Chris as well, actually. How is, and you all have talked a little bit about this already, so maybe dive a bit more into this, but how will the technology affect the culture and the collaboration environment of engineering firms? You know, we talked a little bit about will, and there was a question about, will it work different places around the world, but in terms of the culture, how is that going to be impacted by technology?

Heather Wishart-Smith:

Yes. Would you like to start, or should I start and give you some time to think...

Chris Luebkeman:

You're on the edge of your seat and ready? So go for it.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

Okay. so we've already talked about that. I think there's going to be - several of us have said that we think that there will be a greater focus on cross disciplinary work. Innovation, pretty much demands it. And we, we can't just complete our work in silos. We need to have these multi-disciplined teams and these multi-disciplined teams, can't just be the disciplines they need to include the business model. So the HR piece, the finance and all the rest, that should be part of the development of new solutions. I think a key way of doing this is, you know, at least in my role is by embracing innovation within the workforce that we have and that's by promoting collaboration.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

So we need to teach people across the business to be able to collaborate, to be able to network so that when that real work does happen, they have that muscle memory of the collaboration of the innovation. And I mean, you know, in our industry, it's so difficult because we're built on a billable hours culture, it's been this way, you know, for eternity. And there's also a performance unit kind of mentality to the engineering industry where you know, it's, whether it doesn't matter how your company is structured, whether you're structured in it by geography or by discipline or by market, there's still silos. And so we need to find ways to promote and, and sustain the breaking down of the silos. Many firms are, are, are structured to promote and sustain them, but we need to find ways to break them down. They're hard to break down. But I really do think that the firms that endure and those that will be successful are the ones that are successful in doing that on breaking down those silos.

Chris Luebkeman:

So I agree with fully Heather and I want to bring up two more aspects. One is cooperation, we are going to be in an increasingly cooperative and competitive environment. And I think many firms already, and many of us already understand how you can compete and still be friends. And this is one of the things I always enjoyed. When I was got to travel, go down to Australia and watch a sort of Australian rugby game or rugby, you know, and people would literally like without pads, try to beat the blank out of each other, but nobody really did anything where they couldn't go have a beer afterwards and they would respect each other from, you know, the grit and their cleverness and how they played the game. But you never played dirty. Cause if you played dirty, you know, you couldn't have that had that beer.

Chris Luebkeman:

And this is something which I would like to hope that we can also aspires - not necessarily Australian rules, rugby. It's a crazy game, all due respect, Mike, it's crazy. But this idea that just because we're competitors does not mean we can't always be good friends and I truly believe we need to work more on the second part. I think we're very good at the first part. So I think so culture is actually a manifestation of both the written and unwritten rules and how one treats each other. And it's the written and the unwritten rules. And part of your question there, Joe is about culture change. So part of the question that has to be, as we look at ourselves and our firms, what is our culture? And do we actually understand what the written and unwritten rules are of our firm? And if you haven't asked yourself that, and not just what you think as a principal, what the culture is and you say, well, our culture is openness and you walk into the office.

Chris Luebkeman:

And as soon as you walk in, everybody puts their head down and they're afraid of you, but you can say it's open, but the reality might be a very different thing. So to actually have a real conversation about the culture that we need in order to be successful in the new economy, in the digital transformation and one and one more thing, Jose, and it's all you said. So for me, the most important thing that we could say with this is, and I support Heather is it's not just a technology, but it's actually having a real conversation about our firm's culture and what we wanted to be slash needed to be.

Jose Luis Blanco:

Yes, just 10 seconds of this. I think that there's clear, there's a very clear link between performance and health, right? Health critical part of that is culture. And I think that over the past three months with COVID, I think we shift towards a working remote environment and we all will be surprised how fast we've been able to adapt to that. Right. but I think that some of the challenges of the issues will culture are going to start to appear in the coming months. And it's my belief that you can sustain. You can potentially sustain our existing, strong cultural, remotely. I don't think you can build the cultural remotely, or you can rebuild a culture remotely. So that's something that firms will need to, you know, when we're talking about what we're hearing about are they working from home, you know, half of my staff working from home and things like that. I think the implications of cultural implications of that I get to be seen, and we just need to pay attention to that.

Kevin McMahon:

With lifelong learning, that a lot of the parents have mentioned, and the ability for more experienced engineers to learn new tools and skills, maybe it's more from Mike's first answer, or are the tools keeping pace with the expectation of learning curve of designers to shorten or eliminate the learning curve to use these tools?

Mike Haley:

No, I wouldn't say they are. I think there's a it's, it's, it's a very, it's a, it's a difficult problem because I don't think it's well understood today. I mean, we, we still live in a world with traditional educational cycles, traditional university college, whatever it may be, get your, get your certification, do that. But those are the cycles we live in. So those are the models we have today. There isn't many models that, that, that, that have this sort of rapid learning world that I referred to for. I mean, some of the only models today are actually newer technology applications. Things you might get on an iPad that people are learning supervised there's there's ideas. There's these hints. I think all over the place as to what these are, I would hesitate to think of a single really, really good example that exists in the world of technology today.

Mike Haley:

I can tell you, in our research group, this is a very large part of our research objective. And it's precisely for this reason is that we don't actually know the right ways to do this. We are doing experiments in our software. We were introducing features that help people understand how they're learning the software, how they compare to others who are learning it, what are their patterns of progression through the software? And as we do this, we are gradually introducing more tools, but we're also learning at the same time. So I'm not quite sure what that looks like yet, but we don't have an option. That's the point though, we have to do this. We have to make this, the nature - tools cannot just be about taking what you do today and automating it away. Tools have to be about making you more effective and making the combination of human and machine better at the end of the day.

Chris Luebkeman:

No, I think that's great. The other thing I think so fascinating, it was Kevin with that question is the micro-learning. And I have two 20 something year olds one's graduated. One's just about to, and you know, they, they do micro-learning if they need to learn how to do something, they take and look on YouTube and they find a little burst on how to do it. And then all of a sudden they know how to do it. And I just, it's hard for me of a different generation to think that way. I'd rather call up Mike and have Mike explain it to me and say, hey, you know, and talk to him. And my son, George would just rather just look at YouTube, look it up. And he actually doesn't care what language it's in, because if it's a tool, he can just watch the strokes. And sometimes he'll look at something in different languages, because it's just interesting to see how someone's designed something slightly differently. It just kind of blows my mind, you know?

Joseph Bates:

So I, again, I just want to keep us moving here. I apologize for cutting off these great conversations. I want to this one's just for Mike, and then we're going to, we're gonna move to the last questions here, but Mike, how, how are people going to pay for this? You know, are certain firms going to have an advantage, the big firms, because they can afford to pay for the technology and the education and the taking the non billable hours to learn it, what's going to happen there and how will the small firms catch up?

Mike Haley:

Right. So, I mean, you know we're seeing a lot of new business models around how people pay for software, right? So, I mean, we've, we've moved to subscription models which make billing more consistent. And over time, we're also seeing the emergence of capacity based models. And, you know, there was a time not too long in the past where there were, there were products and tools that we make at Autodesk that very few firms, unless you are a massive firm could actually afford, you know, you would, you would only use those tools if you're a certain size that doesn't actually make sense in a capacity based world. So if you're paying for capacity, if I'm a small, if I'm a small firm and I need to run say three structural simulations a week, if I pay per structural simulation and don't have to pay an enormous amount of money for the software upfront, then it doesn't matter that I'm a small firm versus a big firms.

Mike Haley:

So I think we were seeing these more flexible models that, of course they relate to the cloud, they relate to those sorts of things. And I think, I think there's an interesting difference between large firms and small firms. I think large firms have an inertia that, that, that they have to overcome, but they also have, they have the capital, they have the assets, they have the money, they have the ability to do some of these things only. So the firms lack what Heather were saying. Firms that have been doing this for awhile, actually have a massive advantage because they are there. They are able to act on it. On the flip side, the small firms are nimble, right? They are flexible. They starting up. In fact, their secret sauce will be adopting these very kinds of technologies that we're talking about right now, data in the cloud work from anywhere, flexible learning, bring the data together. Use, use generative design, use, use digital twins, use insights, use these things. And those will be the folks that will win better. But I do believe in the sort of flexible business models that allow everybody to leverage all of the technology.

Joseph Bates:

Okay, great. So I'm going to ask the final question for each of you, and then we may have time for a couple of questions. Kevin Jose, I want to start out with you. I know you have to log off just a couple of minutes before the rest of us. So the big final question is what is, what is the firm of 2040 look like? You know, put you put on your thinking, cap, your wizardry, whatever you want to call it, your crystal ball. What is the firm of 2040 look like Jose? He might be gone. Oh. Did we already lose them? Okay, well sorry about that. I thought we were going to have him for another five minutes, but so let's just go ahead and throw that one over to Heather.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

Sure. So I think that we're going to see very few of the traditional A & E's in place. I think that line between technology and design it's, it's already been blurred. I think it will become increasingly blurred. Some examples. We all know about Sidewalk Labs and their smart city project in Toronto. And, you know, yes, I know it's, you know, that project has been terminated, but it they're going to come back in a different city with a different model, with more privacy controls and all the we've seen it with Elon Musk, the Boring Company, and Hyperloop pretty much with no past performance, they've won large scale tunneling projects. You see it with tech companies with autonomous vehicles. Just what was it two weeks ago with space spaceX just launched America's first private company to do so here in America. So that line is really becoming increasingly blurred.

Heather Wishart-Smith:

So it's really going to result in the increase in the skill set of firms. So tech companies, I think, are going to start acquiring more traditional skill sets, maybe by buying some of these more traditional A & E companies, especially as the owners age out and traditional companies are going to be acquiring the tech skills. That's maybe not as much through acquisition, but through training, by hiring different people. It's funny at Chris, I love your term of coopertition in, I have a colleague at Jacobs who refers to it as competitive-ates. These are where sometimes you compete and sometimes you collaborate together. Taking what Chris said earlier a little bit further. I always try to remember that today's competitor could be tomorrow's client because this is such a small industry. We all have competitors who have since become a clients but, you know, with these competitive-ates, cooper-ates competition, it's really about collaborating together to address these new market opportunities because alone, we're probably not going to be able to get there. So it comes back to your behavior, your home, we talked about earlier, your mindset, not being risk averse, being open to new ideas. And if you want to endure, do not get too comfortable in your silo.

Joseph Bates:

Great. It looks like we have Jose back Jose. I wanted to ask you before you have to jump off, what does the firm of 2040 look like?

Jose Luis Blanco:

Well just kinda like very, very interesting question. I mean, I wish I had a crystal ball to actually explain all that, but I think that, I think in my mind, if I just summarize what I see the firm of 2044 as like having a very different demographics in terms of like the roles that we have and have been there for 34 years I'm very doubtful that we're going to be there. Right? [inaudible] The projects that we have right now, many different type type of led professions in there and professions that don't even exist as of today. Right. I expect us probably hopefully it'd be again, probably much more remote, but also with some sort of physical presence because in the end physical presence, local presence, because in the end, I think that the work that we do is not only even the built environment is an enabler for many of the things and we need to listen locally to be able to deliver globally.

Jose Luis Blanco:

Right. So that's something that also, I think the firm needs to have. And I hopefully I hopefully like you by 2040 as is like in a few years time, which is time you know, infrastructure and the brother engineering space is being seen as a critical part of how people, you know, how will you enable how people live, work and play. So hopefully we will see engineering to be playing even a more integral part in people's lives than it even paying today. So maybe I'm being too optimistic, but those are the things that I would personally see. I see all these revolutions that are happening is also like almost like an opportunity to put the engineers back at the center of so many different things that we can do to improve our society going forward. So again, maybe I'm a little bit of like an optimistic, maybe I'm just like a little bit optimistic, but those are some of the things that I would expect to see in digging the farmer to 40, like diversity from backgrounds, diversity in terms of likely for him elements being much more at the core of how we work, play and live. And and those are some of the traits that I expect.

Joseph Bates:

Great. Thanks Jose. Mike, what about you? And then we're going to add, go to Chris.

Mike Haley:

So I, since we're a group of optimists here, so I'm, I'm I'm an optimist as well. When for me, a lot of it comes back to the competition thing that Heather and Chris have both talked about, but looking at it at a knowledge level I think there's an enormous amount of knowledge that exists across the engineering architect of the entire building industry that is mostly common, but it's not always shared or is really shared. And I think by 2040, I see there being a strata of, of knowledge be a digitally represented, hopefully that is then is available to everyone. It, again, I used the term, you know, raising the sea, raising all boats, right? All boats are naturally floating at a higher level, which allows the competition then to actually happen at a higher level. The difference between firms is no longer at this lower level that everybody is benefiting from the shared observations, perhaps it's the performance of certain buildings or performance of certain decisions or materials or processes or whatever it is. So I really do see a more collaborative world centered around knowledge sharing.

Chris Luebkeman:

So for me, well, the first thing that I do whenever I asked a question like that, Joe, is I think of, I go 20 years back. So if we go back to two year, 2000 and think, where are we as a practice, as a world, they're all freaking out because we thought our computers were going to blow up, right? And the world was a, I would argue a very, very different place 20 years ago. So I'll then go forward and think 20 years, what's the context going to be of the firm 20 years from now. And so we will have massive water stress globally. We're already seeing that in the United States, North America. So we will see mass migration. We're going to have a political stress due to migration, which we have not in our lifetimes yet even begun to experience.

Chris Luebkeman:

And so therefore we're going to be called upon to solve problems, which are not just technical, but have a social dimension in a way which is quite profound. And I'm not quite sure if we're going to be up for the, up for that yet right now, the firms aren't. But I think by then we will be, I think there by 2040, we are always going to be designing and full artificial reality. And we'll be using virtual reality in construction sites as an absolute norm. It's gonna be like, duh, can you believe that we actually did this once without it just in the same way. Now we can hardly imagine using a slide rule, which I think I was the last class at Cornell to actually use, you know, and I think, and so this is going to be a new, so let's means then if you're doing in VR/AR or that means you don't have to be co located in any way, shape or form.

Chris Luebkeman:

So all of us can be in a design meeting right now and actually really interacting with haptics so we can push and pull and really feel that I think by 2040, we will have climate legislation, which has been a long time coming, which will then have a different paradigm shift on how we, and what we designed to. So the makeup of our firms will also be very different and what's going to be needed in order to, for us to design for things which will be fit for purpose because the purpose will be not just engineering specification. And I think that's so, and then if I think about economically, we will have gone through two recessions. We're about to hit one and we will at least go through another two within 20 years. And I think we'll go through to identity crises as a profession. We're kind of in one right now, we're doing, what's our role.

Chris Luebkeman:

I think we'll go through a couple more as these new tools and these new challenges come. And so, and the last one, I'll say, no, politically there will be a new ballgame. There'll be a new empire, not quite sure which one will rise stronger, but you know, our rocket is kind of kicking over. We've seen peak Americas. And so, and then the question becomes, what will it look like in this new environment for consultants that we already have a lack of sand. We have a lack of, you know, so it's gonna be very interesting in how we design in a constrained physically constrained world. So these are gonna be new challenges, which I think is super exciting for us. And we have to be walk into this with our head up, right? Not looking backwards, but to walk with that with our head up and shoulders back saying, okay, it's, it's a new, it's a new game. It's a new quarter. Let's get the team out there and let's play ball.

Joseph Bates:

Great. Great, Chris, thanks for closing this out there. Daphne, I'm going to throw it back to you for a few final comments.

Daphne Bryant :

Thank you everyone for joining us. Thank you to our panelists for all your wonderful insights to our donors for making this session possible. We do have a short evaluation that we will send you this afternoon. So please share your experience with us and be sure to join us next week for our second session, the buildings we live and work in, that'll be on June 25th at 3:00 PM. Eastern. Thank you. Have a great afternoon and please stay safe.

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