Certainly, many things have started to move and have influenced our environment. Digital technologies have turned upside down the way we communicate and work and the world looks ‘smaller’ economically and, why not, politically. This might not be named ‘uncertain’. But if we take in account that climate change has suddenly become a daily thread, that global financial systems is overindebted and under considerable pressure, that European Union becomes more and more shaky, or that warlike conflicts are moving closer to us and streams of refugees are coming our way, then for sure, days ahead become more and more uncertain and challenging.
We are definitely in a period in which we are still preserving and defending our traditional attitude, but the profound and unstoppable societal change is noticeable on the horizon. The mixture of the four global megatrends (globalisation, climate change, resource scarcity and digital disruption) will spark a violent storm of change. Everybody will be influenced by this transition. Nations, institutions, religions, cities, companies, citizens…
The main question is who will come out of this transition stronger or, maybe better, who will come out at all.
As engineers and scientists, if we have learned something in the last thirty years, it is something about systems, about the whole. Ecosystems, as well human social systems are made of networks, interactions, feedback loops that make them work as a whole, as systems. And each system is connected to the other in different scales and levels: economy reacts to resource scarcity; resource scarcity pushes emigration; globalization drives awareness; climate change challenges society, etc. Just think at earth itself: once we saw a planet, a fauna, a flora…today we see “Gaia” (according to the James Lovelock’s Hypothesis): a river, a lake, a forest, our atmosphere is part of our ‘system’ as well as industries, the stock exchange and our house.
Of course, a company is also subject to this canon of diverse influences. It is a microcosm in which the same societal effects manifest themselves. And a company, as a collective conscience, has the opportunity to formulate its very own ideas and ways of dealing with these uncertain developments. The management task of this special awareness moment is to implement these ideas and methods courageously and consistently in collaboration with the employees. This discloses the great opportunity to shape the approach to change and thus emerge from this era strengthened.
As protagonists of today’s engineering world, we meet this challenge. We believe that we have already gained experience with all four major change drivers, and this puts us in a special position towards the future. Digital technologies are already part of our working world, globalization is already part of our employee and customer world, climate change and resource scarcity are part of our service world. And yet, our positioning is not sufficient. The dynamic pace of change in all four megatrends shows us that we have to adapt much faster. The wind of change is already blowing strongly, and our market success is always an indicator of our efforts.
“The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects its to change, the realist adjusts the sails”
We see the global dynamics of change as a great opportunity for the development of our sector. Coping with the consequences of climate change alone, presents already engineers with considerable challenges. The rapidly growing cities are creating further mega-tasks. In addition, the fundamental questions posed by an exponentially growing world population must be solved. How can the supply and disposal infrastructures of the future be designed? How can people’s need for mobility be met efficiently and climate-neutrally? How can we ensure scarce resource conservation (water, land, natural infrastructure providing ecosystem services)? And how do we establish sufficient flood protection systems to secure us from the rising seawater? How can we elevate ‘resilience’ as the leading canon for design and policymaking?
Never before have engineers been in such great demand. And we expect this development will continue to grow in the future.
On one side we need to develop at the highest level the most important asset that we have: people and its collective ingenuity. The potential of working together is invaluable, especially if we deal with multicultural talents from all over the world. To develop the full potential of this collective brain we understood that we need to put people in a ‘family’ environment where the focus is on ‘what’ and ‘how’ instead of ‘when’ and ‘where’. Of course, this ‘agile style’ is challenging when You come from the usual way of doing things, and we are far away from our final goal so far, nevertheless…. We are convinced that through our collective ingenuity we will be able to share better, to make and not only design better, to be more inclusive and diverse in our thinking, to improve our skills, to become leaner in our processes. In a word: to face the wind of change that we were describing.
It is important to understand that we must above all change as people, as engineers and as colleagues. Companies must see this as the most important step in their change strategy. People do not like change, they resist it and hope that the storm may pass them by. It is therefore important to develop a culture of change that can come close to a cultural revolution, considering the current need for change. Here, too, the solutions of the past are no recipe for the demands of the present and the future. Keywords such as open communication, flat hierarchies, open-mindedness, agile and disciplined working, team spirit, appreciative interaction, knowledge sharing, they all lead to a new cultural mix.
This is the seedbed of change and the precondition for building a fast, flexible and mutually trusting corporate structure. This initial setting forms the basis for a successful shaping of the future.
Besides our profound knowledge and engineering skills we will be able to solve these tasks only if we make the most out of the possibilities offered by highly productive and (partially) automated software and hardware solutions today and tomorrow. Furthermore we need to integrate future technological developments in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics and continue to focus on the development of sustainable project solutions. The main focus here will be on so-called “smart” solutions and services based on the intelligent and targeted use of digital data. The creation, collection, management and use of data will become a key task of engineers. The ability to create solutions in collaboration and interaction between engineers and coders must be enhanced. Coding needs to become an essential part of engineering education.
This IT- and data-oriented approach enables us not only to develop cutting edge design and engineering solutions, but also to offer more efficient solutions for the maintenance of buildings and infrastructural facilities. By using modern design options (7D CAD/BIM), it is now possible, for example, to create virtual twins of an object in the design and engineering process. It is easy to imagine that these virtual twins, supplemented by further data sourcing (sensoring, operating and transaction data), compressed in a software solution and using AR (Augmented Reality) technology, can become a powerful smart management and maintenance tool. This enables engineering companies, which have so far mainly been active in the fields of design, engineering and site supervision, to extend their spectrum considerably into the field of operational maintenance. This means that asset monitoring and development from the beginning to the end of its life cycle is tangible. The first operating models have emerged in building construction.
In the area of infrastructure, however, this is still uncharted territory but we are already pioneering it.
Yes, uncertain times and more lie ahead. Whether it will be a big hurricane or just a strong storm or, why not, a beautiful sunny day. But it is important that everyone is prepared in those times of uncertainty, and that we come out of it all together like the crew of the Endurance.
A prepared crew, a seaworthy ship and a stable rigging have always been the guarantee for a safe crossing. But a real team is what is needed to face uncertainty and come back home safe.