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Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

According to Alexia Lidas, Managing Director of DesignIntelligence and the Design Futures Council (DFC), the Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived and is set to transform our industry in ways never seen before.

Lidas says that, just as in other parts of the economy, the built environment will attract Uber-like innovators to exploit gaps in the market and correct supply-chain inefficiencies and inequalities.

HVAC&R News spoke to Lidas ahead of her keynote presentation at AIRAH’s Future of HVAC Conference to find out more about the changes ahead.

What trends are you seeing that reflect the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Across all different areas in the supply chain bubbles are bursting, and we can see the corrections reflected in economics, politics and also policy. One example is the new modern slavery legislation that’s come into place. There are a lot of inequalities that are being corrected in society.

Looking at it from the perspective of the built environment, the changes relate back to corrections of inequalities in the supply chain. So where we haven’t made best use of the technology and resources, now we’re seeing innovators coming in to shake things up. It’s pretty amazing that a company like Google is getting involved in our space. There’s a lot of change on the horizon.

We’re also seeing venture capitalists pay a lot of attention to the built environment, which is certainly new. That’s only come about in the past year and a half. These venture capitalist funds are focused on the built environment and cities and technology and what could happen there – they’re looking for the next big thing to invest in. It’s crazy to think that our industry now has funds that are focused just on finding innovation in our space.

Collaboration is another big push. Bigger firms that don’t move forward and collaborate well are going to fall behind. Technology is moving so quickly that we can’t all be across it. So we’re going to need to work with one another to keep up to date and make sure we’re getting the best out of it.

What are the keys to making collaboration happen?

It comes down to really simple stuff: wanting to understand each other’s organisations and the way that we function, wanting to help one another, and looking for the win-win. It’s always there. It’s like good negotiation – you can always get benefits for everyone.

We’re seeing firms that want to collaborate instead of the old-fashioned approach to competition. If competition is holding a firm back from having an open perspective of the market and what they are doing, I think that means they have fundamental issues they’re not addressing. You should be able to be open and forthright and still be strong in the market.

There’s a saying that if we collaborate, together we rise. It’s definitely a new thing and the people who are really attracted to it have strong teams internally, are confident firms and can see the value in sharing IP.

For example, we ran a workshop with property developers that helped them understand where some of their projects are in the market and how they might innovate. Policy research that has been put together by sustainability professionals – and which the developers heard about through the DFC – is now informing the future directions of products out in the market. People in the sustainability space beg for a developer to care about stuff like that.

What other changes do you expect to see for people working in construction and design industries?

We’ve had lots of people with the attitude of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, especially in risk averse industries like the built environment. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

People have also been worried too much about not pushing government to think about innovation the right way. And government contracts haven’t really helped.

But now we can see with projects like the Sydney light rail, people are becoming aware that if we don’t get it right from the start and really pay attention to all the stakeholders’ needs and genuinely look for the win-win, it doesn’t work out anyway, so we may as well do it properly from the beginning.

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