Digitalisation at property and construction giant Lendlease will provide transformative advantages according to the CEO of its Lendlease Digital business, Bill Ruh.
Indeed, he says it is already doing so.
For instance, it will help the company cut the time it takes to design timber based constructions from over a year to potentially just a few months. And Lendlease can also point to tangible and measurable improvements in employee and customer experience.
Ruh, also says data analytics will be key to improving workplace services and retail services.
Digital Nation spoke to Ruh just before Lendlease announced its global cloud deal with Google Cloud, and he described the business’ ongoing transformation, the criticality of reskilling, and also his own industry’s tardiness in digitalisation.
Venture capitalists often talk about the rule of 10X – the idea that genuine digital transformation involves delivering outcomes that are ten times faster, or ten times cheaper or better, and that is something that Ruh has experienced first-hand following the launch of Podium, the company’s property platform.
“It's really aimed at doing two things. It sounds simple but very complicated. The first is, we really want to help developers automate more of the design work."
He described this work as very complex, but that the application of automation and artificial intelligence can accelerate the work of architects.
“Instead of taking 15 months for timber structure, we think we can design a timber structure in 15 to 20 per cent of the time of a traditional [builder] if we can do all of the major systems in a building in an automated fashion. And that's the power of that AI.”
“You can change the speed at which you build buildings, which has a positive impact.”
The positive impact of digitalisation is also being felt by employees, he says.
“We redid our help desk, our centre for our employees, cut our costs in less than half [and] had it up and running in seven weeks. The satisfaction rate of using interactive AI technology, and then going to a [support] person if you need to has had a tremendously positive impact on people's satisfaction."
As buildings become more digitised they are generating huge volumes of data, all ripe for analysis. He described the application of sophisticated analytics to this data as still immature.
“We're now taking all that data which existed and we're using. We’ve tested four buildings here in Australia and in the last nine months, we pulled a billion records off those buildings. Now we're starting to understand how do people shop in them? How do they work in these buildings, and we think that that's going to change the experience that people are looking for, quite honestly, in a post COVID world.”
Lendlease Group Co-CIO Harvey Worton meanwhile offers another example – and one that appeals to today’s environmentally conscious digital natives.
Speaking to Digital Nation as part of a documentary on data centre sustainability Worton said, “We ran a pilot of five buildings in Australia on our Podium platform, and it showed that just from having that data, we're able to see reductions in electricity of about 34 per cent and gas of about 31 per cent. [We achieved that] just through the automated building and the podium process and platform that we've put in place.”
Of course, as buildings become more digitised, that opens up new risks on the cyber security front.
Ruh says it’s an important issue and one the company’s recently revealed relationship with Google Cloud helps address.
While saying he felt very comfortable about cybersecurity inside Lendlease, he acknowledges the need for the industry to focus on the issue in contemporary buildings.
“The thing about a building is, while it's all becoming digitised, you've got IP networks, everything's connected, you got all these sensors. It hasn't had the discipline applied to it [around] cybersecurity that everything else has.
“And you can see that in the world today, where infrastructure is being attacked. And so for us, what we really like is, in the cloud, the cyber security we use inside our enterprise, [it’s] same darn capability we use in the buildings.”
The success of the program depends on finding and retaining the right people with the right skills.
According to Ruh, “You know, it all starts with great software development, and so you have to be able to attract a modern, full-stack developer. And that’s a really hard thing to find, I would say. You know they’re there but there’s a limited supply. “
“Can you attract them even [if you] find them?”
“So for us, it's all about full-stack developers. The second thing we're really looking for is great product managers. It seems simple to say product management. But again, out in the world today, finding great product managers is very hard – people who can understand the needs, translate them and work with those full-stack developers. And of course, everything has to be, you know, modern development, agile dev sec ops, environments."
Lendlease also puts a premium on finding people who can translate between the digital experience and the more traditional experiences.
That’s as much about reskilling as it is talent acquisition, he suggests.
“Developers have all worked in a very analogue way for such a long time. Bringing this in has a certain change associated with it. So how do you partner with them to be able to help them embed this capability? That comes a little bit of training, a little bit of working with them.“
And while many incumbent businesses feel they lack the capacity to compete with startups to provide interesting challenges, that is not something Ruh believes is an issue for Lendlease.
“We have got a $100 billion backlog, how many startups have that access to that amount of work?
Ruh says there is plenty of research to show that the property and construction sector remains one of the least digitised on the planet.
“This is the challenge, right? People are very practical in this industry. They have to see the benefit before they're willing to take a risk and move forward. In the financial service industry, I'd say, they're able to see the vision and take a little more risk to achieve greater returns. So for our industry, you know, it's an uphill battle to bring everyone along.”
“Fortunately, Lendlease is a little more innovative and has been known for being more innovative. So they're willing to take that risk. But by and large, our whole industry has been held back.”
However, he also sees a big opportunity for the sector.
“Every industry has been in this situation. It's just a matter of time before the domino falls. And I really believe now's the time. I think you can see that because venture capital spending is up in Proptech. People are beginning to talk more about their digital strategy. They're hiring chief digital officers.”
According to Ruh, “Now is the time I believe, the next 10 years. This is the retail of 20 years ago when that retail sector was saying ‘why do I do it?’ We're right there today.”
“This is our decade that I think it's just going to be a fantastic time.”
Credit: Video produced by Josh Lundberg, Matthew Ryan and Tejas Bhat