Perspective

Trevor Miles is the lead on Smarter Buildings, Real Estate and Facilities Management Consulting at IBM Global Business Services, UK and Ireland. Prior to joining IBM Trevor worked in management consultancy with PwC and as a valuation/investment surveyor at a leading private practice firm of chartered surveyors. Trevor is a longstanding member of the RICS Management Consultancy Executive Board, where he has led projects on change management and shared services.

 

What is the best thing about your role at IBM?
There are several things that come to mind: Great colleagues – I’m privileged to work with some wonderful people, who not only know their stuff but are fun to work with and you can really learn from. Innovation – IBM is well known for its contribution to advancing technology which currently includes things like development of artificial intelligence (eg. Watson) and other new technologies such as Blockchain and IoT. Invariably, the latest developments of this sort have applications in corporate real estate and the workplace, so we get involved in all of these and more. Clients – getting to know the individuals within the client organisation and helping them to make a leap forward in terms of what they are trying to achieve, using digital technology, is something that really excites me. This includes creating a roadmap of activities to get them from where they are now, to where they want to be, so it is practical as well as innovative.

For the uninitiated, what is a Smart Building?
Nowadays we tend to talk about cognitive buildings, as this brings in the sense that a building can be aware of what is going on and can make decisions on its own about how to respond to different situations. There are various aspects to this. Many we are already quite familiar with, for example, the building regulating the temperature, ventilation and providing alerts when a piece of equipment fails. However, using data and analytics, we are now able to go beyond this and focus on the experience provided to the user. This could include helping them to navigate and connect with colleagues or find particular features. It can help you by providing easy ways to operate meeting room equipment or book catering via an app or voice control. Behind the scenes, a cognitive building will be examining large quantities of data to predict, for example, when an air handling unit or chiller will fail, and can call an engineer to fix it before the problem manifests. It can also help manage the soft services by identifying areas that have had the most traffic and are likely to need cleaning, as well as other spaces that have not been used and guide the cleaning team accordingly. So this is what I mean about the building being self-aware, and therefore a cognitive building.

For your clients, what is usually the main objective they are trying to achieve (eg. efficiency, cost reduction, environmental sustainability, performance improvement, organisation transformation or post-merger integration)?
Clearly it can be any of these, but it is usually about efficiency and performance improvement, with costs being one measure of that. Technology can normally play a significant part in this, but it’s not the whole story. As an example, we do a lot of work for FM companies. They are trying to become more efficient and to improve their financial performance, sometimes simply to survive. We can help this by implementing better technology or helping them get more value from existing tech, but typically my role is to stand back and look at the wider picture, to work out all of the other changes that are needed to support that, so that the overall project is a success. Normally lots of other changes are needed that impact on processes, as well as peoples’ job roles and responsibilities, and they may need to be trained in new skills and ways of working as a result. Often it goes further still, as they in turn have supply chain partners and subcontractors who also need to adjust.

Looking back five years, how has the workplace changed and does it ‘feel’ different today? In 2014 there was a bigger emphasis on space use efficiency and less thought given to the occupant experience. Now we see occupant experience as one of the major drivers for projects. Clients have realised that wellness and employee engagement are important for productivity. So they want to provide more fun and stimulating workplaces for their staff. This does feel very different from2014 and I think it is a welcome change in emphasis.

Is there a new fad, buzzword or trend starting to surface in your world? Agile project management thinking has become much more important – the idea that the workplace and the technology in it will continually evolve, rather than being static. In our technology projects, ‘agile’ has brought a great sense of energy and innovation in the way that we tackle programmes of work in small teams. Agile is very outcome driven and has far shorter cycle times so clients can see results much more rapidly and learn from them quickly, making changes where necessary. This is much more in tune with the rapidly changing world that we live in. I think this type of approach is helpful in thinking about the ongoing evolution of our workplaces and helps us to see that we can continually refine them, based on changing needs and learning from earlier changes.

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with? It’s hard to pick-out one, but my mind goes to Peter Vernon, who was my boss for a number of years at PwC and IBM. He taught me to approach problems in a very systematic fashion, to think big when necessary and to build positive relationships at all levels to get things done.