Lander Medlin is APPA's executive vice president. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The most important force at work today is technology-or is it? Without a doubt, technology is radically transforming the economy, the workplace, and society as a whole. We are rapidly continuing our transition from a goods-and-materials-based economy to an economy built on information and ideas. However, so much can be copied or reproduced that goods and materials, as well as information, becomes cheap or of a lesser value.
So what becomes of value? Human time, attention, and relationships are the rare and valued possessions. This notion is reinforced time and again by writers and speakers alike. Our ability to build and nurture effective interpersonal relationships is and will be the thing of most value. The Web will indeed allow greater opportunities for connectivity and empowerment, in new and different ways that we must continue to learn and relearn.
All of those in attendance at the first Emergent Building Technologies Conference (EBTC), held last February and cosponsored by APPA, had the opportunity to continue that learning process as we were challenged to experience new technology through insightful learning laboratories and engaging speakers. Particularly noteworthy were our opening and closing keynote/general session speakers-Elliot Masie of the Masie Center and Michael Joroff of MIT, respectively. They each spoke eloquently and with great specificity about the culture of technology.
Masie reminded us of how young this e-technology really is. It was a mere five years ago that mostly "techies" or "geeks" had e-mail and Internet access. He reiterated that the hype about "e" this and "e" that brings us to the point that we all feel "e-nough" already! Ignore the hype, and rely on the only sure thing when it comes to the future of technology: it will be more sophisticated.
More importantly, the "e" should stand for "experience." This is what technology really means. It's about the sense of touch, smell, hearing, and emotional elements. It is important to recognize this so that we don't become seduced by the technical elements alone, especially since we are looking at a 36-month life span at best for new technologies. We must focus instead on such questions as: What are we trying to achieve? What is it we want from the technology? Why are we adopting the technology to begin with? And we won't be the only ones asking these questions.
The new client (faculty, staff, or student) will be more assertive, discriminating, critical, connected, and downright demanding. Therefore, how do we leverage technology to form an effective relationship so we can better meet the expectations of our customers and constituencies?
As Masie emphasized, we first need to understand that the new technology is not about computers and computing. The main thing is how we use technology to accomplish these three goals: 1) communication and collaboration, 2) knowledge and learning, and 3) commerce and transactions.
For communication and collaboration, Masie cited his office building construction site and the relationship with his contractor. The contractual relationship called for the full utilization of e-mail, a continuous, fully operational Web camera of the entire site, a technologically equipped two-story elevator, and off-the-record rooms, where no technology whatsoever existed for purposes of "digital evaporation." His view was that the informal communication and the visuals of the work effort are more important and more valuable than the formal efforts. Masie is using technology now and into the future to engage the senses and the emotions, to increase effectiveness, to build effective relationships with his staff and clients, and, ultimately, to achieve an experience.
For knowledge and learning, his focus was on the classroom that allows faculty and students alike to engage and enhance learning in different forms. Again, it's not about technology, or even about teaching-it's about learning. Therefore, anybody who is building buildings should be building with learning in mind, no matter what the space is.
For commerce and transactions, Masie's prediction is that we will all use the Web for some form of commerce or transaction. We must account for this change in the way we conduct business, and add it to the mix of options and opportunities for all stakeholders.
These three components of our "e" world transform the building into another important network for human interaction and connectivity. This network will impart its own form of value, for, ultimately, the next generation will change the way our work environments exist. We will move from privacy to proximity and from hard service to soft service and personalization, where we can have it OUR way, but with all the off-the-shelf manufacturing efficiencies. And soon, very soon, we will be able to work anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Therefore, the cycle time of successful "e" business will be measured in speed and responsiveness, efficiency and effectiveness, and time and effort, as long as each adds value. The new equation will be ROE = ROI (return on effort equals return on investment).
In this new environment, where return on effort is part of the equation, people must ultimately possess the ability to work harmoniously to achieve "digital collaboration" or "digital balance" across the entire supply chain. This will require specifications and standards that are interchangeable and interoperable, requiring a degree of cooperation that is presently unprecedented.
With the technology cleverly hidden from our sight, we must create mental spaces that translate into experiences for enhancing the quality of our communication and collaboration, for freely accessing knowledge and learning, and for allowing commerce and transactions to flourish within that mix.
Michael Joroff reinforced Masie's comments as well. His focus was on the importance of shaping the enterprise, not just responding to it. We have to be entrepreneurs adding value at every turn.
If you were to visualize where you do your work, more often than not you will imagine the physical structures rather than the thoughts in your head. Joroff emphasized the difference between perceiving an office as a physical space versus a mental space, where work is done in a variety of places at any time. The same is true for learning; it doesn't just happen in the classroom.
These new images give rise to different ways in which we will do our building construction work in the future. For example, communication systems will overlay (some are already in use) all the drawings and systems so that more people can work on proj- ects asynchronously, thereby fostering teamwork to a much greater degree. These shifts to cyber space (such as increased sharing of information, networking, creativity, and time suppression and completion) coupled with different physical requirements and changes, will produce a blend of "bricks and clicks," where physical space and cyber space don't compete or diminish each other, but instead are complementary. Ultimately, we will be using each of these spaces differently to create the experiences we want.
Hence, we move to an age of ubiquitous information and ubiquitous computing, or UBICOMP, where intelligence is built into nearly everything (kitchen counters, lights, ceiling tiles, keys, etc.). With "chips" in everything, it becomes more important how you utilize tools and connect various bits of information to create knowledge. So you see, YOU are the most important component amidst all of this technological wonder and evolution. It is your connectivity that matters most. It's about choices, cycles, preferences, and coming together when we want or need to do so. This is a major shift in how we think about physical space and the impact of cyber space.
We may begin with "e-chips" and IP addresses, but we will end with "relationships." So you see, the "e" means much more than electronic. It signifies the emotions, effort, effectiveness, enhancement, engagement, and the overall experience of using technology. We must assess the most effective uses of technology in our built space as well as cyberspace, and utilize it to build stronger, more meaningful relationships.
The 2nd annual EBTC will take place again in Las Vegas, Nevada in February 2002. For more information visit the website at www.emergentbuildingtech.com