Biz 417: How does increased workplace automation affect businesses?
Allen Davis: As things become more and more automated, you can picture easily in a manufacturing or an industrial application, instead of having three people [working, you] have robots and machines and computers doing most of that work and one person making sure that everything is working correctly. Within an office environment, that’s probably so much more specific to the tasks they perform, and that would be more software-based. But that means software becomes more and more complex and more and more robust, and it requires more and more network connection and interconnectivity to outside systems and databases. So there’s probably an increased need for that connectivity and that robust pipeline [so] that information can flow through.
Biz: How might offices evolve in the coming decades?
AD: As we are connected wherever we go, it’s not necessary always to be in the office and in front of everybody. You could start to use the same office space to support a larger employee base if you only require people to be there, say, 20 hours a week or on an as-needed basis. Occasionally you [might] have to accommodate those people maybe for a weekly or monthly meeting or something like that where it starts to shift the actual programming of an office space and how furniture is [arranged] and how your technology is done, too.
Biz: What do business owners need to keep in mind for incorporating new technologies into their workplaces?
AD: Depending on the industry that a given business is in, watch what the country is doing. That gets difficult because you can’t jump the gun—especially as a small business, which most companies are—and make an investment in the wrong technology or something that’s not proven to be something that your customers would appreciate. But I think it’s important to keep an eye on that.
Biz: What are some challenges for businesses as they adopt new technologies?
AD: Service bandwidth and building technology infrastructure are going to be your biggest challenges. One of the challenges that we faced on a particular project, the new Joplin Public Library, [is] it needs to accommodate technology from the standpoint where it’s accommodating what people do now but also what people will do 20 or more years from now. So some of the things we bump into as we are planning is we design the IT and networking system to accommodate a lot of people with multiple devices because you might have an assembly area like a training area where somebody rents the room and they bring 50 or more people in to do a training seminar. Without a fixed computer lab, everybody needs to be able to connect a laptop. And then you have to consider that each of those people might also connect their phone for personal or business use to the network, and then maybe half of them might even have a third device. So when you look at the bandwidth, the actual flow of information that’s required to facilitate that, it’s pretty large.
One of the challenges you run into is that if you accommodate that in your building, the actual infrastructure of our telecommunication systems, the distribution system within cities, sometimes isn’t enough to support that. So you may be accommodating everything you need within the building, but from a utility infrastructure, you might not be able not provide that.
Biz: How does our region compare to other parts of the country?
AD: We sometimes lag behind in this area. We are sheltered because stuff tends to happen in other areas before it happens here. Sometimes that’s a good thing because you let other people experiment. One exception to that is we do have some very, very advanced, very high profile businesses in this area, and we are blessed to have that. They invest in technology. There are many other companies [here] that are leaders in the country at what they do. And they can’t wait around. They have to invest in that because they are playing on a national field. We get the advantage of watching what these national companies are doing and learning from those habits.
Biz: What are some takeaways that you’ve gleaned from working with companies as they evolve?
AD: I think one of the takeaways is that as technology advances, we are not following a linear curve. It’s more of a parabolic or logarithmic curve. Where it might have been that in decades past or even years past you have to replace certain systems or you have to take a different approach with certain things every so often. Maybe it [was] every five years or 10 years. Well, as technology advances, it’s going to become more and more frequent. It’s sort of like iPhone upgrades or software upgrades. It might have been you used to have to get [updates] every year. Now there are updates virtually every two weeks.