Ahead of Global Leadership Forum Summit, Schneider Electric’s senior VP, building segments president, Estelle Monod (EM) and global segment director, design firms, Stacy Van Dolah-Evans (SVD) told IG that trust, training and culture change can help the construction industry overcome the knowledge gap that has held back decarbonisation.
IG: The energy and digital transitions are integral to tackling climate change. How close do you feel we are to getting this right?
EM: “The industry is still some way off. Clients are waking up to the need for net zero but deep knowledge of how to achieve it is very far from widespread. There just aren’t enough people who really know what is possible, which can hold back real progress. That is where technology partners have a growing role. We can help fill the knowledge gap, advise without ego and examine what is possible or appropriate for each project.
“To do that, we need to earn a lot of trust, often through long-lasting relationships. We need to really get to know the priorities of each decision-maker to help them understand which technologies will achieve their unique objectives. And that also means we must identify which technologies that, despite having merit, may not be so important to their aims. Then we can focus on delivering.”
SVD: “All of this often means overcoming some very different agendas spanning a project. Design and build contracts can be a real challenge to that, involving many participants driven by very different priorities based on their specific roles. As technology specialists, we need to influence project leaders and clients to help them really understand why, for example, removing certain technologies to save upfront cost might seem sensible to a cost engineer but could mean they miss their long-term revenue, environmental or other ambitions.”
“Training of our partners and working collaboratively with them plays a big role in being able to deploy faster technologies that directly contribute to a Sustainability and Efficient agenda.”
IG: So, what does Schneider Electric do as a technology partner?
EM: “We drive digital transformation by integrating world-leading process and energy technologies to realise the full efficiency and sustainability opportunities for our customers’ businesses. We provide end-point to cloud integration connecting products, controls, software and services. We enable lifecycle solutions from design and build to operate and maintain phases through a digital twin. We deliver capabilities to transform from site-to-site to an integrated company management. Our integrated solutions are built with safety, reliability and cybersecurity for homes, buildings, datacentres, infrastructure and industries.
IG: That raises the question of the culture change involved in the energy and technology transitions. How can industry support people at all levels through that?
EM: “This topic doesn’t indeed get enough attention. Technology can be disruptive and it can also be under-utilised if users don’t fully understand it. Our mission approach seeks to ease that transition. So, we commit to speak the language of our clients at all levels. We have built a sustainability consultancy business to support the Sustainability agenda of our clients at their corporate level but are equally engaging with our clients’ operational teams on their choice of technologies in ways that work for them.
“Perhaps most importantly, that also includes partner-led training to ensure those using the chosen technology know how to get the most from it. That training is often done with design consultancies too. Indeed, how can they be expected to know the all the available technology systems in the marketplace in sufficient depth when choosing and using them? Training of our partners and working collaboratively with them plays a big role in being able to deploy faster technologies that directly contribute to a sustainability and efficient agenda.”
SVD: “We also help develop technologies that will overcome major professional challenges. For example, in the UK there is an estimated shortage of 37,000 engineers entering the profession each year and we have developed a joint venture that provides automated adaptation of design models. That means that when a change to the design requires cables to be relocated, software can do that automatically, saving the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers thousands of hours of work from realigning cable positions manually, and that in turn frees them up to apply their talent to more value-added work.”
“Industry can aim to be technology-agnostic but preferences do exist. As an advisor involved at the start, we can conduct research with the client to get an in-depth view of what is best for them.”
Stacy Van Dolah-evans
IG: So, ahead of the forthcoming Global Leadership Forum Summit, is that the kind of technology you want industry leaders to focus on right now?
EM: “That really depends on each company’s priorities. If they are focused on managing operational costs, then advanced HVAC control systems and building automation will represent a huge potential saving and should be the focus. Other clients want stronger maintenance optimisation, so systems that provide data to inform estate or portfolio decisions should be their focus. The rise in ESG reporting is important too, which is where systems like our Resource Advisor software can help make things simple for companies and business leaders.
“Then, in Europe we see a lot of questions now around electric vehicle charging capacity and there’s a rise in demand everywhere for grid resilience and independence. Those clients need to understand and apply the right software to optimise energy loads and co-ordinate with solar, wind and other generation.”
SVD: “This is why strong relationships are so important. With a good relationship we can drill down into what the chief financial officer or CEO really needs from the big data that their estates and portfolios can generate. That makes groups like the Global Leadership Forum so valuable. These are high pressure roles with intense targets attached, so they need to know what can be done and know they can trust the right partner and solution to deliver.”
IG: That being the case, how do you decide on the right solutions for a client?
SVD: “Having your technology partner involved early is more important than ever. Industry can aim to be technology agnostic but preferences do exist. As an advisor involved at the start, we can conduct research with the client to get an in-depth view of what is best for them. We run testing sessions with them, interviews and on-site tech labs to see what solutions work and how to bring different technologies together. This can help identify the right technology mix, save money and avoid excessive complexity and ‘sticky mess’ that can occur across divergent operating systems on a project.”
EM: “And again, this comes back to trust and the knowledge gap. When you enter a partnership like that, the client needs to see their partner as someone who really knows how to make things work. We have proved in our own projects that net zero is possible and were voted the world’s most sustainable business by Corporate Knights in 2021. That success is something that has brought a lot of people to us when they set out to understand what they can achieve with the right technology too.”
Estelle Monod led plenary discussions at FIDIC’s inaugural Global Leadership Forum Summit in Geneva from 27-28 April 2023.