Dangers of the automation of knowledge in design – BIM, Google and Call Centres

191489_ZB_00_FB.EPS_1000At a recent leadership forum in the UK the question of what our clients would expect of us in 5 years time came up, we were asked to provide our answers on sticky notes and put them up on the wall. One of my answers was that in the future our clients would want ‘humans not robots’.

A fairly flippant but also well considered response.

Why would I think this? Well, there are a few things that led me to this response.

Call Centers – remember when people like BT in the UK, Telstra in Australia introduced the automated call center! Wow, what a short lived pain in the arse that was. Machine – “Please tell me the company name you are searching for”, me – “Telstra”, machine – “did you say ‘skelta’?”, me – “no”, machine – “please repeat the company name”, me – “oh FFS”. That automation of knowledge didn’t work.

Google – “oh shit, I can’t remember, google it”. Enough said.

My ‘automation of knowledge’ post – the post was part of the McKinsey 12 Disruptive Tech series that I wrote earlier this year. One of them was on the automation of knowledge and it has been one of my most searched for posts, in fact of the 83 million google results for “automation of knowledge” my post appears in the top 3! And more interesting the majority of the searches for automation of knowledge that have ended up at my post have come from India. The global capital of the ‘outsourcing’ of knowledge work.

So on to the design and operation of buildings.

3D CAD / BIM – when I first started work I had the great pleasure of working with a guy that was the plantroom layout specialist. He had laid out so many plantrooms in 2D that had worked when they were built on site without any clashes that he was the ‘knowledge’ on 3D thinking in 2D. Now, that person has been replaced with 3D CAD and ‘clash detection’ – the knowledge has been automated, well the process has but the knowledge hasn’t been passed on. We now have graduate engineers doing what a 50 year old with 30 years of experience and knowledge did pre 3D CAD – the power of computers has replaced experience but there is a danger of diluting and losing the knowledge of how buildings go together in real life, what fits and what doesn’t.

Proper BIM – in it’s true context BIM is the central ‘store’ of all the information about the building including how it should be operated. In the ‘olden days’ BIM was the dude who worked for the same company for 50 years and likely the same building for 30 years. Those days are gone, the average tenure at a company now is about 2-3 years for the mid thirties and probably around 10-15 years for the mid -fifties guys. The experience and the knowledge of the operating of buildings is being replaced by computers. The knowledge that was retained in the guy with 30 years in one building is being lost to progress.

So yes the automation of knowledge is great, fun and very nerdy to do but let’s not lose the inherent knowledge of experience. How do we keep get the knowledge that used to be retained in the mind of the 30 years experience guy into the younger guys that are moving around more often. Otherwise in the not so distant future when the question is asked “how do we get the building air conditioning to turn down a bit?” someone will say “don’t know Google BIM it”.

Or am I just getting old!

3 Comments on “Dangers of the automation of knowledge in design – BIM, Google and Call Centres

  1. Interesting article Simon. I think people with deep knowledge and experience will always be in high demand. Like you. Say though, people with this deep knowledge and experience are no longer staying in one spot. I think that this is a good development as it forces businesses and people to not be complacent and overly reliant on individuals. This is important if a business is to be truly resilient. It also will encourage businesses to invest in processes and systems which is also a good thing (particularly for the property sector where we have seen a stagnation in productivity). Finally, it also exposes people to new thinking and new ideas thereby encouraging people to not become closed to new ways of thinking and overly reliant on conventional wisdom.

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