From mainframes to the metaverse, William Ruh has spent his entire career at companies like Cisco and General Electric, playing a part in the technology transformations that have shaped our world. Today, as CEO of Lendlease Digital, he has set his sights on one of the least disrupted sectors in the world: property.
“It makes up 40% of the world's GDP,” says Ruh. “What can happen if we re-imagine the property world?” That’s what he’s working on answering at the company. Central to Ruh’s work is the application of data analytics and AI to property development and construction, but he’s also keenly aware that everything could change tomorrow. “Whatever you build tomorrow is good for one day. There needs to be a constant shift of applying and changing best practices for the needs of the future.”
We talked to Ruh about the biggest challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the construction industry, from sustainability to the metaverse, and how Lendlease is preparing for that future, today.
Accenture: What are you trying to achieve with Podium—your property lifecycle platform incorporating digital products and services—and how do you see it transforming the construction industry?
William Ruh: Podium is our high risk, high reward initiative. Lendlease Podium is an end-to-end digital platform that provides the property and construction industry with insights and clarity never experienced before—aiming to transform the industry’s entire value chain. We asked—given our innovation and knowledge—can we incubate a few products, from design automation to property insights and asset services to go to market, that become game changing capabilities? There are two components to that. One is Podium for development: how we automate the development environment and help to create more collaboration and digital twinning between the developer, architect, engineers and everybody else involved.
I’m also extraordinarily passionate about Podium Property Insights, where you take data and deliver new outcomes to people. We're starting with commercial customers that are going through foundational changes. For example, nobody knows what the workspace of the future will look like. Companies use terms such as hybrid workplace, like we know what that means, then send out notices that three days in the office is mandatory. That’s not working. We must figure out what a hybrid workspace of physical and digital will look like and how sustainability and health play into that.
Accenture: Lendlease is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2025 and absolute zero emissions by 2040. What's the role of digital technologies in achieving this?
WR: Sustainability is run on spreadsheets and reports. If you look at regulatory requirements, it's oriented around collecting data and reporting in a backward-looking way. People in sustainability know what the right answers are and what we should be doing at construction sites—for example, moving away from diesel—but what we need to do is more complex. For example, we must change the materials we use and make sure that our suppliers are meeting those objectives as well. Our construction projects are incredibly complex, and we can’t become more sustainable without more automation, analytics, and machine learning to give us the insights we need. Digital twin technology will be key to extracting value from analytics and machine learning. It can help us model a complex system, whether that’s a building or a jet aircraft engine. By generating that model and software using real data, you can begin to understand its behavior, look at processes and build something before you build it. You can test hypotheses on fuel efficiency or other elements. Digital twins allow us to explore millions of different alternative scenarios and make better decisions about what we should do in the physical world. Until you do this, you can't deal with the complexity of everything that goes into sustainability.
Accenture: Everyone's talking about metaverse. But businesses are struggling to understand how to apply it to business scenarios. Is the metaverse applicable to your industry?
WR: The idea that we're going to live more and more in the digital world is how I think about the metaverse. We're pretty far away from what that will be like. For example, are non-fungible tokens (NFTs) really going to have the same value as a physical Van Gogh? I think they will, eventually. Things will have value when there’s a uniqueness to it because that's what people want. We’re in the early days of the metaverse, which provides an umbrella term for the blockchain, NFTs, AR/VR and the future of social. A key question is, do we want to live in the metaverse or not? I actually like the physical world a lot. The hardest thing in the world is not the digital part—it’s making the digital and physical work together. The people who figure that out are going to be the next generation of winners. If you look at Tesla, they did a nice job of bringing the physical and digital together in a totally new way to make a product that people want.
Accenture: What skills will Lendlease need to develop to achieve your goals?
WR: In the future, we can't think just in terms of digital talent and non-digital talent. We've got to bring all digital talent to the forefront. Leadership skills are also changing; you must be continuous learners and have an agile mindset. If you are agile, you continue to adjust to and embrace the reality of the moment. For example, mandating people to come back to work won’t work. We must make the workplace agile for people, to drive them to come in and be inspired. Change is driving at such a pace that if you don't embrace an agile leadership style, you're not going to succeed.