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All Change

23 October 2007

Technology advances are driving a revolution in the way work is conducted, as well as where and how. Leading organisations need IT, facilities, property and management teams to understand the forces at work to gain business advantage. Next month's Worktech07 will set the scene

The Genzyme Centre in Cambridge offers an inspiring space for flexible working

TODAY MUCH OF THE REPETITIVE, process-driven work that used to occupy vast numbers of office workers is done by computers, or outsourced to developing economies; consequently today's workplace is increasingly the setting for a new type of work that is far removed from the repetitive tasks seen in industrial times. Most knowledge workers today, however, still struggle in outdated physical environments and organisational structures that belong to a bygone era, while those charged with bringing technology, the built environment and people into a cohesive whole, struggle to understand where we are, and where we're going.

Business leaders need to understand the drivers of change, and the impact they will have. Technology must be aligned to the expectations not just of a company or organisation but also its clients. It must reflect the way in which people will do business and transact in an increasingly mobile, connected world. It's a big task.

Several technologies, some familiar, others hidden and quietly working without our instruction or knowledge, are radically changing the way we use office space. Where once our technology tethered us to our desks, 'WiFi', mobile phones, broadband and other technologies have ushered in a new era of mobility. Rather than returning to the same desk, we can increasingly choose the most appropriate setting for our task. The days of row upon row of identical desks, individualism marked only by a handful of family snaps, are gone. Organisations still struggle with the ramifications.

Technology is reducing its real-estate footprint, or even disappearing altogether into the internet 'cloud'. Super skinny 'Blade Servers' and 'Server Virtualization' are allowing the organisation to consolidate tens of servers down to one or two, freeing up vital space in the server room, reducing the power and cooling requirements of the hottest room in the house. Companies are reclaiming their real-estate by outsourcing their servers and software altogether, bringing a world of computing resources in through the internet pipe.

A new wireless revolution nears, connecting not people but machines. Soon an army of wireless-enabled devices will discretely monitor our built environment, under floors, in ceiling voids, in printers or behind light fittings. One flavour, named 'ZigBee' will revolutionise building management systems, allowing remote monitoring, control and preventative maintenance of heating, ventilation, airconditioning and lighting. In this way, IT will increasingly tread on the toes of FMs - be ready!

More wireless machines, this time Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, will become pervasive in the office environment. Little more than an adhesive sticker, RFID tags will be used to monitor people, documents and assets as they move around over time, creating a truly connected building. The benefits of being able to instantly locate a colleague, file or projector are clear, but consider what else can be achieved. On entering an office, your phone could instantly establish which colleagues are present, check their diaries against your own and organise your day's activities, meetings and rooms accordingly. Similarly, an organisation which truly understands its real-estate utilization can realise huge savings and allocate resources to maximum effect. Room and desk booking systems will underpin our flexible use of space. Office based consoles and remote web connections will allow us to book the best space for the task in hand, returning a measure of order and control to our changing office landscape.

Creativity may increasingly be fostered outside the narrow corporate confines. Online social networks will connect us to like-minded strangers, introducing inspiration and innovation. Employees will discover and adopt the 'next big thing' in technology, long before the company has evaluated, tested and regulated this latest widget. Far-sighted organisations will seek to harness this new innovation frontier.

Developments in audio-visual technology, from interactive white-boards to digital-ink, are bringing new efficiencies into the workplace, seamlessly connecting remote workers as well as their office based colleagues. The next development will bring intelligence to the inert surfaces around us. Our walls and desks will become displays, responding to our touch. As the knowledge economy continues to drive worker collaboration, serendipitous meetings and shared space, workers will need access to information in all parts of the office. Imagine an architect explaining a vision to a colleague by sketching directly onto a meeting room table, then saving this as a digital image and emailing it to other co-workers, or a client. Microsoft's 'Future Computing Concept' offers a tantalising glimpse of the future; a desk replacing computer which rejects both keyboard and mouse, relying entirely on touching its inviting surfaces.

Our technology toys will continue the process of convergence. Where once we carried a laptop for computing muscle and a mobile phone for instant connections, we will carry a single converged device acting as our 'desktop' PC, our 'desk phone' and our mobile phone, channelling calls over the internet where it can, over the mobile networks where it must. 'Ultra-Mobile PCs' (UMPCs) from Samsung, Nokia and others are the first indications of this change, while Cisco and Nokia's recent tie-up guarantees the future of such 'Dual Mode' phones.

Wireless cities will soon be a reality. Technologies such as 'WiMAX' will blanket entire metropolitan areas with internet connectivity. Today's patchy and expensive WiFi coverage replaced by ubiquitous computing, provided as a new utility, whilst the required wireless infrastructure retreats into the street furniture.

It's clear then that technology is performing a neat trick: Integrating more into the fabric of our working lives, while disappearing into the fabric of our buildings. This has been termed 'immersive technology', and is one of the themes explored at this years WorkTech07, where FM can learn about future technology. As Philip Ross, expert consultant in emerging technologies, said 'Immersive technology is having a profound impact on the way we work and on the places in which we work'.

Ross is clear on the business challenge ahead: "Companies must adapt their physical environments to meet these new challenges. To achieve this they'll need IT, facilities, property and the management team in full alignment, embracing innovation".

WorkTech07 is the 4th annual conference and exhibition that looks at the implications of convergence between the worlds of immersive technology, real estate, work and innovation in the workspace. WorkTech07 sets out to challenge the way we work, and to predict innovation and workspace futures driven by the technology trends that will change the nature of how, where and when work takes place.

Ross, CEO of Cordless Group and the driving force behind the WorkTech series, said: "What makes WorkTech so exciting is the opportunity for delegates to explore these ideas alongside some of the world's most eminent thinkers on these topics, and also to learn about next generation technologies that will herald the next wave of change. Workplace innovation is a significant business tool, which can benefit all organisations. They will reap the long term benefits of working in an improved and dynamic environment, attracting the cream of the next generation and ensuring they are one step ahead in their field of business".

On Tuesday 13th November at The British Library, leading global speakers will come together to offer facilities managers a unique insight into case studies of innovation and visions of the future. Our speakers will discuss the way technology is shaping and immersing itself in every aspect of our lives and explore the opportunities and challenges this creates for buildings.

Confirmed speakers for WorkTech07 include:

....Jerry Fishenden, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft on "Immersive technology and the future of work"
....Ken Shuttleworth, founder of architecture firm Make and formerly of Foster & Partners, where he designed London's most iconic modern building, 30 St Mary Axe AKA the Gherkin on "the future of the city"
....Melanie Howard, Co-Founder, The Future Foundation
....Frank Duffy, Founder, DEGW
....Jeremy Myerson, Director, InnovationRCA WorkTech, supported by BIFM, is world class event like no other!

Register online here.

More information: isabel.marks@unwired.eu.com Tel: 020 8977 8920


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