Monday, January 26, 2009

Lessons Learned from the Great Southern California Shakeout

Many of you heard about the November 13, 2008 earthquake drill in Southern California. Five and half million of you participated in some way, including individuals, schools, emergency command and control organizations, and corporations.

This exercise resulted from a grass roots effort based on the research of Dr. Lucy Jones of USGS and Cal Tech. The purpose of the exercise and a personal passion of Dr. Jones is to develop a culture of preparedness. The exercise and its publicity accomplished a beginning, but there is much to be done, and learned.

The exercise included not only the drill of an earthquake response, but also used super computers to model results at a level of detail not possible before. As a result, we learned things we did not know before.

· This 7.8 magnitude quake was 5,000 times stronger than the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

· Economic damage was estimated at $213 Billion USD.

· Fires resulting from ruptured gas and power lines accounted for half of the damage.

· Some buildings previously thought safe in a large quake are now known not to be safe.

· The Tejon Pass rupture severed power transmission, gas, water, rail, and roadways, effectively isolating the region from outside relief.

· Water (not just drinking water) will not be available in some areas for up to six months after the quake.

· 22 million people in 8 counties were directly affected, including 1,800 deaths and over 50,000 injuries

· Many people died or were injured when they ran out of buildings during the quake instead of dropping, covering, and holding in place

Let me caution here that it would be easy to dismiss these numbers and what they project as worst case outcomes in a worst case scenario. That is not the case. The quake that was exercised is not the worst case. Locating the epicenter in a remote area mitigated against the kinds of losses that would result from a similar quake centered in a suburban area. The magnitude of the quake is large, but historically speaking a quake of this magnitude in this region is 150 years overdue.

When we ran our own drill where I work we learned a few things as well.

· No one knew how to use the satellite phone, and we were surprised to learn that it can only be used while stationary in a large open field.

· We needed more runners on hand to pass information to our teams throughout the facility.

· A key activity is recording all forms of information as it comes in, and logging action items, assignments, and decisions.

Those are just a few, there were many more. And, we had a few light moments as well (imagine your entire executive management team crawling underneath tables as aftershocks hit).

Among the biggest values of participating in the exercise is that we have to a small extent removed the fear of the unknown. Continued exercising will normalize the stress and reactions required to successfully survive such an incident. It will increase our confidence and lead to additional planning and corrective action. All good things.

The greatest danger we face is not the “Big One.” The greatest danger is complacency. Be informed and be prepared. Your quality of life and that of your loved ones will be determined by the quality of your preparation now.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Virtual Worlds - A Business Collaboration Tool?

You have no doubt been hearing more about Virtual Worlds. In this era when new social networking sites seem to come on line daily Virtual World technology is already migrating into the business arena. Some are skeptical of its usefulness in business, possibly believing that it is more a toy than a real tool. The fact is, however, that the use of Virtual Worlds is expanding in business. This may be partly attributable to the generational shift now occurring in the workforce. For whatever reason, this appears to be yet another technology FM’s will need to understand, adopt, and adapt.

Virtual Worlds offer many advantages. There is an air of anonymity about them which may give users a sense of freedom t0 express themselves more than they might otherwise. Users can imbue their virtual selves with characteristics and quirks that they choose. They design how their avatar looks, choosing to be realistic or take a bit of license with reality. And that, really, is the crux of the Virtual World dilemma for business. Fantasy or reality, or some mix of the two?

Virtual Worlds enhance the collaboration experience, adding a human touch and allowing random interactions which support idea migration. People from all over the globe can “go” to a virtual space and meet together, interacting for purpose while expressing their personality. And that, after all, is what makes meetings so much fun. Right?

There are issues, however. Virtual Worlds present an open playground for the mischievous among us. Indeed, there are plenty of examples where corporate Virtual Worlds have been defaced and otherwise vandalized, and there is opportunity for bad actors to amuse themselves by being disruptive or disingenuous.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Paul Hemp discussed how businesses can encourage appropriate use of the technology. Actions he suggests include creating policies that require the Virtual World to mirror reality exclusively, not allowing elements of fantasy to be present. Hemp makes the point that, in the business context, Virtual Worlds should be used to replicate reality, not escape it.

Some companies are creating their virtual environments using one of the existing palettes, such as Second Life. Others, however, are investing in their own Virtual World space to better control access, content, and behavior.

Many FM’s are responsible for conference support functions and technologies. These folks, especially, should be on the learning curve now. Virtual Worlds may seem to be the playground of the big companies, but as more adapt the technology the cost will come down. For those who choose to use one of the existing systems the cost is already low enough to encourage wide adoption.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Pace of Innovation is Accelerating

With increased collaboration comes increasing transparency and faster innovation. Workers in and out of the company are requiring more visibility into the detailed workings of the organization. Global companies once focused on a “best-in-market” alliance partner business model are shifting to a “best provider” model. That means fewer alliances and increased opportunity for those who are participating. One result is that providers are acting much less tactically and much more strategically. Instead of being task resources only they are now also thinking and acting strategically on behalf of their clients. As a result, they have the opportunity to leverage their entire business chain to the client’s advantage, providing technologies and innovation that the client would not have thought of or be able to execute on its own.

And now we see that the search for innovation is not limited to formal business partners. Sites like bring seekers and solvers together. You have a problem, someone out there has an idea. Companies are asking for and getting innovations on new manufacturing techniques, scientific support, energy efficiency, design, and operational models and technologies from people and sources with which they have no previous connection or pathway. In other words, our resources are no longer limited to those we know or have business relationships with. The world is your workforce!

The pace of innovation is driven by the pace of knowledge. It is one thing to talk about computing power and efficiency doubling every two years while the price of same is halved. There is knowledge in these continuing changes, but it is the incremental knowledge of increasing efficiencies. There are areas of research, however, where knowledge gains are large, coming at us very quickly, and which have the potential to transform our lives. The biotechnology revolution now occurring is driven by the intersection of bio-science and the expansion of information technology; and the promulgation of nanosystems has scientists designing new machines at the cellular level. If you really want something to catch your attention, think about this – Ray Kurzweil stated in 2006 that scientists are within two decades of having reverse engineered the human brain. What does this convergence of affordable high capacity computing, bio-intelligence, miniaturization, and brain intelligence foretell? The futurists among us see a world that includes high bandwidth Net access all the time, electronics that are embedded in our clothes, nanotechnology brain implants, and virtual reality (VR) technology that augments real reality to speed the transfer of knowledge and intelligence.

Is that “out there?” Of course it is. Will it all come true as currently envisioned? Unlikely. Will our world, the way we learn, and how we work remain static and unchanged? Absolutely not.

These emerging technologies will have real life implications to our every day world, including work processes and environments. We will be able to actually experience new buildings before they are built, test system interdependencies to identify errors and opportunities by actually operating systems in VR, discovering and avoiding mistakes that could be catastrophic. We will be able to replace brain function lost to accident or disease and do a thousand other things that will improve the human condition – and FM’s will have a role to play in all of it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

X and Y Generation Workers Exerting Their Substantial Influence

Younger generations are altering the face of the workplace, exercising their right to choose and often times using different priorities to make their decisions. Where older workers may have opted for a career path based on title, compensation, and prestige, younger workers are much more concerned with a prospective employer’s social responsibility index, openness to alternative workplace strategies, and the opportunity to contribute to meaningful change.

New workers tend to be more diverse in most areas that we typically think about to categorize the workforce. They are multi-taskers, multi-cultural, multi-skilled, and multi-faithed. Each of these has import to how organizations must change themselves to align with what will soon be the dominant workforce generations. They have the power to choose and they are using it.

What characteristics are these generations likely to exhibit that will have an impact on the workplace? For starters, they will have more options and may have a higher turnover rate than previous generations. Location is important. They want to work close to home and work in green cities. On a mass scale, they are interested in brain exchange more than their predecessors. They believe that the flow of information and ideas should be seamless around the globe and that technology, access, and standardization should support that reality. They are much more connected and social than older generations, but also more transitory.

The competition for talent is intense. To be successful FM’s will need to develop and deploy real time information systems that standardize how the world talks about and manages the workplace. OSCRE and PISCES are doing exemplary work in this area, helping to standardize occupancy definitions, metrics, and workflow management systems. That standardization is key to the seamless transfer of information globally in the shared information business model.

These are merely examples of the multitude of trends which are emerging and influencing workplace infrastructure and dynamics. To be successful in this era FM’s must be comfortable with change, have the ability to embrace and support new technologies, and be capable of and willing to provide energy and leadership in a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural business environment.

If you are like me then you believe that this is one of the most exciting and energizing times in human history. We ‘have issues,’ of course. But we also have creativity, intellect, desire, and opportunity. As humans always have, we are in the process of changing our world and very existence. It is hard work, and it is fun. Most of all, it is important.