The Future is Bright: Connecting the Workplace with IoT and Big Data| Claire Penny


Claire Penny, commercial director at Wia, draws on 20 years of knowledge and learning in the tech sector to discuss digital transformation, IoT, artificial intelligence, data capture, and how the application of these methods will impact our future workplace.



Jo [00:00:18] Welcome to the Future of Work podcast by Allwork.Space. My name is Jo Meunier, and today I’m really looking forward to speaking with a self-confessed IOT evangelist. My guest today is an advocate of digital transformation in the workplace, someone who believes strongly in the power of data to help companies achieve their full digital potential, and who, in her own words, likes to shake the apple cart to get things done. My guest today is Claire Penny. Claire is the commercial director at Wia, where she is helping companies to build new products and services around the Internet of Things through a rapid prototyping service. Previously, Claire achieved her PhD in 1998 and went on to hold numerous leadership positions at IBM, including the global industry leader for the Watson IoT Chief Cognitive Buildings Group. Now, at Wia, Claire gets to channel almost 20 years worth of knowledge, passion, experience and learning towards helping companies on their own IOT journey. Based in Dublin, Claire is a regular speaker on the international stage on IoT, PropTech, smart buildings, facility management and real estate. And as if that’s not enough, she’s also a non-executive director on the board of CITA, which is the Construction I.T. Alliance in Ireland. And today, Clare is going to chat with us about all things technology, innovation, IoT and of course, the future of work. So welcome, Claire. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Claire [00:01:46] Thank you. Thanks for having me. 

Jo [00:01:47] And thank you for squeezing us into your schedule! I promise not to keep you for too long. 

Claire [00:01:52] That’s okay. 

Jo [00:01:54] Okay. Well, let’s dive straight in. So, first of all, I have to ask, you describe yourself as an IoT-vangelist, and that’s not a phrase I’ve come across before. So I’m quite intrigued. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Claire [00:02:09] So for me IoT and evangelizing IoT is all around almost democratizing data. So within the built environment, there’s so much data out there that’s sitting in silos that I believe the Internet of Things is a way to enable people to get access to that data and to start using it to drive better insights. And then ultimately we’ll have better workplaces for people to work in because they’ll have a deeper understanding of how those buildings are performing and how people are engaging with those buildings. So, you know, the Internet thing to me has been around for a long time. You know, many people who listen to this, will know, the IoT has been around for many, many years. And indeed, in IBM, I worked on projects back in 2008, 2009, by taking data from existing assets to their buildings and connecting them, connecting those assets and pulling the data and running business rules on that data. And also, if you think about building management systems and building automation systems there, an IoT application has been connected to endpoint devices using data to control and automate equipment within a building. So I think taking that and democratizing it and making it more accessible for people is why I like to call myself an evangelist. 

Jo [00:03:41] Fantastic. And can you tell us a little bit more about your new career path at Wia? What does it day in the life of Claire Penny look like? 

Claire [00:03:51] So since joining Wia, I mean, I am bringing a huge amount of learning from my 19 years in IBM, which was an absolutely fantastic experience where I learned so much and worked with so many fabulous colleagues and so many fabulous clients, that taking that learning and bringing that into the startup world is quite a big leap. And I would do my own transformation within this leap. But it’s really exciting because within Wia, we’re able to address some of the things that, you know, maybe the bigger companies are not able to address. So we have a team of subject matter experts who really understand the end to end IoT. So they understand the hardware, these endpoint devices, you know, the silicon layer. We have electronic engineers that really understand that. The team understand how you connect to those end point devices, because that is often the stumbling block that people come across — that last mile. You’ve got different languages, different protocols that devices and equipment is using. You have to be able to connect to these endpoints, translate the language, and then push it into a cloud environment so that you can do something with that data. And being in Wia enables me particularly to offer people that end to end solution, you know. So we stop at the cloud layer. You know what? We can do the hardware, we can do the connectivity and we do cloud application as well. But we can use all this so that people can run their analytics and get their deeper insights. So, you know, my day is full of learning. But it’s really exciting as well, being able to offer this service. 

Jo [00:05:34] Absolutely. And I should think that no two days are ever the same either. 

Claire [00:05:37] No. 

Jo [00:05:39] And before we get onto the Internet of Things, can you tell us a little bit more about CITA: Construction, I.T. Alliance and your role there? 

Claire [00:05:47] Yeah. Yeah. So this is a great honor to be on this board. Actually, I was invited, I think it’s over a year ago at least. But what we do in CITA is we bring forward the newest and latest technologies within the construction space. So, you know, construction gets bashed around for having been not very productive for many, many years, in fact, centuries. But now it’s beginning to change and it’s really ripe for disruption. So there’s a huge amount of small companies and larger companies looking at how they can, you know, digitally transform, how they can use technologies, how they can change their business processes to be much more efficient, to be cost efficient in time and money and deliver superior products. So within CITA, we’re constantly horizon scanning at the latest and greatest technologies and bringing companies forward to showcase capabilities so that people can learn and make informed decisions on, you know, what’s best for their individual companies. So it’s really exciting. And we do a huge amount on building information modeling, but it’s not wholly focused on building information modeling. We just had a webinar at a tech series where we brought in startups talking about blockchain, talking about a new way to do real estate transactions and this kind of stuff. So it’s exciting space. 

Jo [00:07:10] Fantastic. I love that phrase “horizon scanning”. That’s wonderful. That brings us nicely on to my next question about the Internet of Things. Now, the Internet of Things estimations vary enormously, but I read that by 2020, there will be almost 40 billion connected devices, which is quite a staggering number. But if we could go back a few steps. So for those who aren’t too familiar with the Internet of Things, can you give us a simple definition and some examples of how it works? 

Claire [00:07:40] Yeah, absolutely. So simply put, the Internet of Things comprises these endpoint devices. So it can be something as simple as a sensor with a chip in it that’s measuring carbon dioxide levels. It could be something as sophisticated as a heating and ventilation system, but it’s generating data, in some form. So that’s the ‘things’ part. And then the Internet is like, how do you connect to those endpoint devices, to those sensors, to those large pieces of equipment and channel that data into a single point? So normally it’s a cloud platform, but it could be a database on a server sitting in a land room. So it’s like connectivity of the things that really brings the value to the Internet of Things. Because when you have that data pooled in one place, so it’s not sitting in its silos as it can be today, then you get the real power of it. Then you can apply analytics. You construct the data, you transform that data, use analytics to drive deeper insights, and then ultimately there has to be an output. So why are we doing this? What is the business value for doing this? What action do we need to take? And that really, end to end, is the Internet of Things. So it consists of a piece of hardware that’s generating data, a connectivity layer to pull the data to one place, some kind of aggregation platform and then an output, to do something to take action. 

Jo [00:09:18] Okay. And you mentioned before that you work with startups quite a lot. And so for your average startup, say, what would be the value in the Internet of Things for them and why might they invest in that kind of technology? 

Claire [00:09:33] Yeah. So, it could be many reasons. I mean, to be honest, we’re working with startups who are developing IoT solutions. So we know, for example, it might be something around water management and fluid management. So you’re using sensor technology to alert when you know you’re using excessive water or you’ve got some kind of leak. You know, lighting and energy are big factors as well. So it’s about taking huge amounts, huge volumes of data and then being able to have some action to do something on that. And oftentimes people have an IoT solution that’s just for one thing. So it might be for presence sensing. So to understand how many people are in a room or is there any vacant space, that kind of thing. So that’s where we’re working with startups. But in the area where I work, in the co-location area, I mean, we use IoT here to understand, you know, the CO2 levels in the room so that people are productive and not falling asleep. Where the empty spaces in this co-location are, when  you’ve got all of these companies all working in the same environment. And so we need to understand where the free spaces are so that people can go book that space or, if nobody’s in the space but it’s been booked, then you can un-book it and use it . There are so many applications for IoT that we’re coming across. But a lot of the startups that we’re seeing are disrupting traditional industries with their IoT solutions offerings. 

Jo [00:11:12] So the big benefit really for companies of all sizes, is it really helps them carry out their services and that process is better, and helps them to be more productive. 

Claire [00:11:21] Absolutely. Yes. 

Jo [00:11:23] And the IoT is now becoming quite popular in the home as well, isn’t it? 

Claire [00:11:28] It is, absolutely. I mean, the consumer market is very big. It ranges from, your smart lighting to your smart heating systems, to some smart security systems. I’ve seen this whole leak detection side as well. So, yeah, even down to smart fridges,  it can tell you what to buy and have in your fridge, you know? And actually in my own home, our ovens, we have two ovens and they’re connected via the Internet. So you can turn them on and off via your phone if you so wish. 

Jo [00:12:02] That’s fantastic. That’s on my Christmas list. And thinking about the future of work and say the next 5 to 10 years, how might the Internet of Things evolve and how might it impact our future workplace? 

Claire [00:12:20] I think the scope here is absolutely massive. And you know, as you’ve described, the amount of sensor and IoT devices that potentially could be deployed is huge. And I think the challenge for people in the workplace is to make sure that they generate additional silos to the silos that already exist. And when they’re thinking about the Internet of Things and deploying new solutions, that they ensure that these solutions can all talk to each other, because then the benefits become, you know, 10x of what they are when they’re by themselves. Because if you just have a presence sensing system and you only, say, allow the occupants to use that and you don’t allow the space planet or you don’t feed ultimately down the line, feed that back into the design of the building, that’s many efficiencies and cost benefits that you’re ruling out. And then if you don’t connect your present sensing system with your energy monitoring system, then again, you’re losing out there because you may be heating and cooling a building that nobody is using. A lot of this exists today, but it’s about taking that beyond the current use cases and expanding them up to make sure that we’re utilizing the state to its full extent. And we’re allowing many different parts of the business to access and use the data and derive insights from the data. So for the future of the workplace, I mean, really the limiting factor is where people want to go with this. It’s either imagination or your perceived risk, because people do see this as risk. I mean, I’ve been talking about this for a long time, that the future is very bright if we think about this effectively, because if employees are sitting at their desk and they’re thinking about it’s too dark or it’s too noisy or it’s too cold or it’s too warm and they’re not concentrating on their job, they are already unproductive. We use IoT to ensure that people have space that they are comfortable with and they’re not thinking about these things that they shouldn’t be thinking about. That’s a huge tick in the box in terms of productivity. 

Jo [00:14:41] So it can really help cover the fundamentals and just help us to do our day to day jobs better. 

Claire [00:14:46] Yes. Yes, absolutely. 

Jo [00:14:49] And let’s talk about digital transformation now. This is a term that I’ve been seeing a lot more of over the past year or so. But in layman’s terms, could you start by telling us about digital transformation? What it means and what type of technologies might be involved? 

Claire [00:15:09] Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, it’s a big topic. Digital transformation means different things to many different people. When people start to think about this in terms of their company, for me, the most important question to be answered right at the outset is why I want to do this. You need to understand the company’s needs for this digital transformation. So what are they, and articulate very clearly what digital transformation will do for the company. Okay. So once you’ve got that compelling reason to act and, you know, almost from a negative point of view as well, articulate what will happen if I don’t do this, if I don’t transform my company, what’s going to happen to it? So I think once a company has that and is able to articulate it, the next element then is to align this digital transformation with the company’s goals. So then this starts to make it measurable so that you can track and measure the success of this and, you know, really understand is the strategy working? And then, once the team have got this, then the next point, the really important point is communication and bringing the employees on the journey. Because if you don’t do that, it’s going to be very, very difficult. This change management piece is where you see many, many times that transformation projects get stuck. They don’t necessarily fail, but they just get stuck because there’s a lot of pushback and people don’t understand why they’re doing it. When people are not communicated with, they become very nervous and scared. So it’s up that route, really articulating the value and the benefits of doing this and bringing the people on board with you. And then when you have people on board, if you allow them to experiment and listen to them somehow, because they allow a lot of really good ideas around how their ideas can fit in with the strategy and with the goals of the company. Allow for experimentation and testing as well. So, you know, engaging the people and allowing them to be part of the process, via innovation workshops is an extremely useful way to approach it. And now you’ll notice I haven’t spoken about technology at all up to this point, at all. I think companies need to remember that technology isn’t the “be all” and “end all” of this. The technology is the vehicle that will enable your transformation. What companies really need to remember is that as they go through this process, they need to understand their business processes and really map out their “as is” business processes. What did they do today and then map that to the ‘o where do I want to go to?’ and then understand how technology can help you get there and how the technology can help you. Cat steps in your business process is therefore making you much more efficient than you were before. You’d also do a review of the skills of the workforce, because that may change slightly as you digitally transform the company and understand what gaps you have. And that might be after managing a risk, you know, if you do have gaps in your skill sets within the workforce. So that’s another element that a company really needs to take into consideration and address for the future. 

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Jo [00:19:20] Yes. And actually, this is quite an important topic, isn’t it? The skills gap. How much of a problem is this for the future of work? 

Claire [00:19:30] Yes. So, you know, it’s interesting because people want a data scientist. So that means to me that a lot of companies want to build their own IoT solutions rather than buying off the shelf. Because the way I put it is like, we all have a smartphone. But none of us know how it works or how to put it together or, the A.I. that’s contained in it, except that I think we’re at this point where people are thinking that they have to build their own solution in order to get that competitive advantage, you know, rather than taking something off the shelf. So we are hearing a lot around data science. This is like the buzz word. I think data scientists will be the best paid people in the world, but that might come down in time when people get more trust and understand the output of the solution, rather than having to get into the weeds and understand how everything works. So I think we’re just on a learning curve with that, with IoT and all the kind of analytics that are wrapped around it as well. But it’s certainly a concern, very much so, getting the right people. 

Jo [00:20:43] It’s not just the data scientists either. It’s the people doing secretarial jobs. Any other type of jobs. We’ve all got to learn new skills to make sure that our jobs are relevant in the future. 

Claire [00:20:57] Absolutely. And if you look at the facilities management industry as well, that’s going to go through a massive overhaul in the future because it is a demographic of person. That’s at the top of their game in facilities management at the moment. But the influx of younger people with the skill sets to do this digital transformation, there’s a big gap. You know, at the moment and the people making the decisions are the people who have always worked with your spreadsheets or, with your traditional methods. And so there’s a big gap that needs to be addressed. And I think there’s people in the industry that are doing brilliant work, to A: highlight this as an issue and then, B: try to help address it forward. But, yes, you’re absolutely right. Ginni Rometty, who is the CEO of IBM, she states things like, I, for example, am going to change a hundred percent of jobs and under a percent of industries, across a hundred percent of workforces and not in a way that is going to replace people. And it’s not a technology issue. It’s a change management issue. It’s around the people more than the technologies. 

Jo [00:22:10] Yeah. And I keep hearing this more and more. It’s all about the people, the future of work. It’s about people skills and getting buy in. And you mentioned change management again. That seems like a really important part of the process. So what are the steps, some of the basic steps involved to go about introducing change management in an organization? 

Claire [00:22:32] I think having to be able to articulate the goals, why you’re doing this and bring people on the journey as quickly as possible. So communicate. I mean, once you absolutely have it solid,the strategy outlined, and then you can execute on that strategy and bring the people along and listen to people as well. And yes, hear them. Not, allow them to have a voice and then not listen to that voice as well as where possible, adopt the ideas, because that does nothing. People are very happy to share their ideas when they’re ignored. That’s really bad. And then if their ideas are not taken forward, when they’re really good ideas, that’s really bad as well. So the best way to engage people is to listen to them and adopt ideas where it makes sense because it makes people very, very proud of the company and of their input into that company. 

Jo [00:23:24] Absolutely. In terms of digital transformation, adopting new technologies and processes, it’s a big upheaval, isn’t it, especially for smaller companies and startups that might have limited resources. But we understand that it’s important to invest in those processes. And for the startup, that’s perhaps quite limited with their funds, and their resources, how would you go about convincing them of the need to do this? 

Claire [00:23:54] Yes. If we can frame it in a couple of ways. If you think about communication, I think that is probably one of the most already transformed parts of the working day. 

Claire [00:24:08] Everybody is using various forms of communication platforms, from instant messaging to your mobile phone to traditional e-mail to actually, well, and I’d like to talk to somebody. You know, I think people have been quite receptive to that because it’s easy to adopt. It’s relatively inexpensive to use and people like it. And they’re very, very productive in using all of this technology. And so in the workplace, as our startups grow, one of the major factors that people look at when they want to join a new company is,  first of all, is it interesting, maybe look at salary — but I do know people who will take less salary for a really cool place to work. So somewhere where they feel part of a team that the community is right, that it’s near where they live and that you have all the technologies that enable you to do a good job. And people are really looking at this in this day and age, wanting to know, is it really noisy? Can I get quiet spots to go and work? All of this stuff is really, really important in terms of the workplace. 

Jo [00:25:34] Fantastic. OK. And looking ahead to wrap up our conversation. Thinking about horizon scanning and the future of work, what are some emerging technologies that have made it onto your radar? And how do you think that these will impact our future workplaces? 

Claire [00:25:52] So it’s not really emerging because it’s been around for a long time. But the whole artificial intelligence, I suppose, is no surprise coming from IBM. That would be tough on my college today. Well, I think the application of A.I. in the workplace is really key because if we think back to the IOT devices, the number of devices that will be deployed both now and in the future, the volume of data coming out that’s been generated is so huge that traditional analytical methods are just going to cut it. So we have to use all the methods and the narrow A.I. that exist today where a technology focus is on one job and does that really well. I think it’s really you know, it is a changing point. And I was at a conference this week and literally it was a real estate investors conference and almost everybody was talking about how they were using A.I. to invest in real estate, to value real estate, to find real estate and get the application within the building. And the operations of the building, I think is really key. And they’re all companies out there looking at this, particularly with energy management, because you can’t get away from a climate change. And the fact that we have to be responsible and that buildings generate, you know, around 40 percent of global CO2, we have to ensure that these buildings are operating efficiently and effectively and humans, we just don’t have the time to do this. So, A.I. solutions that are able to scan and health check can help us understand how the buildings are operating. I think this is a game changer. It’d also predict how many people are going to be in the building on a certain type of day and close floors down automatically. This is like game changing, I believe. So A.I. is one. The second one is very close to my heart — it’s the whole digital twin. So you may have heard of this. So this is around having a digital representation of the physical building and the application of that, which for me personally is born out of the BIM process, the building information modeling process and all the rich data sets that are contained within that activity that sometimes is often forgotten when the building is handed over into the operate phase. So if we could make use of that rich data set and then add to it and a more dynamic real time way, you know, from the IoT solutions that are within the building, from the existing building management systems to embed and visualize what is going on in the building and to have a record of what’s happened in the building, for the future for me, is amazing. And there’s a few companies working on this today and I’m very, very excited about this. And for me this will be literally an asset that will be sold with the physical assets because it will be the library, if you like. I wanted a better word than library! Put the information source for the building and it will be completely up to date. And then that kind of leads me on to blockchain as well. I mean, it’s been around for a while, but if you think where records have to be secret and cannot be tampered with, blockchain is going to be a game changer as well. And particularly with contracts and passing money from one vendor to the next, it is going to be a key element. So they are my three top tips. 

Jo [00:29:22] Just before we finish. Can you give us a quick overview of blockchain for those who aren’t too familiar with it? 

Claire [00:29:32] Oh, gosh! 

Jo [00:29:32] I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a quick overview…

Claire [00:29:35] I’m absolutely no expert at all. So it will only be very, very high level. But basically, there’s a ledger that’s set up between interested parties and when transactions take place and they hit this ledger, they cannot be changed. So if we have a contract and you agree to provide me with a service, but, you know, you need to understand that I have money to pay you, then this kind of transaction goes into the ledger and then you know that I have the money to pay you, so you can start the work ahead of time without having to wait for it to hit your bank account. And so it cannot be tampered with. Iistened to someone talk about blockchain last week, and basically that has never been hacked. Ever. So you may hear that some parts of blockchain have been hacked into. But that’s the add ons that sit on top of blockchain. But the blockchain themselves have never, ever been hacked. Another example from my IBM days is for shipping freight. So what you have is an edge IoT device that tells you that, you know, it could be vibration, could be temperature, humidity of a cargo sitting on a ferry in the cargo ship, and if something happens. So if it goes above the temperature that it should go, or it vibrates, it moves too much. So there’s a potential that the goods  sends an alert into a blockade and then it’s captured. And when the goods get to the port, all that the port authorities have to do is look at the manifest and see that the temperature went too high or there was an alert or it was shaken or dropped or whatever, and they could just turn that straight around and they can go back to where it came from. So it’s that kind of use case as well for Blockchain. So it’s very, very secure transactions. 

Jo [00:31:34] OK. Brilliant. Well, that’s absolutely fascinating. Thank you for that. I’m just thinking back over our conversation just now. Some of the big takeaways is that it’s all about data and people and skills with those three things. It seems the sky or rather the cloud really is the limit. So it’s clear to me that the future of work is set to be a really exciting place of interconnected devices, smarter workplaces, and digital experiences, which will ultimately help us to work better and happier and more efficiently. So thank you so much, Claire, for your insights on these topics. We’ve really enjoyed having you on the podcast and hopefully we’ll welcome you back one day soon. 

Claire [00:32:17] Thank you, Jo. I really appreciate it. Thank you. 

Jo [00:32:21] Before you go, could you tell us how we can find and connect with you online? 

Claire [00:32:25] Yeah, absolutely. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter. And would you like my email address as well? 

Jo [00:32:32] Yeah, go on. Why not. 

Claire [00:32:34] Claire dot Penny at Wia dot IO
Jo [00:32:43] Lovely. Okay. Thank you, Claire. And that’s all from me today. Thank you for listening to the Future of Work podcast. And if you want to hear more, head over to Allwork.Space to listen to more episodes and to subscribe to future recordings. Bye for now.

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