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The Future of Architecture and Engineering: A Q&A with SKOL Managing Director Matti Mannonen

Matti Mannonen
Managing Director
In an industry centered around innovation, the question always remains – what’s next? To help answer this, we’ve launched a series of blog posts exploring the past, present, and future trends in architecture, engineering, and construction consultancies. Over the next few months, follow along with us as industry leaders share their thoughts. In this post we spoke to Matti Mannonen, Managing Director of the Association of Finnish Consulting (SKOL) and Director of the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries based in Helsinki, Finland. Matti has over 30 years of international experience in consulting management. He specializes in sustainable development, transportation planning, and the construction of water and energy systems. He holds a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the Helsinki University of Technology.   Q: What do you think is the most significant trend that will impact the future of the AEC industry in your region over the next 5 years? A: The AEC industry will become fully global. There will be new competitors, but also more work. Sustainability will become a determining factor in all industries.     Q: How do you see the current role of AEC firms shifting, what do you think is causing that shift, and how must AEC firms react to survive? A: Under a new competitive model, we can only survive by providing the best value to clients.  We must also be able to demonstrate value to our clients.  This will come in the form of innovative solutions, cost-efficient sourcing and networks, co-creation with clients and stakeholders, turn key services, digitalization, alliance formation, and risk sharing.    Q: Knowing what you know today, are there things you would or could have done differently to prepare for or react to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008? Are there things that you are doing differently now because of the GFC? How have you evolved your processes or policies post-GFC? A: 2008 was a paradigm shift. Until then, you always had good markets somewhere. In 2009, every market was experiencing a recession, so being in many markets did not help.  Companies must be more agile than before and be prepared for continuous uncertainty. Outsourcing and flexible agreements should be used as a buffer. As the life cycle of products and services gets shorter and shorter, renewal in companies must be constant.    Q: What is the biggest challenge you are currently tackling within your firm or association? A: In Finland, we are fighting for good procurement practices. This will occur through better information capture and an improvement in the quality of the resources and skills of procurement units and individuals.  We want members to take a holistic view of projects that looks at life cycle costs and sustainability.    Q: How has your office environment changed, and how is your firm continuing to evolve your workplace environment, procedures, and technologies, to accommodate the evolving demands of the incoming millennial workforce? What considerations and changes are you making regarding collaboration, efficiencies, work/life balance, technologies, etc.? A: We have shifted to a multi-space, flexible office with all of our IT in the cloud. All employees have the choice to work wherever they like--at home, in a cafeteria, or on the beach.  We work very collaboratively. Informal information flows are fast and efficient and the atmosphere is good. We also have a retention officer who is in charge of the continuous development of skills and practices.   This post is part of a question and answer series with global industry leaders on the future of the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industries.

Sustainability Means Only Doing the Right Things

Matti Mannonen
Managing Director
In infrastructure development, we live in the world of investment projects. That’s because the traditional approach to solving a capacity problem is simply to build more capacity. There are several factors guiding us in this direction. For politicians, it is important to acquire investments in their own election district. For authorities, investments are crucial to keep the organizations busy. For consultants and contractors, investments mean steady workload and opportunity to grow. But, we are constantly consuming more than our globe can stand. In 2014, natural resources available for the year were already consumed by mid-August, according to the Global Footprint Network. What’s more, a World Energy Resources survey found that the growth in world energy consumption has been higher than anticipated even in the high growth scenarios, and global primary energy demand could still increase by 50% by the middle of the century. In order to survive, we have to change our ways of working and step out from this build-more-of-the-same mode. We must think more, anticipate the changes in the world, consider carefully our choices, and create solutions that consume less. Take the capacity problem we discussed earlier. Instead of building more capacity on a transport link, for example, what if you took the end-user perspective to the issue, and started looking out for a wider scope of solutions to the problem? Can you affect the demand with online traffic management, real time guidance, pricing, or by affecting modal split? Will the changing working patterns, new commuting patterns, or other behavioral changes of commuters improve the situation, and how could you affect the desired changes? What could be the role of spatial big data that is available in real time? Can you encourage car sharing, other means of more efficient use of fleet, or stimulate new services that change the situation? With private car in Finland only being used an average 17,000 km per year, or 4% of its available time, there is vast possibility to improve the use of fixed assets in this corner. In most cases, using this approach leads to much more cost-efficient and sustainable solutions than traditional investments to the physical infrastructure. Planning and thinking are the core skills of engineering consultants, so we have the capacity to follow this path. But, as engineers, we cannot do this alone. We have to include new skills and expertise – like behavioral and social sciences specialists, spatial and city planners, ICT specialists, industrial designers, economists – and build up multi-disciplinary teams that communicate with all stakeholders around the problem. Yes, I believe we can change our approach – but what about the politicians and authorities? We need them to place more resources and emphasis on advance planning, thinking, and efficient, innovative problem solving. The real challenge is to turn their thinking, which can best be done by highlighting the crucial impact of good planning to the sustainability of our future. Sustainability means doing only the right things. And the consulting industry has vast impact on what our world will be in the future. The sustainable future of the world is at our drawing boards – it’s time we start creating it.

The Role of Engineering Consulting Firms as Leaders In Social and Environmental Problem Solving

Jae Wan Lee
When constructing the Roman Empire, one of the most important factors for ancient Romans was engineering techniques. The difficulties in securing drinking water during the building of cities were overcome with the construction of aqueducts. The enlargement of infrastructure based on engineering techniques such as roads, water and wastewater, and sanitation facilities, made the life of the Roman people prosperous – and it became the solid base for the development of the Roman Empire. As seen in the example of the Roman Empire, engineering is a very important feature that can promote a nation's development and solve various social problems. Today, there are many issues, such as population increase, urbanization, deficiency of resources, and climate change, that need to be resolved to improve the quality of life. Let's take a look into what role the engineering industry has played and will continue to play in solving these global issues.   Urbanization and Population Growth One of the biggest dangers for human beings is weak urban infrastructure, which arises as a critical problem in developing countries. According to the UNESCO Engineering Report, the world population will increase from 5.1 billion to 6.6 billion by 2025, and the portion of the urban population from 40% to 60%. As urbanization intensifies, cities are facing some of the biggest challenges in terms of climate change, public health, social well-being, and safety. It is both a chance and challenge for us, as engineering consultants, to supply new cities with urban infrastructure and to improve existing infrastructure. For example, making cities more efficient with less consumption of energy and resources would not only help alleviate threats from climate change, but also decrease the waste of resources, for a better quality of life.   Resource Deficiency We have and will continue to consume the natural resources of our homeland Earth faster than nature can reproduce them, whilst the world’s population is expected to keep increasing. Water is one of the harder resources to replace. Many countries in Africa and South-East Asia are currently suffering from diseases and epidemics due to inadequate drinking water. This problem can be solved with a public health-based approach that improves the quality of life at the national level, beyond just the drinking water supply level.   Climate Change The UNESCO Engineering Report estimates the average global temperature will rise 1.8 to 4.0°C over the 21st century, and warns that a temperature rise of anything over 2.0°C is likely to be catastrophic for the world. Immediate action is therefore needed to prevent catastrophic and irreversible change to the world’s climate. One of the major areas of need and growth for engineering is in the area of sustainable or green engineering. Countries around the world have begun paying attention to and making efforts toward sustainable development. We should be looking to use sustainable resources for the protection of our environment for future generations. To achieve this, engineering firms must increase the efficiency of facilities and systems, and concentrate on decreasing pollutions. In addition, agreement on climate change should be kept not only by developed countries, but also by developing countries. Engineering firms play a lot of roles in solving social and environmental problems for the future generation. Therefore, we should consider engineering as a global industry, not a local one, and do our best to work on opportunities and fulfill our duties in order to create a better quality of life.