CIO50 2021 #20: Thomas Hyde, Beca
For 100 years Beca has been a consultancy that sells time, but the digital disruption that is occurring has prompted the engineering firm to add digital products to its offering, as part of its digital transformation. To bring that agenda to life the chief digital officer role was established, and Thomas Hyde, previously the chief information officer, took on the job.
“I saw two key aspects to this — a defensive one to make sure we are reimagining our traditional services to avoid a ‘Kodak moment’, and a growth oriented one, to leverage our know-how from 100 years of helping clients shape the built environment, into a portfolio of new digitally-enabled products and services,” he says.
Beca’s innovation has been to take the learnings from corporate venturing and agile organisation concepts to ‘wire in’ to the traditional matrix structure of Beca, an agile “Beca Digital” team of 100 people, that is neither a corporate function nor a pure client facing business unit, and having the capabilities needed to drive the Digital Transformation agenda.
“In establishing the team we combined our corporate ICT, security, digital products and services, engineering technology practice, and New Ventures Accelerator teams into one group, partly because of the convergence of digital aspects of our employee and customer experience, and to leverage our skillsets/resources,” he says.
Digital twin platform
Beca says it is building a digital twin platform that supports how Beca does its work, how it connects its clients to its services, and as the platform from which it will launch new products and services. There are three areas of focus, each with a direct report lead, one looking within the business to drive a strong automation workstream across Beca’s 3000+ technical community, one focused on making sure we have a future proof digital platform (at the moment the priority is on replacing some legacy back office systems), and the third on accelerating growth in our digital offerings - all leveraging our Digital Twin technology investment.
“This approach has allowed us to ‘see’ across all of the digital activity happening in Beca. We have established a network across the business groups, with each having digital leaders we engage with to coordinate our digital transformation, as well as assist with ideation and incubation of new innovations. We have established a digital investment group that provides financial support to these, and we determine which of these should be curated into our Digital Twin platform. We have increased funding from $500,000 per annum four years ago, to more than $6 million per annum in early stage innovation, while also leveraging government R&D support in NZ and Singapore."
New products under development
Hyde says there are now have 11 products under development, with three of these matured to ‘Digital Enterprise’ status, where they are ring fenced as their own mini-businesses, but supported by the Beca digital support crew. In terms of value to the business these offer counter-cyclic revenue, access to new clients in new markets and geographies (especially the northern hemisphere), and global niche offerings. Two examples are CAPEXinsights, a capital programme management system, and BTune, which helps building owners save energy and reduce carbon.
AI for diversity and inclusion
Frankly.ai is another one of Beca’s Digital Enterprises. It uses conversational AI to respond to the need for diversity, equity, and representation in data collection and decision making processes.
“We have used it inside Beca for sentiment analysis of the unstructured data collected as part of our regular culture surveys, and will be using it to directly engage with cohorts in our business on the topic of redesigning our reward and recognition framework. This open conversation approach has the advantage of not introducing bias which is a risk with structured question-based surveying techniques,” Hyde says.
Frankly.ai is multi-lingual, and currently speaks English, Samoan, Te Reo, and Mandarin. Beca intends for Frankly.ai to play a key role in its Te Ao Māori programme across the wider business.
“Longer term, as we invest in Frankly.ai, we see it as a powerful tool for immersive involvement of community stakeholders in the consultation and design process for proposed changes to the built environment in their neighbourhood,” Hyde says.