That became obvious to me in 2018. At the time we were standing in a giant exhibition hall staring at a small stud wall, forming part of a reasonably sized expo booth.
I could see the yellow pine timber frame just fine. But even better I could also see what needed to be built but had not yet been installed – electrical conduits and fittings, water lines, and telecommunication cables and outlets.
And I didn’t need to stand still. I could wander around the wall and look at it from every angle.
This booth was just one of hundreds in the building technology hall of the NAHB Builders Expo in Las Vegas. In what felt very alien to us, we had to push our way through a sea of 200,000 others, all keen to experience and try as much tech as they could.
The 3D imaging tech we were playing with had been put at our fingertips thanks to a simple set of glasses, along with a few cables and a reasonably powerful laptop and software.
None of it was experimental. It was all off-the-shelf.
We were a Master Builders delegation looking at business innovations we hoped could be brought to Australia. And we loved what we found. Jumping forward seemed to us to be as simple as signing up, writing a cheque, and – voila! – the tech was available.
But we also learnt first-hand that if there was a difference between US businesses and ours, it was the energy they applied to understanding how tech could give them an edge. That pushing and shoving was understandable in a market where competition is fierce every single day.
We were not alone as visitors to the event either. Delegates from Europe, the Caribbean, and Central and South America were all there for exactly the same reason – looking for that business edge.
I have been reflecting on that visit while Australia navigates its way through the Covid pandemic. How will our business re-emerge once our economy fully opened up?
We all know that the US has its challenges, but it’s economy is already open and going flat out. Surging on the back of trillions of dollars of Government stimulus. So much so that they are scooping up materials worldwide and pushing building product prices to levels never expected.
And my guess is that the pace of their tech is probably even faster than it was back in 2018.
To me it begs the big questions.
When our primary concern remains the safety of our friends and families, how do we make sure that Australian businesses do not fall too far behind with technology?
And when there is so much uncertainty about what might happen next, how do we encourage businesses to invest and to take a punt on the future?
The truth is that lockdowns and border controls are not just what governments do. Our great risk is our mental versions of lockdowns and border controls in our business plans and strategies.
I genuinely believe that tech is going to be the next big business battleground. Those that understand it are going to come out on top. It gets costs down. It speeds up delivery of goods and services. It reframes quality and safety. Everything, in fact, that adds to our bottom line.
To me it looks like a classic case of walking and chewing gum. Hunkering down for uncertainty today but still investing in tomorrow’s technology.