Fresh Perspectives with Dr. Mark van Rijmenam

By Shariq Kochhar - October 16, 2019

Read my interview with Dr. Mark van Rijmenam - AI, Blockchain, Big Data Strategist & Futurist. In Edition #4 of Fresh Perspectives.

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An introduction to the series.

With Fresh Perspectives, I hope to bring talent from across property, housing and technology together.

This series doesn’t focus on the loudest or most senior voices in these sectors. Rather, I seek out leaders with a new perspective. Those on the front lines of big change in business.

They challenge the status quo. Transform attitudes. Process. Operations and customer service.

I hope that you get as much as I learn from it. That you - the reader - consider these fresh perspectives and how they might be applied to your own organisation.

An introduction to my guest - Dr. Mark van Rijmenam.

Founder of Datafloq, Dr. Mark is celebrated globally as a top 10 Big Data, AI and blockchain influencer. His day-to-day involves being an international keynote speaker, futurist and strategist on AI, blockchain and Big Data.

He has 10+ years of experience in helping organisations understand emerging technologies and how to build data-driven and information-centric organisations that can tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. His previous clients include Fujitsu, Microsoft, YonYou, FWD and Capgemini.

Dr. Mark has also authored the best-selling book 'Think Bigger - Developing a Successful Big Data Strategy for Your Business'. His recent book, 'The Organisation of Tomorrow' discusses how AI, blockchain and big data turn every business into a data organisation.

Fun fact about him: He circumnavigated Australia on a pushbike to raise money for a Dutch foundation committed to pioneering and innovative research in the area of children’s cancer. 14,122 km in 100 days.

In this interview, we discuss:

  • The organisation of tomorrow, in which we may have no management, no employees - with everything run by a neutral computer code.
  • The impact technologies such as big data, blockchain and AI will have on housing organisations.
  • The automation of business processes, whether that is through AI, or using smart contracts.
  • The potential for large housing providers to learn from 'datafication' and offer better services using data.
  • The role of technology in repairs and maintenance - specifically, predictive maintenance opportunities.

The interview.

Shariq: Firstly, thank you so much for doing this, I really appreciate it. I've been spending a lot of time reading your work.

Dr. Mark: Well it's good to talk to you and happy to help out with your work.

Shariq: Proptech is booming today and a lot of people could use a better understanding of the emerging technologies making their way into property. You speak so eloquently about AI, blockchain, and big data making their way into various industries - like travel and education. I thought it would be excellent to get your views on housing. Recently, I was reading about the DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation), the organisation of tomorrow, as you've written about. Will we ever be able to achieve this kind of organisational transformation in an environment like housing?

Dr. Mark: That's a very good question. I think the organisation of tomorrow, or decentralised autonomous organisation, in which you have no management, no employees and everything is run by a neutral computer code is, and sounds of course, very futuristic. And I don't foresee that the large corporates of this world will become a decentralised autonomous organisation any time soon, you know? For that, we fortunately still need employees and we still need management to run a large organisation.

Shariq: Yes, I see.

Dr. Mark: However I do think that the combination of big data, blockchain and AI really helps organisations to automate business to a certain extent, and the idea of bringing that technology to the housing market I think is very fascinating, because it can offer a lot of potential for organisations, large and small. If you start using IOT (internet of things) and analyse that data - automate processes - maybe you could foresee that your home becomes your own personal DAO in the future, you know? A personal DAO just for you and your family members.

This is an interesting thought to entertain; to see what this would mean if we moved toward such a way of organising our homes. To what extent larger corporations will become a DAO, I don't know. I think that's the challenge - especially for the housing industry. But the fact that technologies such as big data, blockchain and AI will have a profound effect on these organisations is something I'm confident about.

Shariq: Your work inspires me to think of an ecosystem that brings disconnected systems together in one place. Currently, in affordable housing, there are far too many parties involved in organising a simple repair. Paperwork, emails, multiple spreadsheets. Things get lost in legacy operational structures and this affects tenants the hardest. Are there other opportunities you foresee in an environment like this?

Dr. Mark: Yes, definitely, I think the opportunities in the housing industry to arrive into the 21st century are tremendous. You already gave the example yourself - that someone in social housing, if he or she wants to get a simple repair, has a lot of hassle to go through. And because a lot of different parties are involved in that, what you want to achieve is that you bring together the different parties that have to work, and that have to collaborate and make their interaction seamless. So how do you do that?

So, in my book, 'The Organisation of Tomorrow' I came up with a new model to digitally transform your organisation, your processes, your supply chain. It basically consists of four steps: it's called the D2 + A2 Model, and it means you need to datafy your business processes. Turn analog processes into digital processes, where you use connected devices to collect data at places where you wouldn't normally collect data. For example, using sensors to predict when a boiler is breaking down or when the heating system is breaking down.

And then you need to distribute your data. You can either distribute your data using the Cloud, if it's for your internal use, or you use the blockchain if you're dealing with multiple industry partners. If you're looking in the housing industry, or affordable housing sector, as you've already mentioned there are a lot of different parties who would get involved if someone wants to get a repair.

Shariq: Absolutely.

Dr. Mark: Obviously that can be made a lot more efficient and effective if everyone had a single source of truth, and not everyone with their own database. So once you have collected your data, and distributed your data, the next step is to try to analyse your data using predictive or prescriptive analytics, or simple business intelligence, to understand what is going on. To detect the trends within the housing industry as a whole, in a city, or in a housing complex. This can really help you improve the services you offer your tenants. The final step is to automate your organisation. To automate the business process, whether that is through AI or using smart contracts.

I can imagine a future - and it's already happening to some extent - where you work with smart locks, which are connected to your smart contracts that, if someone has paid for example their rental, a monthly rental fee, can grant them access to the house.

"I think the opportunities in the housing industry to arrive into the 21st century are tremendous... turn analog processes into digital processes, use connected devices to collect data at places where you wouldn't normally collect data."

Dr. Mark van Rijmenam, Founder Datafloq

So, I think if you datafy your business processes, distribute your data through the Cloud or blockchain, analyse it using descriptive, predictive or prescriptive analytics - and automate it using AI and smart contracts - you can really turn your organisation into a data-driven entity. It also evolves into an organisation that is there to help the customers, or in this case, the tenants. And I think the potential for large housing committees, large housing providers, to learn from this and offer better services using data are tremendous.

Shariq: Let me ask more specifically about the social housing environment. Could you tell me more about that and whether you see implementation like this happening in the future?

Dr. Mark: I think the whole idea is that for social housing, you want to create a seamless experience for the tenants to live in the house where they reside.

Often that is far from the case, because we have to deal with very bureaucratic processes with waiting lists if you want to get social housing, with all kinds of other challenges that tenants have to face when waiting for a social house, or moving into a social house, or living in a social housing complex. And I think that's where technology can be used to streamline those processes and to make it easier for everyone to get involved.

From a maintenance perspective, I think the opportunities are tremendous. We can see it is already happening in the other industries where predictive maintenance is being used, for example, in the energy sector - to know when a windmill on the North Sea is about to break down. Instead of having to fly a helicopter every half a year to do a check-up, you use sensors to predict when something is about to break down and only then do you fly there to fix it. You know exactly when something is about to break down and you can take action accordingly. If a tenant doesn't have to deal with a broken heating system anymore as it has been solved before it breaks down, that's good for the tenant, and that's good for the owner, because often fixing something when it has broken down is more expensive than preventing it from breaking down.

"If a tenant doesn't have to deal with a broken heating system anymore as it has been solved before it breaks down, that's good for the tenant, and that's good for the owner, because often fixing something when it has broken down is more expensive than preventing it from breaking down."

Dr. Mark van Rijmenam, Founder Datafloq

Shariq: Yes, completely.

Dr. Mark: And so I think the opportunities for housing organisations to make their organisation better, have a better bottom line, and at the same time have a better experience for the tenants is something not to be ignored.

Shariq: I was speaking to an Innovation manager from a large housing organisation who pointed out that a significant percentage of their social housing residents are older people. And a lot of them are not digital natives. Do you think there's scope for voice-based services in the future of social housing? For certain residents to be able to communicate with a smart voice portal, perhaps in their own native tongue?

Dr. Mark: Definitely. I think a voice interface - where you connect with digital systems without screens or typing - will be really, really big in the future. Won't it be easy if you can just talk to close the curtains? Or heat up the room by two degrees Celsius without touching a screen? That is where we are heading, especially for older people with mobility issues. And now you are seeing these different technologies converge, which is natural language processing and instant translation between the multiple languages. Yes, we will reach a future where you can just talk to your house, and the house talks back. 

Largely, I think this technology will help the elderly immensely in the future - because then they can communicate in a way that they are used to talking, instead of having to use a screen or interface they might not understand.

Shariq: I have one last thought - and also a question I’d like to end on. After reading your work, I couldn't agree more why you term yourself a futurist. I don't know if you've seen The Matrix - but all the things that Morpheus tells Neo are the things I feel when I read your work. Your work inspires me greatly for the future. So my last question: what inspires you day-to-day to be a futurist? And what inspired you to even have this kind of trajectory to your life, to your work?

Dr. Mark: [Laughs] Well, it's the first time I'm being compared to The Matrix, which is interesting. Well, basically I think the important thing for me is that I enjoy what I do. By researching and by reading a lot, and by talking to a lot of organisations, I get a sense of what's going on and what we're moving towards. I'm also building my own company, my own platform, and that helps me to understand where we are going.

I think the trick here is that you need to think exponentially. 95% of all people - perhaps more - are literal thinkers, you know? They don't think exponentially, which there's nothing wrong with, that's just how we are. I try to also think exponentially, to look at all these changes, and all these technologies that are coming our way - from an exponential perspective. Because when technologies converge, they grow exponentially and that will really change how we as humans interact with them.

Shariq: Yes, that's very interesting.

Dr. Mark: For example if you have big data by itself, that's interesting - and it helps you better understand the context of your environment. By itself, however, it does not necessarily mean exponential change. Throw in AI and all of a sudden you have the opportunity to use Big Data to make significant changes. Then throw in quantum computing and AI can be improved exponentially. Before you know it, you are living in an exponential future. Looking at how these technologies converge and change society in the long run is what I really enjoy doing. It’s also why I find it important to share my story with others and with organisations. To help them and inspire them on how they can use these technologies to create better products and services.

I always say: if you take care of your customers, your customers will take care of your shareholders. So, if you build your products and services in such a way that they benefit your customers, first and foremost , then in the end your shareholders will be happy as well.

Shariq: I want to thank you again for this brief but very insightful session. This has been incredible for me and a great opportunity.

Dr. Mark: Well, thank you very much Shariq. It was a pleasure to participate. Thank you very much for reaching out to me.


Key Takeaways:

  1. If you distribute data through the Cloud or blockchain, analyse it using descriptive, predictive or prescriptive analytics and automate it using AI and smart contracts, you can really turn your organisation into a data-driven entity.
  2. Technology can be used to streamline processes and social housing waiting lists, making it easier for every key party to get involved.
  3. Predictive, prescriptive analytics and simple business intelligence can help identify important trends within a housing complex and dramatically improve services offered to tenants.
  4. Natural language processing and instant translation between multiple languages will usher in a future where digital non-natives can just talk to their home and the home will talk back. No screens required.
  5. Big data by itself does not bring exponential change. Throw in AI and all of a sudden you have the opportunity to use Big Data to make significant changes. Then throw in quantum computing and you're living in an exponential future.

Talk to Me:

Stay tuned for the next interview in the series. And if you’d like to recommend a young leader in housing for me to sit down and have a chat with, do let me know below.

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