Stantec’s Global IT Director Dave Roberts ponders the pathways to innovation, leveraging technology to reach ESG goals and how automation is driving efficiencies for the engineering firm and its clients.
Considered a man of many talents by his colleagues and peers, Dave Roberts boasts a rich and diverse backstory in IT, from starting out as a technical specialist in manufacturing and environmental services roles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, through to taking on IT director and CIO positions at MWH and Radius Payment Solutions.
Today, as Global IT Director at engineering services company Stantec, he oversees all aspects of digital and technological services across the firm’s global network, managing IT operations in Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Latin America.
Yet throughout his 25 years of experience in IT, Roberts has always taken away one crucial aspect of technology leadership – the need to constantly foster innovation.
He believes that leaders must make room for innovation – and this commitment is clear from the array of digital tools and sustainable energy solutions being pioneered at Stantec, a professional consulting firm specialising in global design and delivery of engineering, architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, surveying, and environmental sciences.
Watch the interview highlights with Dave Roberts below:
The leadership pathway to innovation
“You’ve got to make room for innovation to happen, it doesn’t just naturally occur.”
Speaking to HotTopics at The Studio, Roberts argues that innovation does not just naturally occur. Like any preparation for a project or initiative, leaders must provide the resources available for innovation, and encourage people to innovate in their own ways.
Exploring the different types of innovation, he argued that some people prefer disruptive innovation, where they are creating new products and services while delivering digital solutions into the markets. Others, however, may prefer to go down the “sustaining innovation” route, looking at how they can improve their current processes to make the business more efficient.
Such innovation can also come from unexpected sources, something Stantec - which established its own Innovation Office in 2020 – has recognised through the creation of ‘Ideas Machine’, a platform where employees can submit ideas for process improvements and new products and services the firm can offer to its clients.
When looking to innovate internally, or on the behalf of its clients, Roberts argues that it is important to understand exactly what challenges you’re likely to encounter along the way, and be aware of how technology can assist, improve or reimagine how those processes work.
As one such example, Roberts revealed how Thames Water and the London Fire Brigade have worked with Stantec to create and implement Stantec.io Fire Flow, an award-winning digital tool which uses building data to calculate the required fire flow (Editor’s note: the flow and pressure of water required to respond to fire incidents) based on height, floor area, and occupational uses, while determining the most efficient routes for the fire fighting teams to lay down the fire hoses.
“Following its successful adoption by the London Fire Brigade, Fire Flow will be rolled out across more fire and rescue services to protect millions of people,” said Roberts.
Driving the sustainability agenda
While sustainability is a key focus at Stantec, Roberts believes that more can be done.
“Sustainability is key to our purpose, promise, and values at Stantec, while technology has a key part to play in helping our organisation to achieve its ESG goals,” he said at The Studio.
In addition to using renewable energy, Stantec has deployed Internet of Things (IoT) devices and AI control to regulate office IT equipment. Since the organisation began its sustainability journey, Roberts says the company has been able to reduce power and carbon consumption by up to 30 percent.
The pathway forward is clear –sustainability and technology can become a force for good, minimising an organisation's potential impact on the environment. Roberts believes that progress starts by setting achievable goals, and tracking them over time.
“It is critical that you set clear and measurable ESG goals that are reviewed and updated on a regular basis”, he stressed.
Roberts emphasised the importance of engaging with different groups in order to stay informed about emerging technologies and changes to regulations that impact ESG and sustainability.
This could, he said, involve collaborating outside of your organisation with third-parties to create “sustainability-focused networks and partnerships”.
ESG is a top priority for 2024 and beyond
Exploring technological solutions to aid the company’s ESG and sustainability goals will remain a key priority for Roberts and Stantec as they edge closer to 2024.
The company is looking at ways in which existing coal-based power plants can be converted to use natural gas to generate blue hydrogen, thereby reducing process emissions by 50% and producing a zero-emission fuel in hydrogen.
Elsewhere, Roberts explains that Stantec leaders are encouraging their teams to seek new ways of developing energy efficient solutions which are resilient and sustainable, while internally within the IT department he grapples with a growing carbon footprint (the firm had 400 offices and 26,000 staff across six continents), a need for more integrated services and efficient IT systems which ensure smooth business operations.
“When it comes to the IT, the IT needs to work”, he said.
For now, the day-to-day priorities for Roberts are adding up. In addition to keeping up with the evolving cybersecurity threat landscape and network integration, Roberts is reviewing how automation can digitise current business processes, and how APIs can reduce the number of manual activities.
The future is about fast-tracking the green agenda, improving efficiencies internally and externally and ensuring IT is at the foremost of business innovation.
“The more focus we can put on trying to improve various areas of the business… the bigger impact we have overall,” said Roberts.
Quick-fire Q&A1. What was your dream job growing up?
A music producer and composer.2. What keeps you up at night?
The evolving cybersecurity landscape.3. What excites you about the next 12 months?
The mainstream adoption of AI.4. What do you do outside of work?
Paddle-boarding, Golf, Guitar and Piano.5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Learn and grow from failure.
Leader's Profile interview: Check out our line-up of HotTopics Leader's Corner and Profile Interviews.
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