IT and engineering can solve global challenges, says Engineers Ireland president
29 September 2014
Speaker: Regina Moran, chartered engineer, CEO of Fujitsu Ireland and Engineers Ireland president
In Fujitsu, we sometimes use Japanese proverbs, not unlike ones found in the Irish language. ‘I no naka no kawazu, taikai o shirazu’, for example, means ‘A frog in a pond cannot see the great ocean’.
As engineers, however, we see beyond the boundaries to what is possible. As technologists, we constantly push the boundaries to create new possibilities. Walking up the steps of 22 Clyde Road this evening, I thought back to my first job as an electronics technician in Cork and felt a mixture of pride and disbelief. I have chosen two main themes for this presidential year: convergence between all forms of engineering and the challenge of attracting women to our profession.
I would like to start, however, by giving you an insight into my world and Fujitsu, the company I work with, as well as the ICT sector where I have spent my career. When we look back at photographs of Tokyo from the 1920s (below), with its tram lines and telecommunications infrastructure, it almost seems like a modern-day image of engineering at its best. However, in 1923, the great Kanto earthquake struck, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale.
It destroyed much of Tokyo’s and Yokohama’s public infrastructure – transport, water and telecommunications were wiped out in the quake or the ensuing fire storms. Some 120,000 people were killed. In response, a small group of engineers went to Germany to learn about the new automatic switching equipment that could help rebuild Japan. Collaborating with German colleagues, they founded a company, a joint venture between Furukawa Electric and Siemens, called Fuji Electric.
From these humble beginnings, Fujitsu has grown into the global organisation with approximately 162,000 people supporting customers in more than 100 countries. Fujitsu has a vision of a human-centric, intelligent society with engineering at its core.
Fujitsu’s heritage as an engineering company focused on solving some of today’s most challenging problems continues to the present day. In an interesting parallel, during the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, caused by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami, engineers were called on yet again. Fujitsu’s president made all of our engineers available around the clock to repair data centres, get telecommunication back online and use engineering skills wherever possible.
Engineering solves the most difficult human problems. Tokyo, now with almost 30 million people, was largely unaffected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, which had a magnitude of 9.0 Mw. In fewer than 100 years, engineers built a city capable of withstanding a much bigger quake. But nature, in the form of a 100ft tsunami, still caused havoc. Another challenge to be solved by engineers – but that is for another day.
Convergence between engineering and technology
As the president of Engineers Ireland, I am excited and confident about the year ahead but I also realise the challenges that we face. As you know, we are undertaking a strategic review. The challenge for us, as a member-based organisation, is to remain both relevant and in tune with our current and potential members. My presidency will be one of convergence – convergence of technology and all forms of engineering.
It will be a presidency that celebrates all of our possibilities and diversity, one that continues to push boundaries and be of assistance and encouragement to those in schools and colleges who might consider engineering, and to companies who must encourage job creation in our sector. It is true that there is a huge convergence happening, between all the forms of engineering and technology. Not only is there convergence of technology itself, but also of all our engineering disciplines.
You cannot design and build the Samuel Beckett Bridge without technology and you cannot design a smartphone application without engineering. This is also creating an opportunity for Engineers Ireland to expand our reach, increase our membership and provide a structured framework in which convergence is managed and controlled across multiple engineering disciplines, working in teams to solve multifaceted problems.
It is worth looking at some facts about the ICT sector in Ireland. It directly employs over 105,000 people, with 75% employed in multinational companies and the remainder in the indigenous digital technology sector. In the last three years, over 17,500 jobs have been announced by technology companies. The sector is responsible for 40% of our national exports and is home to eight of the top ten global technology companies. Ireland is emerging as a global technology hub.
This shows the size of the opportunity for Engineers Ireland’s membership and the sector is largely untapped. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility to double our membership if the value proposition is right.
Collision between physical and digital
There is a collision happening between the physical world and the digital world, which is creating opportunities for all of us in the engineering and technology sectors. We all live in the physical world, which increasingly we are sensing using IT, even wearable IT. This is generating large amounts of data, which then creates knowledge about our physical environment. This allows us to better navigate and make changes to improve our physical world.
In the past two decades, the combination of computing, connectivity and the internet has grown the world’s digital economy from zero to tens of trillions of euro. A new generation of the internet is emerging. People and the things around us are all linked together, sharing information. The World Economic Forum calls it the ‘hyper-connected world’ and it has huge impacts for the future. More connectivity means more collaboration. It means vanishing boundaries. It means changes to the way businesses work and how society creates value. It also means risk and uncertainty. It means the future will be different from the past. There is enormous change happening.
The hyper-connected world was made possible when the internet was born and all manner of things became accessible to almost everyone, anywhere. The internet has brought together everybody and everything – people, companies, governments and, most recently, machines.
The hyper-connected world is the foundation of modern communication, trade, human, scientific and economic development. It is ubiquitous and it encompasses almost everything and everybody within its borders. The economic, political, social and business consequences of this new, landless continent are real and of a far greater magnitude than anyone could have imagined… and we are only at the beginning of its exploration. It is the playground for all our businesses and organisations and how many of us now live.
At the heart of the hyper-connected world is a new industrial revolution. We in Engineers Ireland need to be very aware of the implications. This revolution is happening now as we connect all things to the internet and all things to each other. We do not live in the world of screen and computers. We live in the physical world. We sleep in beds, eat food, drive cars, work in buildings, and socialise in cities. This physical world is being transformed.
You may have heard of the Internet of Things (IoT). The digital world will connect your car, washing machine, air conditioner, even your light bulbs. As of 2013, around 10 billion devices are online and connected to the internet. This number will likely reach 50 billion or more in 2020.
As the number of end points increases, so does the amount of information. Harnessing information gives us new insight and greater control of our world. It creates knowledge. It also carries risk. With so much of what we do in the physical world now written down in bits in the digital world, we face a serious challenge to secure what we do and protect our privacy. We must defend ourselves from ever-increasing malicious threats. We must avoid the chaos that change always has the potential to bring – a huge challenge where engineers can make the critical interventions.
All of these technology trends will have an impact on engineering and how we come together to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Engineering matters and Engineers Ireland is the voice of engineering in this country. Across the globe, there are Irish engineers, our diaspora. We have the almost unique position of representing nearly 18,000 engineers from multiple disciplines, all over this island and beyond, of being able to harness the power of convergence of engineering, underpinned by technology.
Living in the hyper-connected world means we are vulnerable to the same risks and share the same challenges. The world’s population just passed the seven billion mark and continues to grow and change. We are ageing and we are moving into cities, creating new challenges for our social infrastructure. We are facing the threat of climate change as evidenced by the recent conference in New York. We must provide food for the growing global population and improve food yields. We, like Japan, must respond to natural disasters.
So how do we respond to the challenge of the hyper-connected world? How do we take advantage of the opportunity? How do we guard against its many risks? These changes have huge implications for enterprises and bring new challenges for resource management, healthcare, disaster mitigation and our environment. Put simply, we need more engineers in our world.
Attracting more women to engineering
There is both a global and local challenge to attract and retain talent into our profession. Women largely remain a great untapped resource in our profession. We must find ways of attracting young girls, as well as young boys, to join forces with us and tackle some of the world’s greatest issues.
As part of my term, I will champion the schools, colleges and companies who are encouraging women to join the engineering world at any level. It all started with Alice Perry, the first woman engineering graduate in Ireland and Britain in 1906. She paved the way for other women to study engineering.
We need more women engineers and we need more women in Engineers Ireland, at every level. Earlier this year, Silicon Republic, the online technology media company, set out to compile a list of the leading women in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths in Ireland. From world-leading academics to inspiring science communicators, from tech business leaders to early entrepreneurs and engineers – they were spoilt for choice and ended up with a leading 100 list.
The good news is the number is growing. Although last year’s Engineering Perspectives Report found that on average, the ratio of men to women in engineering was 9:1, a fifth of all respondents in this survey were women. And of these, half were under the age of 35. We see this as a very positive signal that more women are now choosing a career in engineering as they recognise the variety of opportunities available to them in critical areas such as technology, energy and life sciences.
It is heartening to see that programmes like our STEPS schools outreach programme are producing results. Our STEPS campaigns, touching the lives and ambitions of more than 56,000 young people last year, is a testament to the dedication of Engineers Ireland volunteers across the island.
Other professions like law and medicine do not have the skills to tackle some of our greatest global challenges like climate change, population growth or indeed specific challenges mentioned by past presidents – Michael Phillips, for example, looked at the challenge of urbanisation and John O’Dea focused on the challenge of medical engineering.
We should celebrate and be proud that our engineering companies in Ireland are meeting needs across the world, from software systems in 10 Downing St and the customer information centre on the Paris Metro, to medical devices that enable blood-free surgery in cardiac centres around the world. We have ground-breaking initiatives happening right now in Ireland. Our engineers are making a real difference and we must continue to maximise the convergence of technology and engineering.
Engineers as leaders
“The path to the CEO office should not be through the CFOs and it should not be through the marketing department – it needs to be through engineering and design.” So says Elon Musk, founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors. And I completely agree with him.
It is a great honour to hold the office of president of Engineers Ireland and I accept and appreciate the great responsibilities and prestige of this office. By my calculations, I am the 178th president and third woman in this position. I must acknowledge the immense contribution of past presidents – particularly the two great women who preceded me, Jane Grimson and Anne Butler.
I would also like to thank all Engineers Ireland members and staff who make such a difference. Thousands of volunteer hours at regions and divisions, at STEPS outreach, at events, on interview panels, at council and executive, supported by dedicated staff here in the house. This is a wonderful organisation, led with passion by John Power.
I am proud to be an engineer, a technologist and a woman running a global company in Ireland, but I am immensely proud to serve as Engineers Ireland president.
To view a slideshow of Regina Moran’s presentation, please click here.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2014/09/29/engineering-can-solve-global-challenges-says-engineers-ireland-president-2/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Regina-620x350.jpeghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Regina-620x350-300x300.jpegTechchartered,Engineers Ireland