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Thinking about tomorrow today

Eva Maria Herrmann interviews Dr Winfried Heusler 
Senior Vice President Global Building Excellence /Schüco International KG

Schüco celebrates its 70th birthday this year. From a small metal fabricator, the company has become an international leader in façade technology. The requirements placed on our buildings and cities are becoming ever more complex and are posing great challenges for architects, engineers and façade planners. On the one hand, there is technology and functionality and, on the other, design and usability. Comfort and health are issues of high social relevance – not just since the pandemic. Constantly challenging oneself and re-inventing oneself is the principle by which Schüco has developed innovations for many years. So it's the perfect time to take a look back into the past and forward to the future of tomorrow's cities with Dr Winfried Heusler, Senior Vice President of Global Building Excellence / Schüco International KG.

© Foto: Schüco International KG

PROFILE: What have been the most exciting projects that you have worked on at Schüco?
I can think of three completely separate experiences that also mirror my career at Schüco.
The first was the »McLaren Technology Center« in England. I saw first-hand how, when architects and engineers are all pulling in the same direction and working together on an equal footing, they can efficiently bring function and design into line during value engineering, all while keeping to budget.
The second was the internal development project »ZERO«. It was about creating culturally appropriate and environmentally-friendly products, tools and services. We delved deep into the fascinating pilot market of India with an interdisciplinary and international team, sometimes on site too. Finally,
I have fond memories of our three symposiums where young and old took part in interdisciplinary and intercultural discussions – sometimes controversial but always openand fair – about exciting topics such as »Future City 2050«, »Building Healthy Buildings« and »The Future of Work in the Digital Age«.

PROFILE: Schüco recently launched their online platform »i.NNOVATIONNOW«. What is the thinking behind it?
Due to the extraordinary situation as a result of the coronavirus, we have decided to offer our partners and architects a digital alternative to the Bau exhibition in Munich so that we can present our product highlights in 2021. The aim is for this to reinforce our leadership in technology and service. The number of participants and the feedback on our kick-off event has been staggering.

PROFILE: 70 years of Schüco – but that's no reason to become complacent. What are the most important challenges that the construction industry needs to address over the next few years?
The mega trends of urbanisation, demographic and climate change, sustainability, digitalisation and customisation will shape the course of our business in the medium and long term. Focusing on the market and the customers will therefore gain in importance.
In addition, the construction industry will encounter shortterm, unforeseen disruptions, perhaps emerging from the natural environment as well as an economic or social context. Environmental risks also include pandemics. In extreme cases, traditional products, technologies and services, and even established companies, can completely disappear from the market as a result of these types of threat. In view of this, we must make our company more agile and more resilient.

PROFILE: How does the future of Schüco look to you from a strategic point of view?
Scenarios for the future can be derived from the mega trends and spontaneous disruptions described above. The priority is to identify risks to the established business and future opportunities. In our strategy, we set out our specific business targets and business model as well as consequences and actions for the individual business areas of the company. The digital transformation plays an important role here. As a result of this, the provision and range of services on offer, as well as customer interaction in the construction and property industries, will change completely in a few short years.

PROFILE: Which innovations – including from other industries – do you think are currently setting trends?
For several years, the starting point of many innovations has been recognising that customers are not interested in products or services per se; instead, they expect a problem to be solved or a need to be satisfied. That is why, in many industries, companies that have a customer-focused strategy and business model have proven to be particularly successful. Most of the time they have developed into providers of comprehensive, customer-specific solutions. Using »hybrid added value« that can be customised, they broke through the traditional industry framework. The dovetailing of material and non-material service components is characteristic of this. It is also about providing tailored products, software and services as well as long-term guarantee agreements with regard to output, quality and costs throughout the lifecycle. In the construction and property industry, the aim should be to provide customised services and a customer-specific complete solution, consisting of the »property« material product and the »lifecycle-oriented facility management« service. Being able to process entire value chains requires broad expertise, high qualification levels and very flexible structures. This is where strategic networks play a particularly important role. In times of digitalisation and the internet of data, services and things, it is increasingly a case of gathering, analysing and implementing information in business dealings by means of communication, transaction and interaction. For example, the recording of operating data (including cleaning, maintenance and servicing) could form the basis for innovative maintenance contracts (»predictive maintenance«). In this connection, »artificial intelligence« will play an important role in future.

PROFILE: What advice would you give to the next generation of budding architects and specifiers?
I can only advise them to be open, to pull in the same direction and to work together in a focused manner. As the master builders of the future, they need to think holistically and plan and build in an environmentally-friendly and culturally appropriate way. The balance between function and design is important. People should always be at the heart of every decision!