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Q&A: Talking with Paul Francis, Jacobs Regional Solutions Director for Digital Solutions APAC

Jacobs Regional Solutions Director for Digital Solutions APAC Paul Francis talks passion for technology and gadgets, Jacobs’ transition to the leading technology-enabled solutions provider and some emerging transformative trends.

We’re living in the era of digital disruption and we need bold digital and technology leadership now more than ever before. Leading this change demands knowledge, imagination, new thinking, an appetite to reinvent and the courage to challenge conventions.   

In this series, we're celebrating our team of digital and technology experts and visionaries, spearheading the development and delivery of our technology-forward solutions for smarter working and better living in Asia Pacific.

For this feature, we caught up with our Regional Solutions Director for Digital Solutions APAC – Paul Francis, to talk about his passion for gadgets, Jacobs’ transition to the leading technology-enabled solutions provider and how some of the emerging transformative digital-enabled solutions can help overcome our global challenges.

Tell us about your role at Jacobs.

I am the Regional Solutions Director for Digital Solutions in APAC, currently based in Gold Coast, Australia.

What’s your favorite part of theRegional Solutions Director for Digital Solutions role?

I enjoy the breadth of the role – the application of digital to help transform outcomes for our clients across every sector where Jacobs operates. The challenge, of course, is then determining where and when to focus efforts for the best benefit!

Tell us a bit more about your background and what sparked your interest in pursuing a career in this field?

I was born in Portsmouth, U.K. and I studied Computer Science at Kingston University. As well as the U.K. I’ve lived and worked in the Netherlands, the U.S., Singapore and Australia. I started my professional life as a programmer, working on projects for the European Space Agency. Subsequently, I spent 20+ years in technology, consulting and business leadership roles, bringing emerging tech and digital transformation in areas such as smart cities, future transport, industrial, utilities and telco.

From school age, I’ve been fascinated by technology, gadgets and computing. Showing my age, but I grew up in the era when home computing really exploded with the likes of the Vic-20, Commodore-64, Sinclair Spectrum, Oric Atmos and more into the household. A nerdy kid’s dream come true!

Jacobs has outlined a strategy to shift from a traditional engineering consulting firm to a “technology-forward” solutions provider. How has Jacobs adopted the new business models? 

The shift to a solution- and a digitally-focused company brings with it a need to review and potentially undertake adjustments right across the whole business – whether that’s in our digital tools of the trade or how we bring the very best digital thinking and solutions to our client’s challenges, alongside our deep domain expertise. Considering commercial constructs, Intellectual Property (IP), legal agreements also matter while making this shift. Not to forget how we communicate our value to the clients, plan for future skills and career development (including totally new skillsets) or offer adjacent services.

Exciting times as we seek to “reinvent tomorrow,” both for ourselves and our clients.

How is digital and technology addressing some of our market challenges? Can you share some examples?

We’re fortunate to bring digital services and solutions across all key markets where Jacobs operates – it’s hard to know which ones to call out! From the latest techniques in data capture, including remote drone operations, to combining BIM/3D models with IoT sensors in the provision of digital twins. From exploring the impacts of electric, connected and autonomous vehicles in intelligent transport solutions to using Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML) techniques to predict equipment failure or optimize process efficiency, right through to cybersecurity in the operational technology space. And much, much more!

What are some of the trends that are taking shape in response to global challenges ahead?

Even pre-pandemic, the pace of change in the digital realm was ever-increasing. The current environment has further accelerated this pace. Coupled with the current imperatives to address climate change and resilience, we’re seeing a range of digital-enabled solutions coming to the fore.

Some examples are advances in simulations and digital twins and advanced modeling for events ranging from flooding to bushfires, supply-chain disruptions, pandemics etc. In addition, broader applications of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors are emerging along with AI/ML techniques for predictive and preventative actions such as reducing spills and runoff, optimizing chemical usage, process efficiency and reducing climate impacts. There are also developments in modular/advanced manufacturing – for instance, new materials science techniques, cement, textile and packaging.

An interesting space to watch out for is optimizing city operation, be it traffic lights, waste management or lighting, with digital-enabled solutions. Another promising area is mining customer sentiment and helping with nudge-theory such as trip optimization, greener transport options and incentives. 

People would be surprised to know that ….

Jacobs helped build a calibration device for the Mars Perseverance rover– the Scanning Habitable Environments with Ramen & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) will be used to detect chemicals on the Martian surface that are linked to the possible existence of ancient life. That’s pretty cool!

Most interesting career moment?

Really tough to choose just one…From a client outcomes perspective (and the most challenging environment!), I led a very complex 18-month program for a global mining organization around its enterprise IT capabilities. The net result saw savings in the multiple hundreds of millions of dollars range.

On a more fun note, I worked on one of the world’s smartest mall program in Dubai – a really interesting mega-facility, aiming to utilize emerging and digital technologies to enhance not only operational effectiveness but primarily customer experience.  A very “think different” type of brief from the client - the facility included a 1km long indoor ski slope!

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?

Definitely the culture, and that the Jacobs values are not just talked to in passing but are genuinely lived.  Also, that seemingly every day, I discover another amazing area where Jacobs is providing world-leading solutions. Finally, how as a firm we’re willing to continue to challenge the status quo.

What is your vision for Jacobs’ digital portfolio over the next five years?  

My vision is that by working side-by-side with our clients, the combination of Jacobs’ digital advisory services, solutions, products and our deep domain expertise are truly recognized for unlocking the discussed, but often hard to realize, value of digital and data at scale.

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable.

We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. Let’s see the impact we can create, together.

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