In the evolving world of architecture, engineering and construction, using technology to enhance service delivery and business outcomes is here to stay. Firms that embrace this opportunity will thrive, adapting to the shifts and needs of the market, but those that hesitate, risk a decline in growth and competitiveness.
Firms must recognize that technology doesn’t replace engineers. Rather, engineers who leverage technology replace engineers who don’t. Embracing technology ensures companies are more adept at traversing the AEC landscape as well as meeting the future-focused expectations clients have of an innovative, modern engineering firm. Integrating technology into business and service delivery will be necessary to stay relevant as it becomes more ubiquitous.
To truly transform the industry and overcome today’s challenges, first focus on refining and enhancing the delivery of your current work by leveraging now-ready technologies instead of redefining your work as a whole. By embracing this mindset, we can unlock a world of automation and efficiency gains, both internally within engineering firms and externally in our interactions with clients before we use the technology to reinvent the industry.
The accelerated and consistent evolution of technology, artificial intelligence and its many subsets such as machine learning, can feel disruptive to an industry like AEC, where traditional modes of project management, design and consultation reign supreme. However, there are tactics firms can deploy to ease anxiety, manage risk and embrace tech enablement.
Check Your Mindset and Leverage Existing Technology
Embracing technology doesn’t have to be a zero-to-60 strategy. Engineers should relieve themselves of the pressure or assumption that entering the tech and innovation space requires the development of a radically new product. Rather, they should focus on exploring and ultimately leveraging existing technologies to improve upon current processes and services to deliver a better outcome for clients and experience for their engineers.
The current landscape presents us with a unique opportunity to harness emerging technology in a way that prioritizes efficiency and elevates the quality of our work. We can do this with generative design. With generative design, engineers can lean on algorithms and artificial intelligence to create multiple design options in a fraction of the time it would take to create just one. This process ensures a fully optimized design, providing more space for engineers to apply their expertise to additional project components and getting ahead of supply chain issues that could delay construction.
Many technologies already exist that can change the way your business operates — improved access to high-fidelity data sets, use of augmented and mixed reality solutions and deployment of remote-site robotics and inspection technologies lean into these existing technologies, leveraging their value to enhance your service delivery.
Create Internal Policies and Procedures to Manage Risk
As technology continues to rapidly evolve, becoming universally accessible to businesses, clients, and employees alike, it’s critical that engineering firms develop policies and procedures around its adoption and implementation.
New advances in tech enablement can transform engineering, but without establishing a core set of policies dictating how employees can and should utilize it, companies open themselves up to potential privacy and data violations, security risks, misuse and misinformation. The first step is creating internal guidance and rules to protect the integrity of your work and brand.
Firms should lean on their legal and regulatory leaders to ensure artificial intelligence technologies are being used safely and in ways that don’t risk the dissemination of proprietary information. Working collaboratively across departments will help ensure all employees understand the internal standard operating procedure for AI use. It’s an intuitive measure but can easily be overlooked given the speed with which we see technological advancements in the AEC space.
In addition to developing internal policies, engineering teams should create an established procedure for identifying and testing new technologies. Before integrating new technology into day-to-day work, business offerings or service deliveries, time must be spent understanding how the technology works with existing processes, the impact on project delivery overall and whether it even makes sense for the business.
There are plenty of traditional technology evaluation frameworks to follow, most structured around the same basic tenants – (1.) be specific in what you’re trying to learn/answer with your testing process, (2.) state your assumptions or hypothesis on how it might impact your business if it performs, (3.) put that technology directly into the hands of the engineering teams who would use it, and (4.) be objective in your review of data and results. If your assumptions and hypothesis hold, confirm it again. If you learned something new, then modify and run the process over.
Overall, it is crucial for an organization and the team to be intentional about testing your technology in the field and on a project, learning what it does and how it needs to be modified for your team. Learning something new or unexpected from your testing is not a failure, it’s the point. The more you learn the better you can decide how to integrate and operationalize as part of a new way of working.
Invest in Current Employees to Grow Your Business
As the AEC industries, continue to face labor challenges while project demand steadily increases, tech enablement is a critical strategy in meeting demand for both employees and projects. Integrating new technologies internally holds immense potential for developing talent and modernizing traditional engineering practices. Engineers have always been problem solvers, and by embracing technology, we can empower them to solve complex challenges more effectively and efficiently.
However, engineers may often lack the coding tools and experience required to create innovative solutions. To bridge this gap, companies should capitalize on this opportunity by investing in their people and launching technology-skilling programs. Doing so will foster the growth of their employees and encourage technological creativity. Through internal education and development, engineers can expand their skill sets to include software skills and streamline the innovation process — and organizations can create talent internally without having to search for specialized expertise in a tight labor market.
Creating a program to empower engineers to write their own scripts and develop custom engineering tools is an additional way to internally develop talent. By providing basic and additional coding training, organizations can enable our employees to enhance their problem-solving capabilities and further elevate the efficiency and quality of their work. For example, Ulteig has sponsored an internal Efficiency Team since August of 2019 and has now recently implemented a Citizen Developer Program to help upskill employees which has resulted in more than 100 new internal engineering calculators and tools.The integration of state-of-the-art technology into AEC operations, both externally with clients and internally with talent development, yields numerous benefits. Embracing technology is no longer a choice but a necessity to stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving industry. It is crucial we seize this moment and proactively incorporate technological advancements into our business operations. By leveraging technology, AEC professionals can solve labor shortages while driving efficiency, collaboration and overall project quality. It is high time we recognize and embrace the potential of technology as a transformative force revolutionizing the AEC industry, propelling it into a new era of success.
Eric Stern is director of technology and innovation at Ulteig