A longtime acquaintance recently started an engineering design firm and asked me and my staff at Engineered Efficiency to help him get their AEC technology up and running. Right now, his company is small and has a clean-slate: they don’t have any bad habits to break and can take a big-picture view of how they want to integrate design and modeling technology into their business. As we worked through a short checklist of the basics, such as software to buy, hardware for office and remote staff, CAD/BIM standards, and so on, the conversation turned to the emerging technology tools which are starting to make headlines in both the mainstream and industry-specific media.
Drones are now common place and coupling them with LiDAR and high definition cameras brings unique capabilities to the AE industry. With backing from major companies like Facebook, Google and Autodesk, the media attention around virtual and augmented reality is quite raucous, and with good reason. Cloud computing with easy access to massive server farms provides modeling and analysis tools which would have been impossible just a few years ago. All this is and more is heaped on top of the tech already owned, but not yet fully implemented, by most AE firms. If the adoption rate of existing BIM and other modeling tools is any indication of future adoption rates, then much of these great new tools will go unpurchased, unused or underutilized.
There is an underlying principle of personal technology adoption that if the tool adds a benefit at a reasonable price it will be adopted. However, this principle does not transfer so easily to the corporate world, where technology doesn’t exist in the near isolation of a single user or handful of users. New technology in industry, no matter its potential for increasing profits and reducing costs, almost always is part of a much larger design and delivery process. The ability of AE firms to integrate new tech into their processes is the key to successful implementation and the resultant increased profits. Unfortunately this is usually not our industry’s strongest trait and examples of slow adoption abound. To use terminology from Geoffrey A. Moore’s classic best seller, “Crossing the Chasm”, most AE firms belong to the “late majority” group on the technology adoption lifecycle curve. Moore characterizes the late majority by these traits when adopting new tech:
Want well-established references before investing
Limited comfort/ability to handle new technology
Wait until the tech has become a well-established standard
Want lots of support for the tech
While each of these characteristics certainly do not apply to every individual at an AE firm, they almost universally apply to AE firms across the industry. Even the most basic tools which have been owned for more than a decade by nearly every AE firm are still unused or underutilized. A case in point was brought into focus during the conversation with the colleague mentioned earlier when we discussed making his processes as efficient as possible: every semi-modern CAD application has tools to automate the task of creating a set of construction documents by facilitating automatic title block/border placement; auto page numbering/renumbering; one-button plotting of the entire set’ and so on. Every firm already owns these tools and almost every firm neglects to fully implement them. If the industry won’t find the time to fully embrace something so basic and intrinsic, what are the chances of successful adoption of more advanced tools coming and an increasingly rapid pace?
Here are a few steps almost all AE firms can take to prepare for and profit from the tech deluge:
Review the tasks your team does most often and ask “What steps take the longest and do we have or can we acquire the tools available to make it faster? How much faster can we make it?”
If no or not much faster, move on to the next task and repeat #1. If yes, continue to #3
Look at the larger overall process in which the tasks take place and ask “What upstream and downstream tasks impact or are impacted by any changes we might make?”
Evaluate the each upstream and downstream task, asking questions 1 and 3 for the entire process.
Compare the cost/time savings for optimizing each task in the overall process versus the effort involved to do so.
Many firms find the easiest way to get started is to identify tasks which by themselves can be optimized with little need for changes to upstream or downstream activities. This allows them to take small steps with low risk and potentially high reward. It also allows them to hone the process-optimization and tech adoption process itself. As the firm moves on from this low-hanging fruit, they will either have acquired the in-house skills needed to tackle more complex adoptions at a more rapid pace or have gained the knowledge to work efficiently with a consultant who can assist them. In both scenarios, the firm and the industry win.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!