Understanding The Technology Structure and Needs for AEC Firms

The needs of the modern AEC firm are ever-evolving. As technology continues to become more sophisticated, it increasingly lends itself well to the collaborative and often geographically dispersed teams of the AEC industry.

I have the unique opportunity to work for a company that has over 75 clients ranging from just two employees to 1,000 solely within this unique industry. Because of this, I have had the privilege to assist in solving the technology challenges that firms face on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s DR and backup, data archiving, collaboration or BIM — my team and I have helped our valued AEC firms come up with the best IT solutions possible.

With that said, I have a unique perspective on technology as it relates to the AEC firm. From experience, I categorize technology for AEC into three main categories: Infrastructure, Design, and Knowledge Management.

Let’s take a look at what each category entails:

Infrastructure Technology

Infrastructure technology keeps you running day-to-day.  This is the behind-the-scenes technology, the “plumbing” that supports daily operations.  You never notice it (until it fails), but it is very important to the stability of your operations.  Infrastructure technology supports system stability, remote access, mobility, collaboration, facility support, and sustainability. Infrastructure technologies RUN the business.

Examples of Infrastructure Technology:

  • Servers
  • Desktops / Workstations
  • Internet
  • Virtualization
  • Networking (Local Area and Wide Area)
  • Telecommunications
  • Remote access
  • Video conferencing
  • Wireless
  • Mobile Devices

Design Technology

Design technologies are the tools used to manage and administer projects. BIM is the essential design technology.

Design technologies support mobility and collaboration. This includes the ability to work outside the office, the ability to connect to the network from anywhere, and the ability to collaborate and work with both internal and external project teams.

Design technologies author and document your projects. These tools also communicate design solutions to your clients. Design technologies GROW the business.

Examples of Design Technology:

  • Authoring (Revit / AutoCAD)
  • Project Information Management (PIM)
  • Collaboration tools
  • Email
  • Analysis tools
  • Visualization software
  • QA / QC / risk management
  • Quantity take-offs / estimating / commissioning
  • Scheduling
  • Construction administration

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management (KM) is a key business support technology for AEC. It defines what you do, how you work, how you stay productive, and how you promote innovation and creativity at your firm.  Knowledge Management is recording, storing, and retrieving knowledge and information, and documenting and sharing best practices.  

Knowledge Management technologies provide access to information. Web technologies such as blogs, intranets, wikis, and social media help build and market the collective knowledge of your firm. In addition, training is a key part of Knowledge Management. Your staff needs adequate training and more importantly the ability to save, seek, and find information.

Examples of Knowledge Management:

  • Training
  • Network folder organization
  • Project information access
  • Design and technical libraries
  • Best practices and procedures
  • Historical project data
  • Business intelligence
  • Collaboration and communication software
  • Intranet
  • Internet
  • Digital asset management
  • Project process documentation

All of these KM technologies contribute to team and organizational knowledge flow, which is essentially the transition of the managed knowledge from where it’s stored, to where it needs to be applied. Naturally, knowledge must and does flow through the design process.

Here’s a look at the basic knowledge flow for collaborative AEC teams:

AEC Knowledge Flow

Knowledge Management technology can make your firm more competitive in the marketplace by increasing your expertise and providing better service to your clients. It’s safe to say that KM Technologies TRANSFORM the business and ensure every team member has the information, education, and overall knowledge to perform optimally.

The Technology Life-Cycle

Any of these technologies can provide a competitive advantage for your firm, but you must weigh each against the technology life-cycle (TLC).

Within each of these categories of technology there are new solutions and products that initially provide a competitive advantage. Early adopters and more tech-savvy firms take advantage of new technologies to gain a competitive edge over their peers. But they also accept the learning curve and higher costs associated with new technology adoption. Right now, AR and VR technologies are examples of competitive advantage technologies.

As technologies become generally accepted and widespread, their use instead becomes a competitive necessity. By this time, most firms have heard of or are already using these technologies and they are required if you intend to keep up with the competition. These technologies don’t provide a competitive advantage, but if you don’t use them you run the risk of falling behind the competition. CAD and BIM authoring tools are good examples of competitive necessity technology.

Finally, as technology ages and is replaced, it becomes a competitive disadvantage. If you continue to use older, outdated technologies, your company falls behind the mainstream, and you actually lose productivity by not replacing old technology. Are you still using AutoCAD 2004 on 10-year-old workstations and CRT monitors? Sure, you can, but you are paying a steep price in productivity and are at a competitive disadvantage to your peers.

Quick Recap:

In today’s technologically-driven world, it’s no secret that technology adds value to your products, provides additional marketable services, supports decision making, increases productivity, and provides timely financial data. This demonstrates to your clients a leadership role in the use of technology applied in the design profession.

The three categories of technologies featured in this article — infrastructure, design, and knowledge management — form the basis for understanding the IT needs of an AEC firm. Any experienced IT firm, like Advance2000, will work with you within this framework to build a comprehensive IT strategy to run your IT operations, and, in turn, keep your entire business operating efficiently.

 


With over 75 AEC clients ranging in size from 2 to 1,200, Advance2000 understands the unique technology needs of AEC.  Whether it’s backup, DR, data archiving, collaboration, or BIM, we have experience solving the technology challenges facing your firm.  We work with Autodesk, Bentley, Dassault, Deltek, Newforma, Primavera and many other AEC-specific vendors.  

Ready to explore how we can help you strategically run, grow, and transform your practice? 

Strategic IT Assessment from Advance2000