When outsourcing to an IT firm, Mashburn Construction chose to partner with an IT firm that demonstrated expertise in the AEC industry. Download the case study to learn more about their growing partnership with Advance2000.
Technology In Construction Benefits
Technology in construction isn’t discussed anywhere near as much as it deserves to be. Construction has a rosy outlook for the not-so-distant future, and here’s a look at the technology to help get us there faster and cheaper.
The Future of Construction
Construction is on the up and up. Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/226368/projected-value-of-total-us-construction/) has placed a monetary value of 1.23 trillion USD for new construction during 2017, and that number is expected to reach 1.5 trillion USD by 2022. The United States currently has strong bipartisan agreement that our infrastructure deserves our federal attention and funding (https://www.constructiondive.com/news/two-years-of-trump-where-are-we-and-whats-next-for-construction/542578/) and we’ve already seen that rhetoric transform into action with the recent signing of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/addressing-americas-infrastructure-needs). This Act invests in, among other things, the maintenance and construction of water and wastewater infrastructure in the States. Just this December (https://www.constructiondive.com/news/dot-awards-15b-for-91-projects-across-49-states-and-dc/544268/) the USDOT awarded $1.5B USD for 91 road, rail, transit, and port infrastructure projects. This is all great news for construction firms booking up the coming years.
While the future is bright, both the Associated General Contractors and the American Institute of Architects have a few factors to keep in mind. Chief Economist Ken Simonson at the AGC of America expects (https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/Files/Communications/Construction%20trends%20%26%20outlook.pdf) manufacturing construction to continue to recover in 2019, “tariffs, foreign retaliation, [and] rising construction costs are major concerns.” Rising inflation in building costs is a significant point of concern. From mid-year 2017 to mid-year 2018, steel prices are up 12 percent, aluminum is up 20 percent, and lumber/plywood is up 18 percent. Combine that with an aging workforce, a shortage of skilled labor to replace it, and concern about possible “federal immigration policies that threaten one of the most reliable sources of labor for the AEC industry,” and any contractor will begin to sweat (https://www.aia.org/articles/205181-despite-emerging-economic-concerns-construc). Essentially, what the evidence is saying: even though the outlook is optimistic, construction needs to be mindful of cost and labor.
Here’s where technology in construction comes into play.
Innovation and Improvement in Construction
The most well-known existing tech in AEC is Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, which has turned productivity in AEC around. When used to its fullest extent, BIM allows construction companies to take active roles in the pre-planning process rather than assume reactive roles later. Even though BIM software has been around for a while, the programs are constantly improving. Specifically benefiting construction, they’re increasing the processing power and cross-program integration. Add-In apps integrate construction programs like BIM 360 and Navisworks seamlessly with design programs like Revit. This enables early detection of conflicts, and building teams have been able to address schedule set-backs before they happen. The time-schedule savings alone has been monumental.
BIM software has influenced an expanding technology in North America: Off-Site Construction. This technology isn’t new, as it’s well established in Europe, Asia, and even making appearances in rapidly growing cities in Africa, but it’s just now getting it’s foothold in NA. As off-site construction (or as American’s generally refer to it, prefabrication) is based in integrated project delivery, the real-time collaboration among stakeholders easily identifies what can be prefabricated in off-site manufacturing factories immediately. Of course, the limitation here is how many construction companies have the facility space to add prefabrication into their company? For companies that have the warehouse or yard to take advantage of off-site, it reduces the need for on-site skilled workers–reducing labor costs–and prefabrication cuts down on material waste–reducing material costs. Construction companies embracing off-site construction are experiencing schedule savings, increased labor productivity, waste reduction, and all while using the same BIM software they were using for complex on-site projects.
Drones have been allowed on construction sites for a couple years now (https://connect.bim360.autodesk.com/construction-drones-fly-freely). Drones render the site landscape for a fast and accurate start to a building project, or scan existing structures to identify maintenance needs not always visible to the human eye. 3D scans from construction sites cut down on time spent checking measurements, project progress, material inventory, and general surveillance. While BIM Software allows for real-time collaboration between stakeholders, drones upload real-time progress. As the cost of drones decrease, the ROI they provide increase.
Realtime Capture LLC., Scott Cooper
Peoria, AZ Site Overview Drone Footage: https://vimeo.com/207677742
3D printing looks like it will offer some relief in regards to cost of materials at some point. Additive manufacturing of 3D printed concrete, polymeric foam, and steel offer solutions to existing construction problems: more efficient use of materials, more output with less man power, and project completion in rapid time. Of course, at the time of this writing, there are real world issues that prevent 3D construction printing from going into effect immediately. The first hurdle is whether or not 3D printing will comply with building codes and standards (https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-construction-310120184/). The second major constraint is while 3D construction materials are affordable, the upfront cost of the 3D printer is prohibitive. The startups pioneering this tech team up with established large scale construction firms or public universities to sustain the R&D.
Increase Knowledge Transfer with AI
The World Economic Forum identified a few factors as to why when compared to other industries, technological benefits in construction are lagging on a global scale. Most of the shortfalls that prevent increased productivity is the failure to utilize the existing technology. Specific to construction, a few technological challenges are the lack of formal processes, insufficient knowledge transfer from project to project, and weak project monitoring (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_full_report__.pdf). Currently, the most efficient on-site processes, historical experience, and expert project monitoring are entirely dependent on companies’ best project managers.
Artificial Intelligence will take the human element of the industry and make it duplicable. But the human element won’t disappear entirely: contractors, project managers, and construction foremen are essential to the continual improvement of this tech with their creative touches from project to project. If we take away the human element completely, and there’s no more innovation.
Adam Ward of Space Group and BIM Technologies makes a case that machine learning is the way to make construction more efficient. In September of 2017, Ward wrote for AEC Magazine that “machines are very good at consuming and analyzing large amounts of seemingly unrelated data and finding patterns in the chaos” (13). Programs learn to recognize data from each project, they predict patterns and behaviors to detect productivity issues, and increase the efficiency of project monitoring and create formal processes. We’re already starting to see the early stages of this in current BIM software, as mentioned earlier. If AI can transfer this kind of knowledge from project to project, that would help increase project productivity in fiscally measurable ways.
In order to amass this information, machine learning will use astronomical amounts of data pulled from the cloud to simplify mundane project tasks and streamline the results. Ward explains “if a computer programme sees thousands of architects selecting a particular type of door handle—for use on a particular door type, in a particular building type, in a particular country—it can use this knowledge to make future recommendations to architects automatically about which door handle they might select” (15). AEC probably won’t be nostalgic about no longer assigning panic bars to emergency exits.
Innovation Begins in the Clouds
In order to take advantage of these emerging technologies to benefit construction directly, it’s vital to be connected to the cloud (https://www.advance2000.com/10-reasons-aec-firms-moving-cloud/). Project data, user patterns, and general industry progress will all depend on information stored and analyzed in the cloud. While this shared information sounds scary, Advance2000’s Compute and Collaboration Hub has been specifically engineered to protect each client’s intellectual property while sharing only the data the client wants shared. Most design software companies like Autodesk have access control functionality integrated into their programs for security purposes. In addition to that, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is another gatekeeper to keep your sensitive data safe.
For more information on how emerging technologies can benefit your construction company’s bottom line, contact us at (800) 238-2621. We can help you build an IT solution that’s crafted to support your BIM software and protect your IP.
“America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.” U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works. Accessed 14 Dec 2018. https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/addressing-americas-infrastructure-needs
Baker, Kermit. “Despite emerging economic concerns, construction spending projected to grow.” AIA.com, The American Institute of Architects, 20 July 2018. https://www.aia.org/articles/205181-despite-emerging-economic-concerns-construc
Brown, Kathleen. “Two years of Trump: Where are we and what’s next for construction?” Construction Dive, 20 Nov 2018. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/two-years-of-trump-where-are-we-and-whats-next-for-construction/542578/
D., Jamie. “3D Printing: The Future of Construction.” 3dnatives.com, 3Dnatives, 31 Jan 2018. https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-construction-310120184/
“Forecast for new construction put in place in the U.S. from 2011 to 2022 (in billion U.S. dollars)*.” Statista.com, The Statistics Portal. Accessed 14 Dec 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/226368/projected-value-of-total-us-construction/
Higgins, Adam. “New FAA Regulations Allow Construction Drones to Fly Freely.” Connect&Construct, Autodesk, 21 Sept 2016. https://connect.bim360.autodesk.com/construction-drones-fly-freely
“Reference List of Software Products with Potential Application for Off-Site Construction.” Off-Site Construction Council, National Institute of Building Sciences. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/OSCC/OSCC_Software_list.pdf
Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology. World Economic Forum, May 2016. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_full_report__.pdf
Simonson, Ken. “US Construction Spending, Labor and Materials Outlook.” Agc.org, AGC of America, 4 Dec 2018. https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/Files/Communications/Construction%20trends%20%26%20outlook.pdf
Slowey, Kim. “DOT awards $1.5B for 91 projects across 49 states and DC.” Construction Dive, 13 Dec 2018. https://www.constructiondive.com/news/dot-awards-15b-for-91-projects-across-49-states-and-dc/544268/
Smith, Ryan E. “Off-Site and Modular Construction Explained.” Off-Site Construction Council, National Institute of Building Sciences. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/OSCC/OSMC_Explained.pdf
Ward, Adam. “Intelligent Design.” AEC Magazine, Vol. 92, Sept/Oct 2017. Pp. 13-15.
With the AEC industry’s emphasis on real-time work and collaboration, it’s no surprise that more and more firms are choosing to move their IT environments to high-performance private clouds.
However, not all AEC firms have made the big move. Change is scary, we know – especially when dealing with the efficiency and longevity of your business. Of course it’s important to consider what solution and IT scenario is right for your particular needs and processes, but to help give you some insight, here are some of the top reasons other AEC firms like yours have chosen to make the big move (as well as some top considerations you might have when deciding if this is the right move for your firm).
To Support Growth
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Support rapid growth
- Scale up as well as down
- Address short-term needs
Imagine that you just won that HUGE project and it’s time to start hiring and buy more computers. Or maybe you are growing by acquisition or merger. How do you join two companies’ networks? Are you moving in together or keeping separate offices? If you have a rapidly growing business, how do you support growth? In addition to needing more space for your new staff, how do you supply them with the right technology to get the work done?
One of our largest clients have asked us to add 500 additional seats to their project cloud in 30 days. We were only able to do this because we were working in a virtual environment. If you had to handle this type of growth in a physical environment, how would you do it? First, you order the hardware, then wait two weeks for it to arrive. At that point you stare at 500+ boxes of computer equipment. Where do you store that many boxes, how long will it take you to unbox them? Once you’ve opened the boxes and set up the computers, how long will it take you to configure each one – 20 minutes, 60 minutes? Once the computers are configured, they need to be placed at a desk, this might take 20 to 30 minutes per computer. And where do you put 500 more people? This would be an enormous task. Could you do it in a month?
There’s also the flip side to growth: what about downsizing? Now that you’ve added 500 additional computers to your environment, what if the project goes on hold? In 2008, did any of your projects go on hold? But now you’ve got 500 extra computers that are either leased or purchased, what do you do with them? Sell them? Store them? In the virtual world we just erase the virtual desktop and it’s gone – and so is the monthly charge for using it.
How do you handle short-term growth? Do you hire summer interns? Summer interns need a computer and it’s got to be high-powered and capable of running all of the applications they need. And at the end of summer what do you do with that computer? Do you give it to someone else? Or did you give the interns older equipment and reduce their productivity (and opinion of your firm) all summer?
Hardware / Software Refresh
Key benefits of the cloud:
- No more trickle-down
- Easy upgrades
- Save labor hours / no staff disruption
As you know, AEC software requires high-powered hardware, and firms constantly upgrade their computers. Each time a computer is upgraded, the new (more powerful) computer is given to the best users and their computers are trickled down to the next best users, and their computers are trickled down to the third best users, and so on. Generally, for each new computer put into service you need to touch three computers in the “trickle down”. This takes a lot of time and also disrupts the staff (productivity hit).
In addition, a new version of software often has increased hardware requirements. Two years ago, 8GB of RAM was fairly standard on a high-powered workstation. Today, 16 or 32GB is the standard. You could do in-place upgrades on all of your computers, but that requires a lot of manpower. You need to order the replacement parts, schedule a time to disrupt users, open the machine, install the upgrade, close the machine and let the user get back to work. This might take one to two hours per machine – replacing a hard drive takes even longer. Contrast that with the cloud where a memory upgrade can be done in minutes. With the cloud, it’s possible to upgrade the memory and hard drives on every computer in a firm in less than a day.
Growing Data Storage Needs
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Data needs grow 10-20% per year
- Huge files
- Buy only what you need today
AEC firms have growing data storage needs. In fact, each year a firm’s data grows by 10 to 20%. Graphical programs create huge files, often in excess of several gigabytes. Animation and rendering files are huge and each one might generate hundreds of files.
Additionally, AEC firms take a lot of photographs: photos of existing conditions, photos of field conditions, photos of work in progress, and finally, photos of completed work. Photographs (especially hi-res) use a lot of disk storage. Contrast this with an accounting or law firm that might have hundreds or thousands of Excel or Word documents. A large Excel file is probably no more than 25 megabytes. Compare that to a large animation project which might be terabytes in size.
The cloud can easily scale to accommodate a firm’s storage needs. In addition to being scalable to any size, you only need to purchase what you’re going to use today, plus a small amount for growth. When you buy physical hardware you need to anticipate your storage needs 3 to 5 years in advance or plan to upgrade along the way. You also have to make sure that your physical storage devices can physically accommodate the additional hardware. With the cloud you’re always right sized and you have nearly unlimited total capacity.
Oftentimes, projects need to be stored 7 to 11 years for legal reasons. Cheap storage in the cloud is pennies per gigabyte. In the cloud, you use expensive, fast storage for live projects and then move the completed projects to slower, cheap cloud storage for long-term archiving, thus eliminating the need to keep everything on expensive servers and disks.
Mobility / BYOD
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Easily work from home
- Software is available from anywhere
- Don’t need a high-powered laptop
Working in the cloud, you have complete mobility. You can work from home, a hotel, coffee shop, job site, or anywhere else that has a data connection. What’s better, your software programs are available from any location. You don’t need high-powered laptops loaded with all of the applications to do your work. Your software is loaded on your high-powered virtual desktop accessible from anywhere you have a broadband connection (which is almost everywhere).
You can also connect using any type of device (BYOD): you could use a tablet, a inexpensive laptop, or even a Mac to work on a Windows computer using Windows software.
AEC firms are deadline driven; you don’t work the standard 9 to 5. With the cloud, you can leave the office with your virtual desktop running, head home, have dinner with the family, then connect from home and pick up where you left off. No more late hours stuck at the office. You have access to your high-powered workstation and all your software and files no matter where you are and when you need them.
Hardware and Software Management
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Easy upgrades to software
- Patching and patch management
- Manage and maintain master images
- Easier cloning and configuring computers
- License tracking simplified
Managing hardware and software is a challenge for any firm. But for AEC, because of all of the different types of software and hardware, keeping track of everything is a management nightmare. Each year when a new version of software is released, everyone on the building design team needs to upgrade at the same time in order for your files to be compatible. Naturally, upgrading an entire office of computers is a challenge. Coordinating an upgrade across multiple firms with multiple offices working together is a bigger challenge. There are specialized tools for deploying applications across the network but many times that still requires that you touch each desktop to make sure it installs correctly.
Similarly, rolling out new computers is a difficult task for any AEC firm. You must manage and maintain each computer image so you can update and deploy new computers quickly and easily. Cloning a desktop in the cloud is is extremely easy and not much harder than copying a file. Any customization or configuration can be done remotely. When working in the cloud, there’s no need to walk around an office or to even be in the office in order to clone, customize, configure and roll out new computers. In addition, keeping track of licenses and software installations is much easier in the cloud using virtual desktops.
Disaster Recovery and Backup
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Loss of billable time
- Natural disaster
- Consultant risk
- Using the cloud for Backup and DR
Disaster recovery and backup are especially important for an AEC firm. AEC firms make their money by billing hours and keeping their staff productive. Any downtime is going to be very costly. If your staff is not billing their time, it adds to your overhead costs. What do you do if you have a real disaster? What if you lose your entire office or building? What if there’s a flood or other type of natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake? You need a disaster recovery plan.
One thing that is often overlooked is the risk of working with consultants. Firms don’t think about what will happen if their consultants lose their files? You might have your firm protected but if you’re working with others and they lose their files because of some type of disaster or mishap, it can jeopardize delivery of the entire project. So you’re not only at risk because of your own exposure, but you are also responsible for all the consultants working on the project with you.
Are you monitoring your backups? Do they run successfully every day? Do you test-restore files to make sure that your backups are really working? You should always have three copies of your data, the live original data, a copy on site, and an offsite or online copy. If your data and desktops reside in the cloud, your disaster recovery plan is built in. At Advance2000, all of our clients’ infrastructure is backed up to a second data center. Once your data is in the cloud, we can easily add virtual desktops and create a virtual office accessible from anywhere. You can recover from any downtime quickly and easily.
Internal Company Collaboration
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Work between offices in real time
- Support for home workers
- Always on a LAN no matter the location
- Moving the people to the data not the data to the people
One challenge AEC firms have, especially firms with several offices, is working between multiple locations. Especially when using software like Revit, you need to have the entire team working on a single local area network for best results. You also might not have IT support in each of your satellite offices. It is much more efficient to move the people to the data rather than move the data from office to office. In addition, every time you copy data from office to office you are duplicating it and using extra (expensive) storage space.
How can you support users not only in other offices – but on the road – at a job site or maybe working from a hotel or home? An IT project cloud hosted in a data center solves these issues. You can work as though your staff is sitting in a single location, working on a local area network no matter where they are physically located.
External Firm Collaboration – Project Cloud
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Collaborate in real time between separate companies
- Create a virtual collocation office
- Client-owner access to files and project information
- VPN access for others that don’t have virtual desktops
Closely related to internal collaboration is external collaboration, or collaborating with outside firms. In order to work between firms it’s always been necessary to bundle up your files on a Friday afternoon and upload them to some kind of sharing site like an FTP or or use some other file sharing technology like ShareFile, Box, or Dropbox. Then, Monday morning your team downloads those files, unpacks them, puts them on your network and re-links them and starts looking for changes.
With the project cloud and a shared project server everyone from any firm works on the same local area network, there is no sharing of files, everything is live on a single network, a single source of truth. It’s true that you need a virtual desktop or a VDI to be able to work in this shared collocation space, but even firms that don’t have VDIs can use VPN technology to connect to the project server and share files just as they would if they were not working in the cloud.
We can also provide access to the client or owner so that they can view project progress at any time. You can give them special access to specific folders containing PDF files showing progress on the project.
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Support for collaboration with any program
- A single source of truth
- No file swapping, no Friday uploads or Monday downloads
The ultimate goal is real-time collaboration for the entire project team. Using a project cloud you have the ability to collaborate using any program, not just Revit. You can share all types of project files, whether they’re Autodesk created or from any other software program. All your project files live on a single network, there are no more files being shared via email or FTP or uploaded to some strange network location in other firms’ offices. There are no online file sharing programs that need to be loaded and learned. There’s no file uploading on Fridays or downloading on Mondays and there’s no re-linking any files. The latest and greatest versions of all of your work are always accessible and up-to-date and in a single location. This greatly reduces project latency, the time it takes to share information between firms or between offices within a single firm. This is a huge win for an AEC firm. No learning curve either.
Support / Help Desk
Key benefits of the cloud:
- Support is 24 / 7 / 365
- AEC firms are deadline-driven
- IT Support for different time zones
- Great for small firms without IT staff
Finally, there’s getting help and support for technology problems. AEC firms work 24 / 7 / 365 and they need support anytime. If you are IT Staff for an AEC firm do you really want to get calls from users at 1:30 AM when they can’t plot?
AEC firms are deadline-driven, they need help at all hours of the night and on weekends. You might need to support users in different time zones. Your staff might be in the Pacific time zone and your IT support in the Eastern Time Zone. There are only a limited number of overlapping hours. A small firm might not even have an IT department or they might outsource their IT, how will they get IT support in the middle of the night, before a deadline?
At Advance2000 we understand that the AEC industry doesn’t keep normal hours. We have engineers working around the clock to address any technology issues that you might run into. We have expert support staff well versed in supporting AEC applications. We work round the clock so that you can too.
Please contact us for more information on how Advance2000 can help you transform your business.