Technology in Practice: How Digital Innovation Can Boost Your Architectural Business

Posted by Deltek on October 14, 2020

TwitterTweet it:‘The term Digital Transformation is daunting but starting from the basics is a very good beginning.'

Within Architecture, technology is relied on more and more to help firms manage their practices and support their projects.

Making sure your practice is keeping up with digital strategies and technology is critical – particularly in the current context. So what do you need to do to stay ahead?

In our webinar, hosted with Architects’ Journal, industry experts from Hawkins\Brown, JDA Architects and communication consultancy, Just Practicing, explored how digital innovation is driving change in the industry and how practices can futureproof their business.

Digital Evolution: Risks and Opportunities

Jack Stewart, Digital Design Lead at Hawkins\Brown commented, “A lot of the emerging technologies in architecture practices are leveraging the increasing amount of built environment design and construction data. It's becoming more accessible and there are growing amounts of it. We are developing programmes, macros, and scripts to help automate and speed up processes. With gaming engines, we are able to develop interactive spaces and develop virtual reality environments. These are all helping improve how we communicate designs to clients and other stakeholders.”

Bret Tushaus, Vice President of Product Management at Deltek added “We conducted a survey with 600 architects and engineers from across EMEA and APAC, which examined the digital impact of technology in the A&E industry. Results revealed that 53% of architecture practices have their digital strategies at an exploratory stage, with 13% just starting out in their digital transformation. The concept of digital transformation, is somewhat intimidating to many companies. Businesses need to understand that while they may not have a specific project that's called digital transformation within their organisation, that doesn't mean they aren’t already digitally evolving and leveraging technology to grow their businesses. Many firms are, but they don't necessarily call it digital transformation.”

Tushaus continued “The climate we're in today is a time when we have to pivot, adapt and review which current business models will help get us through the current situation. If firms don't start to look at how they can leverage the digital age to help their business and respond to the pandemic, they may not come out on the other end in a positive way.”

 

" The term Digital Transformation is daunting but starting from the basics is a very good beginning."

Su Butcher, Just Practicing

Harnessing the power of digital technology to thrive Rob Henderson, Managing Director at JDA Architects commented, “Digital transformation is a form of digital strategy, but what does that really mean? When we stop to think, we realise we are already transforming. Project information management, a central store of emails and real-time financial information is absolutely key for us but how much time are our teams spending on managing that? And with staff now working remotely, it’s even harder to manage. Having structures and processes in place has been fundamental for us, certainly over these past months”.

Henderson continued, “The current crisis has forced us to use some of these existing tools and innovations we had in place, and we've actually proven more efficient for it. We've demonstrated that we can talk to one another without being in the same room, even to the extent of approving drawings. How do you do that when you've got 23 people in 23 different homes, and making sure that that quality is retained? The collaboration tools we now use have been very much structured around this”.

 

"The current crisis has forced us to use some of these existing tools and innovations we had in place, and we've actually proven more efficient for it."

Rob Henderson, JDA Architects

The use of technology to win more work Henderson explained “We had a fairly inexperienced client who was unable to read a drawing - a two-dimensional drawing meant very little to them. Being able to place him into an immersive reality during the planning phase, helped him feel that he knew what to expect as he walked around the physical building after completion. He said, "Yes, I've seen this before". Tools like these will help us move forward. It creates a much more efficient design process and presents us as a digitally forward-thinking practice. It's about outcome and setting the right culture, then using the right tools to support the outcome. It’s this I believe, that will help us to win more work.”

Collaboration is key to driving growth

“Construction is a naturally fragmented industry with lots of individual players, and the process of idea inception to procuring and building is long. For some projects, that's many years, with many different organisations involved. As a result, this form of fragmentation has created a blocker” said Stewart.

“Collaboration and information exchange between organisations is something that could vastly improve. We found our richest collaborations were with organisations who focused on a common goal” he added.

Digital Transformation

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Su Butcher, Director of Just Practicing added “Behaviour is a key element of collaborative working. Technology can enable about 10%. The legal structures in construction which prevent collaborative working is about 20%. The rest is about our behaviour. Listening to people in other disciplines as well as in our own, learning from each other and being willing to share our knowledge and expertise”.

Tushaus explained, “We discovered, particularly in recent months, that there are two types of collaboration. Firstly, collaboration across a broader project team. Lately, our customer base has approached us for guidance on how they can use their existing tools to cultivate a pipeline within their organisation and pursue business as they work through these current times”.

“Secondly, collaboration internally” continued Tushaus. “Using those tools to help facilitate internal conversations and do things that might have been done face-to-face ordinarily. This can instill some habits and disciplines when we come out of this. Using the tools that we have to collaborate, captures information which we can leverage down the road to help us learn what we can do differently the next time around”.

 

"We found our richest collaborations were with organisations who focused on a common goal."

Jack Stewart, Hawkins\Brown

How will digital technology be used post-COVID and what opportunities will this create?

“We're starting to see automation take hold within the businesses of our customers. Certain processes that human hands currently do, could be automated” suggested Tushaus. “We could begin to leverage machine learning to help make processes more efficient and have humans focus on more value-added things. This has amplified under the current environment with the constraints put on the workforce, as a result of us being more distributed. We're seeing a lot of this in the back-office. Bank reconciliation, processing invoices, reconciling invoices and the approval process for example. Using machines to help automate and facilitate that process is starting to gain traction”.

Tushaus added “Big data, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), the things around data and the processing of data is becoming more accessible every day. Firms will begin to discover that they can use machine learning and AI to better their businesses”.

Stewart greed “Designers have worked with machines to help them to realise their ideas for decades. Whether in the early 1900’s when the first drawing board was developed, 3D modelling in the '80s, modelling buildings in 3D as we headed into the 2000s”.

Stewart continued, “There are some less sophisticated things that can be done in practice already, which are quite accessible. Automating and streamlining processes that are more of a binary, calculable outcome. And then, for the more subjective design tasks, designers can work alongside machines for a two-way dialogue which leads to the correct conclusion and solution.”

 

"Big data, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), the things around data and the processing of data is becoming more accessible every day. Firms will begin to discover that they can use machine learning and AI to better their businesses."

Bret Tushaus, Deltek

As we heard from our Architectural industry experts, the current climate has forced businesses to adapt and review new business models to help navigate them through this challenging period. Digital technology has played a significant part in transforming the current practice of architecture, with AI, Robotic Process Automation, 3D modelling and immersive collaboration tools all playing a pivotal role.

From this, it’s clear that as digital solutions continue to advance, the industry will radically enhance how buildings are designed and delivered, and the overall customer experience will vastly improve – but there is still some way to go.

 

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