The Deltek AEC Conference 2019: 7 Key Takeaways

Posted by Rob Shropshire on September 19, 2019

Deltek AEC Conference

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Yesterday we gathered at the 2019 Deltek AEC Conference at Kings Place in London to discuss the topic of Digital Transformation in the built environment sector.

We were kindly joined by Paul Wilkinson, Managing Director of and Tony Scott, Digital Transformation Director at BuroHappold Engineering

Digital Transformation is the most significant challenge of our time, impacting every industry. The built environment sector is of no exception. But as Deltek's Director of Product Management Nick Nieder poignantly reminded attendees at the start of yesterday's event, there needs to be some reflection on why the built environment sector finds Digital Transformation so hard.

The sessions at the conference set out to engage those responsible for leading their firm on the journey through this intimidating landscape. With the help of industry experts, our aim was to help attendees gain perspective, provoke a new way of thinking, and spark planning and action. I’ve summarised a few of the key takeaways below and we will be sharing further information and action points from Paul and Tony’s keynotes in the coming weeks.

1. Adapt Or Die

It sounds like scaremongering… but it was clear to me that some businesses are struggling to understand that the value and proposition they can offer to clients is changing. Paul was keen to emphasise that the sector runs the risk of falling into irrelevance if modernisation doesn't take place. By having a better understanding of the benefits of Digital Transformation, they may well be able to provide additional services to clients that they had not thought of. This will help them to differentiate themselves from their competitors and stand a better chance of winning bids.


"The sector runs the risk of falling into irrelevance if modernisation doesn't take place."


The sector seems to be taking BIM as standard, so now we can starting looking at ways in which we can provide meaningful information to clients to help them better manage their assets and understand how their asset is used by the end user. By doing this we can also use that intelligence to improve future designs and create spaces that will add more value for the client and its intended end user.

2. We Must Educate Our Clients   

A lot of the feedback during the networking breaks focused on the fact that clients are not demanding these types of services and perhaps they are not willing to pay more for them. I think this comes down to conversations with clients and educating them on what additional value you can bring to the table. A lot of the time, clients may not know these outcomes are possible. As Gavin Owen of BuroHappold pointed out “It’s difficult to push for innovation if you don’t know what those innovations are. It’s up to engineering consultants to identify a client’s needs.”

Based on the keynote presentations, it was apparent that too many businesses are focusing on the output, i.e. a drawing or report and not the actual outcome that they are going to deliver for the client.

architecture and engineering transformation

3. We Under-Invest In IT

Compared to other sectors such as Manufacturing, we are only investing a fraction of our annual revenue on IT.

Paul Wilkinson shared statistics showing that by the end of the next decade, the global construction market sector will be worth $15 trillion US dollars. Yet approximately only 1% of revenue goes into IT in construction - that’s about ⅓ of the rate of manufacturing and it’s about 1/10 of the rate of advanced manufacturing.

In addition to this, IT professionals are not getting enough of an opportunity to influence the strategy of a business moving forward. Tony Scott argued that “In this digital age, IT leaders need to be business leaders first.” 


"In this digital age, IT leaders need to be business leaders first."


If the sector takes advantage of the massive opportunity presented by Digital Transformation, we can automate a lot of the grunt work and repetitive processes and instead focus more time on creating innovative services and outcomes which will add value for our clients. It requires investment, but it will pay dividends in the future.

4. Data Is The New Oil 

Whether we like it or not, the volume of data is only going to increase. The tech giants who understood the value of data long ago are reaping success today. Just look at Facebook and Google! Architects and Engineers have vast amount of data and experience that they could be using to provide value to the client. All too often it is locked in people’s heads or disintegrated systems - so organisations put this in the too hard basket and just continue to deliver outputs the way they always have.

Tony Scott noted the importance of data security, and the questions you should be asking around the data you collect and own:

1. Where is the data?
2. How was the data created?
3. What type of data is it?
4. Who owns the data?
5. What risks are associated with the data?
6. Is the data even needed - or can it just be sampled?
7. Is the data used?

5. We Have To Start Somewhere 

Tony Scott shared a list of mantras (see image below) but stated that his favourite one was “Start by starting”.

So simple, but it still needs to be absorbed by many. Engineers tend to over-engineer everything – but sometimes you just need to stop talking and start acting.

Otherwise, we risk developing all of these great ideas but never executing them. We need to start with a vision of where we want to go, but then break it up into shorter chunks so that we can deliver a minimum viable solution. This allows businesses to get benefits out to users faster and to learn from mistakes quickly rather than realising we have done something wrong at the end of the process. 

digital transformation mantras

6. Digitisation Vs Digitalisation

There is a difference, and I don’t think many businesses understand this. Digitisation is simply the process of turning something from a physical asset into something electronic. Tony Scott gave a great example of Amazon turning books into Kindle Books. In our industry I often ask businesses whether they have a document management system. They say yes, we have Office 365. This is Digitisation and not Digitalisation. Digitalisation involves using information to deliver outcomes for someone.

7. We Have To Understand The Why

Much like we need to educate our clients on how we can deliver better outcomes for them, we also need to educate our staff on why we are doing something. This involves engaging those staff early on in the process, gathering their feedback and opinions and getting their buy-in. I have seen some great examples of businesses effectively communicating a change to the extent that the staff are excited to start using whatever that tool might be. By using a model such as ADKAR (see image below), we can increase the chance of that change lasting, so that we realise the outcomes we were looking for.


So Where Does Deltek Fit In?

I took a while deliberating this, the solutions that we provide will not directly increase the quality of a particular output.

What we do, is advocate is a central system to record and manage business information. By doing this we provide a knowledge base so that businesses can re-use information easily and get value from it. They can report on the data, export it and share it with whomever they need to. I am also pleased that we have released a new API which allows greater flexibility and interoperability with other solutions. 

If we can get the basics right and make employees lives easier through providing them with a central platform to manage all of their documentation and project management processes, then we can free up time to allow them to work on projects and deliver value for their clients.

We have already seen the value of integrating data in design and construction, but we still seem to insist upon silos of information to manage our businesses. 

A special thanks again to Tony and Paul for their compelling presentations!


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