What It Really Means to Collaborate in AEC
In market-based economies, it’s a given that competition is a good thing. According to conventional wisdom, competition breeds innovation, drives down prices for the consumer, and increases efficiency.
But as the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry digitalizes—adopting digital tools and processes that enhance automation and insights—and starts to take on some of the attributes of the technology industry, might there be areas where collaboration becomes more profitable than competition?
The Opportunity Is Massive
One of the most famous examples of competitors collaborating was the joint venture between Sony and Samsung, who together invested $20 billion to develop a factory to produce liquid crystal displays (LCD) for flat-screen televisions. At the time, demand for LCDs was skyrocketing, and no single company had the financial wherewithal to establish research and production.
The AEC industry is facing a similar situation today.
Even with the disruption of the pandemic, AEC firms face more work than they can handle. There is still the trending population shift to cities and continued demand for housing. And then there’s the need to revitalize aging global infrastructure, which governments are recognizing with funding initiatives.
At the same time, climate change impacts global populations more every season—from wildfires to heatwaves to flooding and more. As a result, energy and performance standards are becoming much more complex in order to make the built environment more resilient.
Individual AEC firms do not have the resources to address all of these challenges. Owners do not have the margins to address them either.
The good news? Data-driven processes can help.
Data Is a Resource
The AEC industry is well practiced in managing complexity, and the increased use of building information modeling (BIM) processes during the past decade has given the industry the launchpad it needs to deploy data as a resource for addressing today’s challenges.
BIM enables teams to collaborate across distances and generates better insights that empower decision-making and accelerate better project outcomes.
But in AEC, the benefits of BIM have stopped at the owner’s door with project hand-over. To take full advantage of data and insights, it’s necessary to extend the use of BIM into the building operations and facilities management phase.
Many building owners are already deploying modern Internet of Things asset-management systems to better manage, optimize, and improve the occupants’ experience. By bringing these insights into BIM, owners and facilities managers gain the ability to inform future projects and make new buildings, hospitals, or airports even better.
The ultimate outcome will be a more collaborative process for building design and construction, enabling facility and energy managers and building owners to take advantage of a huge amount of live data created by occupants and building systems.
People Can’t Work in Silos
It's clear that data has real value and can help optimize the built environment for resiliency and sustainability. However, it can’t happen in a vacuum—data must be broadly available and shareable with many stakeholders.
When data is made open and interoperable on a platform, it becomes a resource for innovators to build capabilities and develop new services. An architecture firm might jump-start its design for manufacturing and assembly R&D efforts, for instance, by gaining access to anonymized construction datasets. Or an engineering firm might collaborate with building owners to use their data to train a machine-learning design tool.
Firms that create intellectual property, like architects, need companies that produce the product, like construction firms, in order to find and form new opportunities. Alone, each holds a small piece of the project puzzle. Together, they can build the bigger picture.
It will take a paradigm shift in the industry to change the focus on win-lose, but a future of increased collaboration is inevitable. It’s up to industry innovators to write the roadmap and make it a win-win.