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How AEC Can Succeed with Digital: Infographic

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Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part V: IT Leadership

Part V: IT Leadership

This is the final instalment in our series on how midmarket AEC firms can succeed with a comprehensive digital roadmap. Don’t miss the first four posts: Streamline systems to cut costs, Getting onsite IT right, Building Information Modelling (BIM), and Next gen AEC technology.

With this series, we hope to provide solid advice on how mid-market CEOs in the AEC sector can grow their companies with technology. But we’ve yet haven’t touched on one crucial aspect: leadership.

Historically, the AEC sector has not offered careers for senior IT leaders. Instead many companies, especially in the mid-market, have an “operational” approach to IT, seeing it simply as a line item, rather than a source of growth and value.

Often these IT managers are overworked and lack the time to really own innovation. Perhaps they have grown up with the business, and while they’re extremely reliable and competent, they lack the strategic thinking necessary to drive transformation. Or, since they report to the COO or CFO, they don’t have the authority to implement it.

We understand the need in the AEC sector to keep overheads lean. There will be capital for investment in IT for a project, but too often IT staff costs are slashed, resulting in an inadequate digital infrastructure and systems not fit-for-purpose.

We wouldn’t suggest that there is some fundamental problem in the AEC sector. We mean to stress the difference between operational competence and strategic vision. According to what we’ve seen, the AEC firms that really want to grow must have an IT leader who can develop and implement a digital strategy that matches their company’s overall vision.

Freeman Clarke specializes in IT leaders that take ownership of innovation for your company—our CIOs and CTOs combine real-world business experience with technological know-how. And since we work on a fractional model, it’s affordable. In fact, the fractional model has worked quite well in the mid-market AEC sector, with its intense deadlines and varied demands.

If you have questions about how Freeman Clarke can help your AEC company grow—or any other questions about this series—feel free to get in touch. We’re always up for an informal discussion.

In the meantime, how a look around our Knowledge Center: Technology Roadmap for Growth.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part IV: Next Gen Tech

Part IV: Next Gen Tech

Here’s the next instalment in our series on how midmarket AEC firms can succeed with a comprehensive digital roadmap. Check out the first three posts, on streamlining systems to cut costs, getting onsite IT right, and Building Information Modelling (BIM).

All our advice about tech and the AEC sector boils down to three points:

  1. Have a roadmap.
    This means understanding where you are now in terms of IT and where you want to get to. See our free CEO’s Briefing on creating a tech roadmap for growth.
  2. Recruit people who want to use to tech to grow.
    More on that in our next post.
  3. Stop thinking about cost and start thinking about opportunities.
    We understand that margins are tight. Still, remember IT is an investment—a way to get ahead of the competition and improve your bottom line.

Let’s look at that third point and consider more specifically what’s coming. Many aspects of AEC tend to change incrementally or slowly, if at all. But a number of major changes enabled by tech are emerging which will radically change the industry.

The Internet of Things. As you already know, this is a buzzword to describe a variety of networked, tracked or “smart” devices. It promises endless potential to track efficiency and usage, to reduce theft and waste, and to improve health and safety. Just a few examples of how it may work:

In terms of buzzwords, “the Internet of things” is getting on a bit. Nevertheless, the tech is already showing up in the AEC sector, with a lot more to come.

Drones. Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) are already in use for promotional footage and the like. But surveying is where you’re going to see the biggest savings in spending and time. Drones can collect extremely accurate data—and they’re especially useful for assessing hard-to-reach or potentially dangerous job sites. 

One of our clients is already integrating drones with maps for an archaeological risk assessment. In this way, they’re reducing the risk of uncovering artifacts that might create costly delays or damage something of historical significance.

Bear in mind that drone surveyance will generate huge amounts of data that will need to be processed and shared with the relevant professionals and site managers. So you’ll need the IT systems to match.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). New visualization technologies are becoming particularly useful to architects and surveyors. Clients will increasingly expect to “experience” proposed designs using immersive technologies rather than simply look at a printed plan. And 3D surveying tools will create data that is hugely valuable but difficult to understand without 3D goggles.

This tech is in use for training right now. For example, you no longer have to take a cherry picker off a job to train someone; VR allows for quite realistic training in the classroom—how much weight it can lift, how far it extends before it get top-heavy, how to get down if you’re stuck!

3D printing and fabrication. The fabrication of building materials hasn’t changed much over the years, but this too is about to leap ahead. More large and finished assemblies will be fabricated off-site—if you’re building an office bathroom, for example, the basins will come pre-bolted to the same board; all you have to do is connect the plumbing. It will be the same with electrics. And more specific items will be fabricated on-site as needed—no more calling around at the last-minute because you’re out of cinderblocks.

These new techniques will drive BIM into the heart of the process and will change the mix of skills and trades onsite. Expect to see more just-in-time manufacturing, less constrained by the weather.

There is surely much more coming to AEC than the above examples. We don’t recommend that CEOs add to their own stress by trying to keep up with all of it. We do recommend asking yourself the larger questions:

Because as we keep saying, there are a few things that you can be absolutely sure of. First, that changes are coming. And second, that IT is central to navigating them. The AEC firms who get this right are seeing great opportunities. Those who hesitate are in danger of being left behind.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part III: Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Part III: Building Information Modelling (BIM)

In recent weeks, we’ve been posting about how midmarket AEC firms can recover and get ahead of the competition with a comprehensive digital roadmap. Check out the first post, on streamlining systems to cut costs. And the second, on getting onsite IT right.

Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) is a fascinating sector because it embraces such a broad range of skills and challenges. But in one way, AEC is like any other industry we work with: there’s always some new tech trend promising “transformation” or “disruption.”

At Freeman Clarke, we feel that it’s all right to have a little healthy skepticism. We’re always looking ahead, of course. It’s just that we don’t buy into every prediction. Self-driving cars may be on the way, but in the meantime, we’ll hang onto our driver’s license.

So you can believe us when we say that if you’re in the AEC sector, you definitely need to be thinking about Building Information Modeling (BIM).

What is BIM?

As with other trends, the definition can of BIM can be vague depending on whom you’re talking to (especially if they’re in software sales!). The US National Institute of Building Sciences, which is working on national BIM standards, has a definition:

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.

Think of BIM as a 5D computer model. CAD renderings, with length, width and height, are 3D. BIM adds the further dimensions of time and cost. What this means is that you have a model useful for both visualizing a structure and understanding the lifespan and costs of its component parts.

With BIM models, architects, engineers, and contractors are planning the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a structure. They can even plan for its efficient demolition, should that ever be necessary.

Why should I care?

Because the potential advantages of BIM are enormous:

At this stage, BIM simply requires the adoption of standard tools that can handle standard file formats. But we believe that it will get more complicated. Either way, as with any new technology, it will require an investment of time and money.

Still, CEOs of all AEC mid-market companies need to embrace this technology — and expect the C-suite to lead this change — or they’re going to get left behind.

As we mentioned above, the US government is already working on standards for BIM, which will presumably be applied to everything from foundations to the tiniest bolt. The companies connected to these standards will move ahead; those who don’t risk getting excluded from systems and suppliers, or government contracts.

What’s my next step?

We believe that IT leadership is the key to adopting BIM — an C-suite-level CIO or CTO with experience in both business and technology. BIM will become a standard business practice before long, and it will be the key to any number of lucrative contracts. But with the right leadership, you can implement it in any that makes commercial sense for your company.

If you’d like to discuss how Freeman Clarke can help your midmarket AEC firm develop its BIM capabilities — or any other kind of technology — feel free to get in touch.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Part II: Get Onsite IT Right

Part II: Get Onsite IT Right

In the coming days, we’ll be posting about how midmarket AEC firms can use digital to survive and succeed through 2020 and beyond. The first post, on streamlining systems to cut costs, is available here.

The AEC sector can be chaotic, with multiple projects in various stages from planning to completion. It gets even more complicated with all that goes on outside the main office.

In the past, we’ve seen AEC companies begin and end their jobsite plans with rugged devices. But the temporary office spaces typical to construction sites bring so many more challenges. The sites can be vulnerable from a security perspective, and (as we mentioned in a previous post) it’s critical to have health and safety compliance. The networks themselves can be an issue, complicating communication between the central office, a home office, and the jobsite.

In terms of users, the temporary jobsite staff may not be as IT-savvy as full-time workers. A further complication is the sudden rise in staff who work from home, a trend we see continuing even after the pandemic passes.

Even when you get all of the above right, in AEC you learn to expect surprises: our clients frequently have to improvise on-site. One example that comes up a lot: when the site manager has to make a last-minute order to get materials to the jobsite. Often he’ll call a friend, somebody he’s known for decades. They make a verbal agreement, and the job keeps moving.

But then an invoice turns up in accounts payable that nobody recognizes, and now you’ve got people playing detective: who made the order? Who is the supplier? What were the terms? Whole days are lost trying to figure it out.

With better systems, site managers can easily initiate a P.O. from a smartphone. The details are available to everyone, so there are no surprises, and the transaction appears on the next report.

While every job (and every firm!) is different, overcoming these issues invariably requires flexibility, attention to detail, and a willingness to learn and improve from project to project. IT leaders need to strike a balance between data security, the immediacy of the information, the lack of bandwidth at construction sites, and huge files.

Despite all this complexity, sometimes the simplest preparations can make the difference at a jobsite:

Finally, we can’t overstate that IT leaders must get directly involved and take ownership for getting it right. Without a strong CIO or CTO, you’re guaranteed an inefficient jobsite.

If you have questions about onsite IT, or anything else involved with AEC, feel free to get in touch.

Coming soon: our next AEC post on Building Information Modelling (BIM).

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

5 Key IT Points for CEOs in AEC

At Freeman Clarke, we work extensively in AEC (architecture, engineering and construction). We’ve seen that when AEC companies use IT effectively, they get the jump on their competitors. And this gap is widening as new technologies gain traction.

If you’re the CEO of an AEC company, here are five key points to consider.

  1. Project and cost planning and tracking is at the heart of this business.

Project work is high-pressure. It can verge on chaotic when projects are running at full speed. Everyone—contractors, architects, engineers, suppliers and fabricators—wastes huge amounts of time and energy making sense of paperwork. All anyone wants is to submit their invoices and get their cash, but systems and processes need to make this work efficiently. When you get all this right, you have significant advantages over the competition.

  1. Streamline your onsite systems.

Onsite work is harsh and cramped. Many employees are temporary, and people are under pressure. Issues like theft and health & safety add more layers of complexity. There are additional demands of large files and large printers, often with poor connectivity. From a financing point of view, the industry is organized around capital expenditure, whereas many IT providers want to work as an operating expense. You need an IT leader who understands how to make all this work.

  1. BIM will sweep the industry.

New building information modeling (BIM) standards are creating new opportunities for companies—but also but placing new pressures on unprepared businesses. Just as CAD rapidly replaced the drafting table, BIM will sweep through the industry. So you’d better be ready.

  1. You need a dedicated IT leader.

Many AEC companies do not have a proper CIO or IT Director but instead have a fairly operational IT leader. You stand a much better chance of growing your business with an experienced C-suite IT leader.

  1. Keep your eyes on the future.

New tech—like the Internet of Things, drones, augmented reality, new surveying tech and digital fabrication tools—will transform operational activities. While we don’t believe in obsessing over each shiny new thing, it’s in your best interest to stay on top of new technology.

At Freeman Clarke, we work with many AEC clients in diverse areas of the sector—getting the basics right, solving systems and process problems, and adopting proven new technologies. If you have questions about how IT can help your AEC business, feel free to get in touch for a low-pressure chat.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.