Today, the benefits of the Building Information Modelling (BIM) process are simply too compelling to ignore. From greater budget and schedule predictability, to reduced rework and waste; from enhanced productivity, to greater collaboration throughout project supply-chains. It has, and continues to be a transformative force for the industry, delivering better project outcomes for clients, and better business outcomes for contractors.
As BIM now accelerates towards mainstream practice for project delivery, it’s perhaps prudent to turn an eye to the future and ask the question “what lies beyond?”. Why? Well, consider that the BIM process is enabled by digital technology, and technology as we know rarely stands still. Having a confident position on how emerging technologies might disrupt your business, or the markets you operate in is a critical skill all construction boards should be practicing – it’s as important an element of strategic planning as competitor analysis, market intelligence or maintaining a robust balance sheet.
So what does the future hold?
Almost certainly something more disruptive than BIM, perhaps an order of magnitude so. Today, a plethora of new technology trends are fast converging on the industry – they include 3D printing, infinite computing in the cloud, crowd-sourcing, gaming engines, generative design algorithms, drones, robots, crowd funding, predictive analytics, the internet of things, augmented reality, and reality capture. Each, in their own right, has the potential to change one or more aspects of the way in which buildings and infrastructure assets are planned, funded, delivered and operated. But the game-changer is the net effect they will have collectively. In combination, they hold the promise of a future era of construction contracting defined by higher margins, lower risk and greater opportunity. How? By connecting contractors with a range of hitherto unavailable capabilities:
- “Unlimited” amounts of computer processing power in the cloud: could enable contractors to answer design and commercial questions in-line with the project process, ensuring they land on the best answer first time round, regardless of how complex that question may be.
- “Unlimited” amounts of human ingenuity: across geographies, across commercial interfaces, collaboration platforms, work exchange hubs, crowd-sourcing platforms, social and mobile computing could enable contractors to connect with the best skills and ideas for their projects.
- Merging of the digital and physical worlds: capturing the real-world with a degree of fidelity relevant to any project team member’s needs; exploring project designs in the context of existing real-world systems through the use of gaming engines; pushing that design back out to the real-world with augmented reality. Technology could make this a seamless process.
- Connecting the real-world together digitally: as things get smarter, get connected, and intelligence moves out into the network, feedback from the Internet of Things could create new opportunities to add value. In particular, in closing the gap between what capacity we think needs to be created and what capacity actually needs to be created, in everything from office space to refinery throughput.
- Greater insight from data: big-data and predictive analytics could deliver the type of insights already being delivered in other sectors of the economy, most notably retail and finance.
- Shrinking the number of physical touches: the new industrial revolution could change physical production. In particular digital fabrication, whether 3D printing or pre-fabrication, and the use of robots could reduce the number of physical ‘touches’ needed to construct an asset. The rise of micro-factories could give greater supply-chain choice whilst providing opportunities to enhance social license to operate by fostering localism.
- Freer flow of capital: from digitally-enabled financing options, like crowd-funding of building projects, or assuaging investor concerns for major infrastructure projects by reducing construction risk and supporting greater insight into asset performance.
At Autodesk, we’re calling this emerging period of the industry’s evolution the “Era of Connection”. Yes, it’s in its infancy, but it won’t stay there for long. The potential it holds to radically rewrite both the process of construction and the very business of contracting is profound. And it’s arguably the most democratically applicable period of technological change the industry will ever have witnessed – applicable to any contractor, regardless of size, capitalization, talent pool, location, or position in the value-chain. Construction, your future is connected.
Would you like to learn more?
In conjunction with CIOB, Autodesk has created a 4 minute video that outlines the trends that are pushing this transformation.