Tech That Kept Us Ahead of COVID-19 Will Jumpstart Smarter AEC Practices

Technologies that sustained architecture, engineering and construction management during the coronavirus crisis will make the AEC industry faster and more efficient in a COVID-19 recovery.
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The architecture,engineering and construction management technologies that kept our teams active during the coronavirus crisis will make AEC management faster and more efficient in a COVID-19 recovery—and beyond. A new generation of technology will integrate building information modeling, project management and document controls, a breakthrough for all three data-driven disciplines.

Cloud technology has kept designers and planners working from home despite their work’s complexity and computer processing needs. By planning a scalable network, McKissack teams can retrieve files on our servers from any remote location and share work just as widely from their home computers.

But our embrace of advanced technology and dedication to finding the most optimal technology solutions are pushing even further ahead. Cloud connections that made teams more agile in the COVID-19 response will give AEC firms more responsive tools in the post-COVID future. Three important changes will transform the design and planning process:

 

Resource Planning in the Cloud

The “cloud,” of course, is just the practice of managing computer servers remotely to provide greater operational agility. After working from home, we’re seeing one advantage of a remote workforce. Work can begin early without a long,exhausting commute. And by integrating design and construction technologies in the cloud, AEC firms can quickly implement solutions to manage our projects,resources and keep watch on client budgets.

For now, we are about to automate resource planning tasks, which can make project management more efficient and cost effective. For instance, pre-populating time sheets so an employee doesn't have to search for a charge code saves time. By strategically automating management tasks such as this, time sheets can do double duty as part of our project controls.  If the work is taking more hours than expected, the software triggers an alert, giving the project manager an opportunity to reallocate resources and stay on budget.

This kind of transparency is especially helpful in project management with a remote workforce, where a team isn’t in communication in an open office or from adjoining cubicles. The technology doesn’t control the staff, but it draws information from multiple sources to let them know what they should be working on and how long it should take them. Whether they’re back in the office, on a job site, traveling for a project or at home, they’ll be working smarter. Managers can forecast what people will be working on over weeks or months, and hire or reallocate staff.

 

3D Designs and Data Dashboards Give Planners a Look Ahead

Building information modeling on the cloud has started to draw from the technology behind video games and virtual reality experiences. For instance, planners could give their designs a virtual walk through. A 2D design that looks good on paper could be deeply flawed; for example its counters may be too far apart,which may not be apparent until they are installed onsite. However, using a computer gaming engine and a virtual reality headset, the designer can create a 3D model, see the furnished layout from a user’s perspective, and make changes before finalizing the design.

Dashboards are a critical addition to the planner’s cloud toolkit, and we are starting to create them for our projects. In architecture, engineering and construction, building information modeling depends on well-organized databases that make the planner’s work more efficient, and that run as many design scenarios as the client needs in a short time. Projecting the data onto a dashboard can help identify and correct errors before they become problems and affect model performance.

Dashboards can focus teams and individuals on areas that need the most attention and to follow best practices, so that models always run fast and rarely crash. They give managers a high-level view of a project to make sure that nothing delays its progress. This makes dashboards a resource planning tool to keep projects on time and on budget.

 

Virtual Desktops Meet Our Need for Speed

In the next year or two, we will be moving all our work from our laptops onto the cloud. Instead of storing data and running programs on a hard drive, the actual computing will be done over the internet. A computer workstation on the cloud will be called up from a laptop, tablet or phone. The cloud holds not only the data, but also the user’s programs and settings.

With a virtual desktop all infrastructure is actually in the cloud. Designers and planners simply send their keystrokes to the cloud, and the virtual workstation’s output is what they see on their screen. The system is secure and scalable. For designers, models are easy to share. There’s no need to upgrade laptops to get more memory and faster results. Cloud updates are frequent and perpetual. A virtual workstation has nearly limitless processing power.  

Virtual desktops cut the time it takes to render a high-resolution image from 10 minutes down to 10 to 15 seconds. Early in my career, I got involved in tech because I wanted to see how I could make a computer run faster to get designs done quicker. So I taught myself to write scripts to automate those processes.

As design programs like Civil3D and Revit integrate with the cloud, the workflow and collaboration benefits will change the pace of AEC design and planning. Speed was the main reason computer processing in the 1980s moved to desktop computers from pricey mainframes. With faster and cheaper cloud computing, the technology has come full circle.

If we ever have a pandemic similar to COVID-19, or some other disaster or emergency, technology gives design,program management and even many construction professionals the flexibility to work from anywhere. But even with a return to business as usual, AEC firms will be building virtual desktops that let its team members do anything, anywhere with ease and speed—even on a smartphone if need be.

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