Originally posted Thursday, 12 January 2012

Written by Michael DeLacey

While the term “AEC” has been around for more than half a century, it can be argued that it is no longer a true representation of the industry or the roles architects, engineers, and construction companies must play today. First, AEC leaves out two of the most important players in the AEC workflow—Owners and operators. Further, to look at AEC as we traditionally have siloes AEC services firms into their single role within the design and construction phase, suggesting they are unable to meet the full scope of the needs of their clients beyond their immediate area of expertise. We must break away from the AEC mentality, embrace the advantages of adopting an AECO mindset, and examine how recent technological advances innovate the entire project delivery process from design and construction to operations and maintenance. The benefits of embracing a more holistic view will be significant for everyone. Let’s examine how.

Working in Silos

 The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates that the capital facilities industry spends $15.8 billion in annual interoperability costs. Moreover, they estimate that almost one-third of this is due to errors, omissions, and delays caused by poor coordination and communication during the design and construction process. 

When we talk about interoperability, we’re talking about working in silos and the poor exchange of information between project participants. This is a cyclical process, from the architect to the engineers, the design team to the construction manager, the contactor to the subcontractors, and, ultimately, the design and construction teams back to the Owner.

Instead of this fragmented process, AEC vendors need to begin positioning themselves within the comprehensive scope of the full AECO industry. While this may seem daunting, the ability to understand and meet the end goals of each group only serves to provide more value throughout a project’s lifecycle—often leading to significant cost and time savings for all parties.

Adopting an AECO Mentality

 Over the past several years, the advent of technology and processes like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Virtual Design and Construction (VD&C) has made great strides as point solutions. That is, AEC vendors are realizing the benefits of BIM for effectively streamlining the design and construction process, from preconstruction analysis to conflict detection to quantity take-offs.

What has yet to be fully realized is the value of BIM across the entire project delivery process and into operations and maintenance. It is only when we fully realize this benefit and consider the Owner as a critical player in the AEC workflow that we’ll begin to realize the benefits of embracing an “AECO” mentality and substantially reduce the costs associated with interoperability.

While it is understandable that leveraging BIM across the entire project delivery process may seem too complex for reality, taking a more informed look at the processes can greatly reduce the cost of construction and simplify operations and maintenance. For Owners, this holistic approach must now be viewed as part of the process and as a requirement from the design and construction phases.

Technological Innovation and the Owner Benefit

When we think about the promise of Building Information Modeling, an innovative new model that is contained in a central repository that all project participants contribute to, we begin to understand the need to reevaluate how we look at the building process. BIM is beginning to blur the lines between design, construction, and operations and maintenance and is creating a new process that incorporates all aspects of the building lifecycle. This new process is requiring us to redefine how we look at the relationships between architects, engineers, contractors, and Owners.

As we continue to learn how these innovations can be leveraged to redefine the AECO process, we must ask ourselves who should take the responsibility for driving the change. Over the past 10 years, Owners, including the federal government via the General Services Administration (GSA), have taken a lead role. The GSA has been mandating a BIM deliverable since 2007 and has been working aggressively ever since to continue to define its own BIM standards. Based on the work the GSA has done, many more Owners have begun to adopt and mandate BIM deliverables, including the military, higher education, city and state school construction organizations, healthcare institutions, and statewide asset management agencies, to name just a few.

With this, we’ve begun to see real examples of how to redefine project delivery. Architects and engineers are changing the nature of their relationships by using innovative cloud and virtual collaboration technologies to allow disparate design organizations to work in virtual environments, all contributing to a central model in real time across secure wide area network connections.

As we move forward and begin to aggressively address the challenges associated with maintaining U.S. infrastructure, along with global changes such as urbanization and population growth, it will become increasingly important for the AECO industry to accelerate this change in the design and construction process by viewing technology innovation as a welcome tool. To achieve this, we must continue to discuss where responsibility lies and how compensation will be shared. But regardless of the challenges associated with reinventing project delivery, it is clear that the move to a more collaborative process will continue, and that the design firms, construction companies, and Owners that embrace it, facilitate it, and define it will be the ones to recognize the true benefits.

Michael DeLacey, President of Microdesk, began working in the engineering industry in 1986. He has a degree in Computer Information Systems and more than 18 years of experience providing Civil Engineering, Architectural, and GIS Solutions across the country. To this day, Mike continues to oversee technology management services for some of the largest AEC and GIS projects in the country, including the rebuilding of New York City’s World Trade Center and improving security at some of our nation’s busiest ports and airports.