In the AEC sector, technology continues to drive more detailed, accurate, and productive project design. Technology, however, is a double-edged sword.

It allows companies to do a lot more, but it also creates mountains of data that must be managed. The only solution for managing the increase in data that is caused by technology is…technology.

According to Ian Howell, CEO at software firm Newforma, AEC information workers recognise the power of technology, with 86 per cent saying that better technology will increase efficiency in their businesses. Unfortunately, 60 per cent of those same people say that using multiple software programs is part of the problem.

That highlights the problems with the standard approach of software design, point solutions, which are focused applications, and thus require several applications to handle different tasks. If you want to come up with a cost estimate, you’ll need to buy an estimating package, but then you’ll need a separate CAD package to do CAD drawings.

Part of the problem for users is the lack of consistency and integration between applications.

“It could be Adobe to read a pdf, it could be a number of different applications that don’t know about each other, and don’t work together. You’ve got to install them all separately, there are different user interfaces, and each one has to be trained differently,” Howell said.

“It becomes a bit of a nightmare for users to jump in between all these different user interfaces. It’s a bit of nightmare that you’ve got to copy information from one to the other because it doesn’t automatically know about it.”

In contrast, Howell mentioned the Microsoft Office approach, with several applications linked with deep integration.

“I go to my inbox, I open it, I open up the attachment, I click on a link in the attachment,” he noted. “So we are no longer conscious that we are starting up Outlook, and then starting up Word, and then starting up Excel, and then using Explorer. We’re just following a business-information path, and all those software applications are firing up in the background to enable us, as it were, to follow that information path.”

The AEC sector is also seeing development of more integrated software applications that try to help users manage increasing quantities of data while replicating the Microsoft approach to the user experience. What is commonly known as the systems integration method hasn’t been successful thus far within the industry. Instead, the approach is to access the information that is generated by a company’s technology system, and to manage information at the document level.

“The lingua franca of the construction industry really is the pdf document because all these systems can spit out a pdf document, and almost everybody and anybody can read it, whether it’s on an iPad, or an iPhone, or an Android tablet, or a desktop PC,” Howell said.

“We want to be able to view the drawing, and we want to be able to see and mark up the request for information.”

A unique problem for technology systems in the AEC sector is the way work gets done.

“A project team is really a bunch of separate companies around the table,” Howell said. “There are some really unique problems there and what we’ve found is that you can’t ask all those companies to use the same software.”

That requires an application that works in between the disparate systems in use by architects, engineers, contractors, and subcontractors, which can get complicated very quickly.

“I have to make sure I meet my industry compliance requirements and I do the right standard of due diligence and design, et cetera, at the same time as I’m sharing information with all these strangers, with all of these disparate systems who are part of contemporary project teams,” Howell said.

One approach is to adopt the model of the Outlook inbox, where users can manage the flow of information through intuitive products that can identify and properly categorise change work orders and various other types of documents, making sure actionable items are prioritised.