A digital transformation is underway in the AEC industry, and the results so far have been promising. The improved outcomes will make this transformation stick. It will help improve an organisation, expand its margins and market share, increase operational efficiency, overcome labour shortages, deliver new services, and add value.
Organizations will need to adopt the digital ecosystem to stay competitive in the future. Digital delivery will help in designing and creating a built environment, tackling long-standing productivity challenges and also help deliver faster, smarter and better buildings.
In a recently concluded roundtable organised by BW Businessworld with some of India’s leading professionals associated with the AEC industry, a wide range of topics were discussed, including the role of digital in data management and product management, leveraging data pools, challenges of embracing digital delivery in India, and upcoming trends in the AEC space.
The need to fully harness the potential of digital:
Gopikrishnan V, Founder at Buildnext pointed out that change only begins when one recognises the need for it. He said, "If you especially look at the AEC industry, it has been very resistant to admitting the fact that digitization can be an enabler,"
Gopikrishnan provided an example to further elaborate on his point. He commented, "Our previous generation used to tell us that adopting digital toolkits to ideate would reduce the quality of the results that we could come up with,"
Gopikrishnan suggested the reason for this thought process of his previous generations.
He said, "This perception of our previous generation towards digital tools was such because when they used digital tools, they were not as developed as the physical tools present then. Nowadays, digital is continuously improving; our previous generation missed the point that the quality of what can be achieved using digital tools surpasses what can be done through physical tools."
Gopikrishnan highlighted the need to embrace digitalization. He mentioned, "The potential of digitisation can be harnessed to not just be an enabler but a differentiator. Anyone in the industry today will agree that digitisation has aided improvement of work quality and productivity."
Leveraging the common data environment to streamline projects:
Prasun Basu, CDO at Sobha, said that the view of people regarding the common data environment has evolved a lot in the past decade.
Basu said, "People used to look at the Common Data Environment (CDE) 7-8 years ago as a server where data would reside. However, things have changed drastically now. We are now witnessing a lot of changes with cloud implementation and SaaS implementation clubbing together and, in turn, resulting in a flux,"
Basu highlighted that forcing everyone to use a single database for a project can be a fruitless operation.
He commented, "For instance, a residential project comprising of multiple blocks, it would be very foolish to consider the entire entity as a single project and try to force everyone to use one single database,"
As Basu suggested, "It is important to break it down into smaller project entities, keeping in mind the departments who will be driving their agenda, and then formulate the environment around the same,"
He gave an example to further elaborate on his argument. Basu mentioned, "The group working in the land acquisition department will have a completely different set of audience compared to those working in the execution aspect of the project, and there will be sub-departments within these groups too,"
"It is up to an organisation to decide at what level they would like to draw the line, beyond which it becomes very cumbersome. Points need to be drawn to decide the minimal level which can be managed, and then only one can start reaping the benefits of the same. For instance, a land surveyor who once understands what his input means for the larger group, the job makes more sense for him, and the organisation can, in turn, derive greater efficiency, " Basu added.
The impact of digital on data and project management:
Sumit Bhatia, Head – IT Infrastructure & Digital Transformation at ATS Group, said, "In the real estate industry, the digital transformation has started in the last 2-3 years,"
Bhatia highlighted that a major challenge is for the people involved in the project to properly use the new-age platforms to digitise their work, and till now, these platforms have proved fruitful. He gave an example to elaborate on his statement.
He said, "At construction sites, earlier, there was a manual intervention to all the work being done. As it is a labour-intensive industry, there were thousands of labours who were supervised by hundreds of people. The job of the supervisor was to report a problem to the project heads, afterwards, it took 2-3 days to re-evaluate the report, and a lot of manual paperwork was involved,"
With the help of technology, a lot of these bottlenecks were removed.
Bhatia commented, "With the use of tools & technology, results can now be achieved faster and achieving a response in real-time is possible. Now project managers can act immediately based on these responses."
How data pools are leveraged to keep track of projects and deliver them on time:
Nikhil Bagalkotkar, Tech Sales Leader- APAC (AEC) at Autodesk, underlined the importance of keeping everyone on the same page at the same time.
He said, "There are multiple stakeholders involved in a project, for instance, there are architects, structural engineers, procurement teams, general contractors; that’s a large set of people. A critical aspect of this is ensuring that everybody working on the project is aware of what is happening right now and working on the latest design."
Bagalkotkar commented, "The last thing you want to find out is that the architect’s design is not in sync with that of the structural consultant, but instead is a five-month-old file that never found its way across the organisation."
"The idea is to ensure efficient collaboration not just between stakeholders but also across the various stages of the project. The high-fidelity design created during the design detailing phase gets translated to the construction phase. Just by streamlining workflows and collaborating efficiently we can save a ton of money by avoiding clashes and costly re-work while keeping the project on time," he added.
Bagalkotkar pointed out that a lot of time and resources are wasted due to the limited visibility of projects.
He said, "Two-thirds of all projects executed in India run over budget or time, because there is limited ability to accurately estimate quantities and costs of resources needed to execute the project based on the design model. You run out of money while constructing the projects because when you go in, your idea of how much it is going to cost is not in line with the quantity of work involved."
Bagalkotkar pointed out that data eliminates Chinese whispers of sorts between the different stakeholders in a particular project enabling accuracy and enhanced efficiency.
Challenges faced in embracing digital delivery in India:
Govind Singh, Executive Director & Group CIO at Dalmia Bharat Ltd., said, "The biggest challenge is how one measures the engagement levels of their teams. Also, whenever a new worker joins; training has to be provided,"
"We all are using the virtual world, so whether they can understand the priorities, and are aligned to the mission-vision statement of the company, remains a big question. Even with senior workers joining in, we tend to conduct one on one interviews, or try meeting them outside," he added.
Singh mentioned, "Overall attentiveness in a larger group is directly proportional to the overall delivery, which remains a major concern,"
How you are leveraging CDE for customers:
Nikhil Bagalkotkar stated that he has recently witnessed several developments that have been game-changers for their customers.
Bagalkotkar commented, "As per a McKenzie report, 75 per cent of companies that have adopted BIM and connected BIM have showcased significantly higher profitability when compared to the companies that have not..
Whether one is an architect, consultant, or an infrastructure developer, you bid on projects, and based on those bids, you go ahead and perform the development work,"
"At that time, the accuracy in terms of the estimation, as well as scheduling, plays a humongous role, when you have a CDE platform and high fidelity in the information that is being modelled. One can have bids which no longer need a 15 or 25 per cent margin of error. At 20% buffer it is no longer estimation, but a guesstimation," he added.
Bagalkotkar highlighted, "One would like to move closer to a lesser margin of error, which in turn helps bidders improve their win-rate. Certain Autodesk customers who have deployed BIM & Connected BIM have seen their win-rate in terms of the RFPs responded vis-a-vis to RFPs won increase by as much as 50 per cent,"
He also underlined that customers are now demanding more personalised solutions than ever before. He said, "If you look at how the entire segment is moving, especially in the home & customer space, it is moving towards mass-customization, as everyone now wants their personalised touch for their homes, for instance, a different set of tiles or finishes in kitchens,"
"It is of paramount importance that we provide customers with an immersive experience of what they are buying before they go-ahead and buy it. This allows the customers to make decisions that suit their demands and also results in better lead conversion rates on a sales front "Bagalkotkar added.
Future and upcoming trends:
Vishal Shah, Executive Director & Head of Digital at Gleeds, said that more and more organisations are going to adopt digital technologies than they did in the past.
Shah commented, “In the short term, I see an increased adaption of generative designs to layout a front end design option for project owners along with real-time and cost impacts which would help clients to make an informed early-stage decision in Infra / real estate space.”
Shah was also optimistic about the future of the Modular & Prefab industry.
He underlined, "The modular and prefab industries are going to take off very well. If we get more fabricated products from the factories and install and adopt them, it is going to reduce wastage, save time and increase profitability,"
Shah pointed out that AI/VR is going to play a major role in the upcoming days. He mentioned, "In the construction delivery side, an integration of AI/VR through Mixed Reality (MR) can help project managers make decisions on the go, and have the right information in front of them so they can reduce the rework and optimize time to market."
Also, the world is becoming more conscious of the environment and will act accordingly in the future. Shah highlighted, "Also, following the recent United Nations COP summit, the world is moving towards sustainability. Net-zero and carbon-neutral designs will become another important aspect as everyone will look to reduce carbon footprints."
The panellists concluded the discussion by arriving at the consensus that more technologies are going to be adopted in the future, which will help solve complex problems which we face daily.