Make way for the Construction Information Manager

BRIDGIT | Oct 29, 2014

This blog was originally published on the Burnham Works blog and was written by Paul Doherty, AIA. Based in Chicago, IL, Burnham Works is building a community to catalyze technology innovation in the Built space. 


As the AEC industry transitions from Technology 1.0 to Technology 2.0, the power of projects will begin to shift from traditional stakeholders like general contractors and construction managers to the emergence of a new specialist: the construction information manager.

During the Technology 1.0 age, roles were created to deal with specific technology wants and needs in all AEC businesses. CAD managers, virtual design and construction directors, chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) were created to help manage expert system solutions and try to align these solutions with business plans.

Some AEC companies were successful in this endeavor, but most of the industry continued to struggle with implementing and managing their information technology solutions to be efficient and effective. IT, as it was viewed by many in the AEC industry, guided the power of data and information into silos, creating a logjam and delayed the promise that IT would transform the industry. Many IT endeavors in the AEC industry catered to automating existing processes in order to gain acceptance. This provided minimal gains, but did provide the seeds for a transformative moment in time for the AEC industry.

Aligning with the process automation of the Technology 1.0 age was the aging of the industry. Attracting new blood has been hampered by the perception that the industry was reluctant to change and was too “old school.” The use of the Internet gave some hope to the industry as major firms dedicated resources to online marketing, project management and field communication. The emergence of building information modeling (BIM) was a tool and process for gaining ground with issues like clash detection and quantity take-offs, which also created big challenges with regard to multiple models per building, accuracy of each BIM version, and BIM-wash, which is the use of BIM that looks graphically good on the outside, but is a disaster in its details and data.

In this swirl of the Technology 1.0 age, something miraculous happened.

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), 3-D printing, digital fabrication, 3-D gaming and smart buildings/smart cities outside of the AEC industry provided a pathway for innovators and outliers to gain control of projects through a leap-frog effect that the industry has never before experienced.

As a result, the AEC industry is being transformed into the Technology 2.0 age by grassroots efforts across the globe. One example of this movement is the AEC Hackathon, which just completed its third successful event at the University of Washington Campus in Seattle after hosting the first two at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. The Hackathon event by itself is an amazing experience to witness due to its lack of traditional AEC-style PowerPoint communication. It takes on a rebellious nature in which the participants do not want to digitally provide a solution to a traditional process, but would rather “break things” and think radically about everything from the ground up.

At the AEC Hackathon, Tech experts partner with AEC professionals for a weekend, examine a certain challenge or problem in the AEC industry and develop solutions. The result is not only a new way of approaching an old problem, but also the creation of a sense of community. The energy and amazing solutions that result from each AEC Hackathon creates a “movement” that will continue to define the Technology 2.0 age and give rise to the new AEC professional: the construction information manager.

In March 2014, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce hosted a trade mission to the Middle East, led by Commerce Secretary Penny Prtizker, with a focus on infrastructure. During this mission, delegates were exposed to tens of billions of dollars’ worth of projects, like the 2020 Dubai World Expo, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha. Each of these high-profile projects is about to use the hackathon method to explore innovations, reduce costs, increase quality and provide a great experience for their built environment beyond the event they are building for.

The movement to “break things” and challenge the status quo is uncomfortable for those in the industry that have made money and careers out of inefficiencies. They do not want to see change, as they believe it will only work against them. Businesses that are wielding their technology sword at the very inefficiencies that help them make a living are coming to get those that stubbornly cling to the past.

The mega projects of the world are embracing this transformation of the AEC industry with excitement and hope. Say goodbye to the Technology 1.0 age and its parasitic processes and roles, and say hello to the new age of Technology 2.0.

A co-founder of the AEC Hackathon, the author last month was named a senior fellow by the Design Futures Council. He is president & CEO of the digit group inc.

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