The AEC industry is one of the world economy’s largest sectors, but profit margins are tightening, productivity growth is lagging, and labour shortages and material costs add further challenges. Digital transformation holds the key for the industry to address many of the issues it is facing and also provides significant opportunities for those who are willing to embrace change. But who are the entrepreneurs prepared to tackle the world’s most notoriously difficult and inefficient sectors?
Paul Wintour is an architect and founder of Parametric Monkey. He’s interested in solving AEC problems at scale. Matt Bishop is an engineer and founder of BVT. He is about to launch a product for the AEC sector that will do just that, starting with a particular niche in the market. The two came together when BVT engaged Parametric Monkey to help establish an innovation framework. They discuss what it takes to become a technology-led organisation in the AEC industry.
Expertise is based on focus
Matt explains that one of the fundamental questions for businesses implementing innovation is either go big or go small. The world is drowning in undifferentiated, full-service organisations, but you can’t spend all your time trying to solve a multitude of problems. He recalls a conversation with a principal of a large engineering firm. While they were doing lots of cool stuff in their innovation teams, it was a real struggle to cross it over into their core offerings because the business just wasn’t set up that way.
Paul agrees. Through his consulting, he sees plenty of organisations attempting to embrace technology to improve their practices. However, he describes many of them as being “like a kid in a candy store” – exploring every shiny, new technology currently in vogue. They offer a full-service consultancy and do a bit of everything. The flip side of this is not fully specialising in any one thing. Paul quotes David Baker:
…expertise (or insight) is based on focus, which in turn is based on positioning.David Baker1
Aligning focus with vision
Organisations need a clear positioning, which determines their direction and focus. Instead, he often finds that when experimenting with technology, it’s usually led by an individual with a particular interest, without alignment to the company’s vision. This means innovation comes and goes with the staff without any long-lasting impact for the organisation. The consequence of this approach is often many quick exploratory studies that fail to deliver any significant, long-term advantages.
Paul believes BVT’s deep expertise in interior seismic engineering has been key in their successful transition to a technology-led firm. The innovative technology is central to their core business and can be used on every project. The entire business has been structured with the objective of becoming an AI-led organisation. Paul says it is far easier for organisations to get stakeholder buy-in when the vision is continuously and clearly articulated.
A highly targeted approach allows for successful market entry
BVT has developed Prenguin, a software product for the automated engineering of internal partition walls and ceilings. The product allows architects to check their designs for engineering safety and compliance with the local building code. It removes the need for an engineer, allowing greater scope for design iterations because the time and cost of the engineering input are removed. Due to Prenguin’s high specificity, BVT can continuously build deeper and deeper expertise – easily transferring that knowledge to other facets of construction.
An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.David Baker2
Ensuring the skill set to support an automation strategy
When BVT started down the road of automation, Matt realised they would need the ability to code and create algorithms, but this was not a core competency they had in-house. At first, BVT attempted to outsource the development to a software company, but through this process, Matt realised that an in-depth understanding of seismic engineering was required in order to create a product that worked for the market. The question became whether to train a software engineer to understand seismic engineering or take a seismic engineer and teach them software development.
The answer was something in between. Matt says there was one staff member who joined BVT as a graduate engineer, “but he was not very engineer-y to start with. His real passion was coding. We were able to provide the direction for him to develop that skill set. Now he has a background in engineering, but his skill set is very much in software development.”
Providing a translation service between languages
Having seen the process the graduate engineer/coder went through to move from one side to the other highlighted to Matt that the skill sets were very different. Matt decided the answer would not be to train people to do both but rather to transfer the domain knowledge from engineering to software development. He says by having our engineers working in one language (Excel) and our developers working in another (Python), we can let each team work in their preferred format and use a program to translate between them. So it’s not a matter of turning software developers into engineers or vice versa, but respecting the domain knowledge of each and allowing them to communicate better.
Prenguin is due to launch September 2021. To learn how Parametric Monkey can help your organisation on a path of digital transformation, drop us a line and discover how we can help your organisation do better things.
1 Baker, D. (2017). The business of expertise: How entrepreneurial experts convert insight to impact + wealth. Rockbench publishing, Nashville, p.1.
2 Baker, D. (2017). The business of expertise: How entrepreneurial experts convert insight to impact + wealth. Rockbench publishing, Nashville, p.149.