Most industry observers watching the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) market seem to agree that companies should be ready for growth. While the level of growth itself may not be dramatic, professional service providers in the AEC segment are likely to experience high drama based on the nature of the projects they take on, the demands of the clients they support, and the challenges in planning and managing their resources. Even if you simply combine the business implications of complex, risky projects, limited, valuable resources, rail-thin margins, and ambitious schedules, you might become motivated to enlist help and look for proven business management tools before you lose control.
Mega projects and increasing operational complexity
Leading developers and public-sector clients around the world continue to plan so-called mega projects, which are worth $1 billion or more—extremely tall high-rise buildings, tunnels, air- and seaport facilities, and others. Through 2014 and beyond, some analysts expect there to be more of these projects than in the past while the BRIC countries and other regions reach the same level of development and infrastructural complexity as long-time industrialized nations. Mega projects are highly complex and risky. They demand extensive resource commitments and realistic, reliable planning capabilities that give AEC companies the ability to anticipate and meet changing resource requirements and costs. Generally, many contractors and subcontractors are involved, requiring effective collaboration and contributing to operational complexity. Resource bottlenecks and cost overruns on mega projects can be at a much larger scale than is the case in smaller endeavors, and the visibility, for better or worse, often is also very high.
Keeping AEC professionals productive
One effect of the 2008 recession was that a lot of highly qualified talent left the industry when projects fell through or were delayed. As a result, AEC projects and service-delivery operations are often still dealing with a shortage of professionals as the economy picks up. Many of the most experienced people who are delivering services or playing key roles on projects, are mobile, traveling across the country or internationally in response to clients’ needs. Project and service managers not only need to know where their people work and how busy they are, they also need to plan diligently for the use of these skills and qualifications in upcoming projects. The ideal workload is a productive balance that avoids burning out people or not giving them enough to do, and many companies find it challenging to maintain that balance especially when projects wind down and teams need to transition to other assignments.
Ensuring optimal utilization and longevity of equipment assets
The effective management of mobile professionals shows similarities with managing equipment resources, and a certain kind of professional and a type of equipment will sometimes travel together from site to site. Equipment assets need to be deployed at the right time in the right place. When companies prepare oil fields or other sites where natural resources will be exploited, the equipment demands can be overwhelming, requiring the transport, staging, and assembly of many different kinds of machinery. AEC companies are challenged with keeping their equipment running in optimal condition while they draw as much productive use from it at an excellent utilization rate as they possibly can.
More than ever, the companies that own, lease, and service equipment are doing what they can to extend the lifecycle of machines before they need to be replaced. The largely mobile expert technicians who ensure that valuable equipment assets run reliably are essential contributors to companies’ ability to deliver projects and services successfully, and the planning of their work and capacity can be as demanding and complex as that for other professionals and assets.
Companies’ and clients’ needs for transparency and insight
One obvious commonality all of these considerations for AEC companies share is the presence of big data. The performance of people and the utilization of equipment in the field, the projected and actual costs and margins, the planned schedules and the discrepancies in their fulfillment—the information that defines these factors exists, but often not in a useful form that enables business intelligence (BI). Companies have to use the right tools to make that wealth of data available, intelligible, and actionable in their planning, project and service management, resource deployment, and client communications.
Professional service providers are not alone in looking for a greater level of insight and control—their clients tend to feel the same way. They want more transparency than what regular reporting can deliver. Just like the architects, builders, engineers, and other service organizations, they require real-time updates on the progress of their projects and the consumption of their budgets, with early insight into emerging delays, resource issues, and quality concerns.
Joining BI, collaboration, and mobility
Business and BI systems used by AEC companies need to be able to harvest and unlock the meaning of the information that comes from the many resources deployed in the field, in real time, or companies will not be able to gain a meaningful understanding of the status and moving elements on their projects and in their service delivery to enable timely management action. When client preferences or an AEC company’s best practices drive lean construction or integrated project delivery (IPD) to streamline work and harmonize the business interests of all stakeholders, the requirements for technology tools to enable intelligence, control, and collaboration acquire greater urgency. And, as AEC enterprises and smaller companies engage on mega projects and multisite or multi-project efforts, they need to digest and understand global contexts with data streams that will often exceed the complexity and scope they are used to. For example, AEC enterprises will have to anticipate the impact of worldwide climate change on the availability of materials and components, so they can avoid shortages or excessive cost overruns.
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