Rachel Fulford is the associate editor at Construction Business Owner magazine.
An in-depth Q&A with the experts from Autodesk & Rhumbix
Staying ahead of the curve is tough. It’s tough in any business, but it seems to be especially taxing in the construction industry. Because, as you’ve read or experienced by now, in construction, “ahead of the curve” is often code for “abreast the latest technological trends” (in most instances). And, in a market known for creeping down the technology road rather than accelerating, staying abreast wasn’t nearly as difficult, even five years ago, as it is today.
Suddenly, the most efficient contractors needed a building information modeling (BIM) platform, a fleet telematics platform and a worker productivity data capturing platform, as well as a way to share all of these in real-time while cultivating insight into how to increase worker safety, machine health, team productivity and project performance—a feat in its own right, never mind the actual constructing. So, how can this be done well, all come together in one central place?
You’ve likely heard the term. But, unless you’ve taken advantage of one already, you’re probably wondering what in the world a tech ecosystem is exactly. According to Financial Times’ lexicon guide, a tech ecosystem has five defining features:
- defined by core components made by the platform owner and complemented by applications made by autonomous companies in the periphery
- offers solutions comprising a larger system of use than the original platform owner created and solves an important technical problem within in an industry
- easy to connect to or build upon the core solution in order to expand the system of use and allow new and even unanticipated end uses
- attached with a core firm's product, which is limited in value when used alone but substantially increases in value when used with the complementary applications
- includes well known smart phone platforms, such as Apple and Android, but are also common in gaming consuls and social media platforms and exist in industrial sectors, where core products in software, manufacturing or scientific machinery nourish an extended community of service organizations that operate as semi-autonomous, value-added resellers
Still not crystal clear? It wasn’t to us either. To get the lowdown, CBO chatted with Rhumbix Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder Zach Scheel and Autodesk Head of Construction-Integrated Marketing Allison Scott. Here’s what we found out:
CBO: What exactly is a tech ecosystem?
AS: Contractors use multiple software applications throughout a project, and the choices are growing every day. While innovation is exciting, the tech choices can be overwhelming, and the value can be hard to ascertain, especially when construction teams are focused on the day-to-day challenge of running a project instead of validating emerging technology. Additionally, these new tools can create more data silos.
Historically, construction software has focused on trying to do everything with a single application. Through the rise of “platforms,” data can seamlessly flow from one solution to another, creating a more meaningful way for internal and external stakeholders to collaborate.
A construction integration partner program (or tech ecosystem), such as Autodesk BIM 360’s, vets and validates the solutions to create an ecosystem of applications that connect and share data into the BIM 360 platform, making it easier for contractors to harness the power of technology to better understand the status of their project and increase the speed of decision-making.
CBO: BIM versus tech ecosystems like BIM 360: Please explain.
AS: BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that helps architects, engineers, contractors and owners create a data-rich virtual representation of a physical asset before it’s built in the real world. This can help project teams improve quality, save time and reduce risk in the construction process. Similar to how a sports team practices before they play a game, BIM helps project teams explore and refine how they want to build before they put a shovel in the ground.
In its simplest form, BIM is a process for creating a building in the virtual world, and BIM 360 is a management tool for helping it come to life in the real world. BIM 360 excels as a hub for BIM-based projects, but its use is not limited to projects using BIM software.
CBO: What do contractors stand to gain from adopting this technology?
AS: Construction tech ecosystems, like BIM 360, connect project data through the cloud in real-time, from design through construction, supporting informed decision making and leading to more predictable and profitable outcomes. It supports workflows that span the project lifecycle, including design collaboration, document management, coordination, constructability, project administration, quality/safety programs and handover/operations. Open platforms also connect to other construction software applications to allow data sharing and the ability to create a single source of truth for project data, enabling transparency and better decision making.
This technology gives contractors the ability to collaborate and communicate with the entire team earlier in the project, which provides for greater transparency into changes and ensures data continuity. The platform also helps to connect multiple sources of information into one place, making it easier for users at every stage to know the status of the project. This all supports better decision making and predictability—ultimately reducing risks associated with areas like quality, safety, schedule and cost.
ZS: Contractors want and need the ability to take advantage of data analytics. Using lagging financial performance data alone to determine project health is ineffective. Connecting project operations data, through platforms like Rhumbix, to financial performance, enables teams to drive consistently better outcomes.
Digitizing workflows, collecting and centralizing data, and using platforms that allow you to visualize jobsite intelligence and real-time project metrics drives much faster iteration and productivity.
CBO: How difficult is switching from current, outdated processes to the tech ecosystem model?
AS: This is one of the benefits of using a technology platform: It can be adopted at the pace that is most comfortable for the customer. While BIM 360 offers a comprehensive toolset, there are many powerful workflows that are immediately useful and easy to introduce. That’s because many processes do not need to be changed overall, but simply digitized. In addition, software tools that are used for existing processes can be connected to open platforms like BIM 360.
CBO: How will tech ecosystems revolutionize the construction industry?
AS: Seamless integrations between technologies will ultimately lead to increased productivity, decreased risk and accelerated adoption of new technologies as synergies between solutions are identified, exploited and refined. Furthermore, as data silos are broken down, artificial intelligence will play a greater role in how we design, construct and operate assets in the future.
ZS: The construction industry has had a “mine, not yours” mentality regarding project-level information and, to some extent, so have the software providers. Ten years ago, contractors had to use software that generally worked only on computers back at the corporate office and was delivered via discs for uploading the software and annual updating. This methodology was bolstered by the need-to-know basis philosophy of keeping critical project information behind a firewall and sharing it only in rare circumstances.
The rise of cloud-based software, apps and mobile devices have created an environment in which contractors can now create and utilize data from their projects that can be shared with other project stake holders to benefit the entire project team.
Over the past two years, we’ve worked hard to educate the construction industry about the need to shift their focus from document-driven workflows to data-driven strategies. We continue to encourage companies to make the leap from the carbon locker into real-time digital documentation because it’s no longer a question of “if,” but a question of “when.”