Technology enabled solutions may well be the unlock to some of AEC’s most pressing challenges.
If you look across the industry, thought leaders and principals seem to agree that the industry’s toughest problems are people related. Over and again, firm leaders tell us they are most concerned with:
- A shortage of professional workers in the labor pool
- Rising demand for remote and hybrid work environments
These two problems compound one another. Firms that provide remote and hybrid work environments have a competitive advantage in the recruitment arena, where the flexibility presents as an added benefit. Further, that competing firm can recruit in your backyard without even having a physical presence in your market.
Fundamentally, we wouldn’t be having a discussion about hybrid and remote work environments at all if not for technology. What would have happened if the COVID-19 pandemic had occurred in 2000 instead of 2020? Work from home would not have been a thought on any of our minds, as we simply did not have the tools or infrastructure to support it. You may lament a Zoom meeting now, but what would have happened to our businesses if it wasn’t even an option, and your average employe might not have had even dial-up internet access at home?
My point is that this “new” ask for remote work is driven more by technology than employee demand. The appeal of flexibility has been, for employees, a constant one—only the technology has changed.
How can we leverage technology to defend against these challenges, then? Of course, there are off the shelf solutions like Zoom for meetings, and cloud based office suites from Microsoft and Google. These are the status quo and, let’s face it, we’re all already using them. This does not differentiate a firm at all.
More and more, firms are looking build their own intellectual property in the form of software tools and systems. These tools are able to expand upon the basic necessities of remote work by codifying the unique, differentiating aspects of a firm’s delivery. Some examples include:
- Virtual inspection: Data collected in the field is loaded into collaborative cloud based software tools, allowing a portion of your professional staff to audit from anywhere. Often, these systems are built with a mind towards enabling the staff you already have to take on more concurrent projects.
- Field data collection: Data captured by drones, sensors, and scanners are reducing the amount of time spent onsite (and therefore co-located). Strong technology processes and data collection tools can shift more of your field time to desk time.
- Process management: Remote environments cannot depend on paper systems or physical interactions. Codifying internal processes unique to the firm into software enables efficiency with remote team members.
- Data science and AI: While AI alone doesn’t directly solve a problem, it can be applied on top of existing systems and processes to gain new efficiency. It is incumbent upon a firm to have a strong digital data collection process in order to reap these benefits, though.
Fundamentally, each of these solutions enable stronger collaboration in a remote environment. They have additional (often outsized) benefits to the firm as well. These include new service and revenue streams, better client outcomes, and greater staff efficiency. Further, firms are able to build IP assets on the balance sheet, which can eventually be spun out or enhance the firm’s valuation in M&A activities.
I think we can all agree that remote work is fundamentally enabled by technology. We can also agree that we face new recruitment competition in an increasingly remote world. Even if you decide to maintain a traditional onsite staff, you’ll be competing with firms who don’t for the same talent.
If both of these things are true, then it stands to reason that the firms who go beyond the status quo of technology solutions, beyond just having a remote-capable IT posture, will be the firms that truly stand out from the landscape over the next decade.