Firm Profile: KEO International ConsultantsAECbytes Profile (October 15, 2014)

KEO International Consultants, a global provider of Planning, Architectural Design, Civil Engineering, Sustainability and Project Management services, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

KEO is a multi-disciplinary professional consulting firm founded in 1964 with close to 2,700 staff and has offices in all the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, and with experience in project delivery that includes Africa, Asia and Europe. KEO’s extensive capabilities are structured to provide the following: full spectrum of project management services, master planning, infrastructure and building engineering, architectural design, quantity surveying services, landscape architecture, and sustainability consultancy. KEO is one of the largest privately held AECO/PMCM firms and is consistently ranked in ENR’s list of the top 200 International Design Firms as well as the top 20 International Project Management firms.

Conceptual design of an urban master plan.

What is the firm's current focus? 

KEO’s focus is on continued growth across all of the core services it offers, improving and enhancing consistent quality delivery of the services it provides and deeper investment into the capabilities of its professional staff.  Specifically, KEO is focusing on rail which seems to be a priority in all GCC countries. From a technology point of view, KEO has fully embraced the BIM methodology which is now being utilized as the standard in the delivery of projects across the whole firm, integrating all the disciplines and the processes of project delivery. A key focus has been the integration of knowledge into the daily way of working that incorporates the project management role, design stages, and construction stage through to operations and maintenance, to create increasingly efficient collaborative workflows.

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?

KEO began investing in AEC technology as far back as the 70’s with mainframes connected to terminals using structural engineering software.  Then in 1982, KEO converted to the use of AutoCAD, with decentralized yet networked CAD stations, that were also integrated to Management Information Systems. The evolution of drawing on paper to drawing on computer in the history of AEC technology essentially left the working process unchanged.

Today KEO uses parametric modeling software not only to visualize in 3D, but to gain the ability to extract information such as quantities, specifications and phasing, all from the same model. With BIM, all information is now connected and integrated where a change made in one place is now reflected in all other documentation.  For example, if a door is deleted from a wall in the model, this change is automatically updated in the specifications, quantities and costing information. The size and complexity of a project becomes irrelevant “from the point of view of the computer processing” and updating the information. 

The development of “all information connected” leads to economies in scale, where in effect, even larger and more complex projects do not necessarily require more staff.  Less staff will be able to produce a better product by being able to spend more time in activities such as design and engineering with better, automated coordination leading to fewer RFIs and change orders on site, ultimately resulting in reduced construction costs.  

Up until fairly recently, technology has been a supporter of business essentials. KEO has always taken a business-driven approach to figure out new and innovative ways to leverage technology to support how it does business. For the first time, technology is driving business strategy, rather than the other way around. Take, for example, the development of parametric modeling software. Progress has led to where a technology has allowed the industry to become more efficient. The model is created once but used many times by different stakeholders, and we produce an integrated set of information with a combination of 3D visuals of components with relevant information and better coordinated product. 

This development has resulted in technology changing the fundamentals of how KEO does business through greater collaboration during the early stages of a project, changing the process and workflows in how its disciplines interact with each other, and increasing its knowledge base for better decision making.

Therefore for KEO, it is vital to the firm’s future that it is 100% BIM fluent and proficient. There is no going back to any other way of project delivery. Innovation is key in KEO, and BIM technology is one of the drivers of innovation into the future.

All designs at KEO are now done using BIM.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?

KEO has always believed that to compete as one of the top professional consulting firms, technological capabilities together with the best possible professional staff was going to continue to set it apart. Its approach is to ensure that technology is used as effectively as possible by automating processes and workflows, increasing knowledge and intelligence, consequently assisting the staff to be more efficient and more productive. 

Continual learning and 24/7 support forms the backbone of utilizing technology in KEO’s daily operations. The key is to provide, through technology, support whenever required. Assistance comes in many forms, from the availability of online tutorials, relevant tips and tricks, pop up processes and workflows to staff with knowledge and experience in the vicinity.

One of the fundamental changes in how the firm makes progress on projects is how collaboration is accomplished and the level of information that is now available at a much earlier stage of a project. Initial collaboration has altered phasing and deliverables, impacting the fee structure of the project. Because a digital model of the project is being built, more detail is required at an earlier stage, resulting in a shift in KEO’s fee distribution to the earlier design phases. 

The concept of design phases and related information provided in the deliverables has been forever altered. Design phases and their deliverables were based on the decision-making process and the information presented at particular milestones. Fee structures were historically based on the amount of work achieved at certain milestones with built in allowances for changes made by the design team, client and other stakeholders. 

Today the face of collaboration has changed where more project stakeholders are demanding to be involved much earlier than previously usually required. In today’s world of project delivery, contractors and those handling operations and maintenance, can beinvolved from the very beginning, providing input, and therefore ensuring that the best and most cost effective decisions are made.

Today’s technology allows the firm to effectively view and model the entire lifecycle of a project in a more efficient manner and it also adds the ability to manage budgets and costs. This information can prove invaluable when clients are searching for ways to introduce value engineering to their projects. The multiple components of information contained within the model are the key to its success. To enable the most accurate information to be collated resulting in the best end product, collaboration between stakeholders is imperative.

The use of technology allows KEO to developing coordinated multi-disciplinary BIM models for design and construction,

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

The main challenge of implementing technology is dealing with resistance to change, having the right mindset, to get staff to understand how technology allows them to work, what technology can be used for, using the right technology for the right purpose, and learning how to use the technology in an efficient and productive way. 

One challenge is training, where using technology in the correct way is in itself a continuous education process since the methodology is enhanced according to technological developments. For professional staff, continuous learning is required to ensure productive use of technology.

The other challenge is hardware, where the demands set by the continually evolving software affect both specifications of the computers and their cost, not to mention the size of the models created that contain more and more information. It is clear that the trend is towards ‘cloud” based processing, but the challenge in this area is the speed and reliability of the Internet connection.

How does your firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

Total collaboration in the cloud is the next step in the evolution of AEC technology. All project data will be worked on in the cloud and accessible from anywhere through any device. This includes processing power so that no longer are powerful individual workstations required in offices. New forms of devices will be developed known as wearable technology which will allow us more freedom to create and manipulate data unrestricted by the setting of office environments. On site, design charettes will take on a whole new perspective where a team of experts will together be able to produce a design and show the client in an augmented reality environment instantaneously.  

If your firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

The outcome of technology evolving at an exponential rate leaves the development of software and hardware becoming fragmented. There is an immediate requirement in the industry for a set of integrated tools that work as a coherent whole, flowing throughout each step of a project lifecycle used by all stakeholders. The efficiency of how we work and the technology we use is directly related to the ease in which information flows between different stakeholders using different apps. How easy is it, for example, to use, combine and work on GIS data, CAD data, BIM parametric models, various structural and MEP analysis tools, specifications, costing information that work in a multi-directional fashion so that a change in one place is reflected all the way down the line without the need of human intervention at one stage or another?  

Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology implementation that the firm would like to share?

In the same way the baristas at Starbuck’s know to brew your favorite drink as you enter their premises and make your way to the counter using the geo location information in your smartphone, similarly, a smart building can sense your approach via your ID card, activating systems as you pass by. When you enter your office, it will be the ideal temperature and you will be greeted by your electronic PA running through your messages and morning appointments. 

Soon, technology will be like the air that you breathe. It’s all around you; you can’t see it; you can’t hear it; you can’t feel it, but you can talk to it, and you need it in order to operate properly. Technology will be natural, intuitive, intelligent, smart and knowledgeable. Technology will be integrated into our daily lives to such an extent that we will take for granted that it exists.

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