People Profile: Atul KhanzodeAECbytes Profile (October 15, 2014)

Atul Khanzode, Ph.D., head of DPR's Construction's Consulting and Construction Technologies groups, shares his perspective on AEC technology in this Profile.
"I see a lot of really smart and dedicated people who are initially attracted to our industry getting burnt out because they get frustrated with the archaic ways we do things …"
What is your educational and professional background?

I have completed my PhD in Construction Engineering and Management at Stanford University focused on the application of Integrated Practice, Virtual Design and Construction and Lean Construction methods in the AEC industry. I have also completed a Masters Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Duke University.

I currently lead DPR Construction’s Consulting and Construction Technology Groups. I have spent all my career in Construction. I worked for my family’s Construction Business in Heavy Civil Works in Central India and have been working with DPR Construction in the US for the last 17 years, starting as a Project Engineer doing a variety of technically challenging projects in Healthcare, Life Sciences and Advanced Technology market sectors.

What is your current role? What are the main projects you are involved with?

I currently lead DPR Construction’s Consulting and Construction Technology Groups. In this capacity, I get to work with really smart people to promote the use of VDC methods and tools and integrated practices on our projects, so we can produce predictable results and lasting value for our owners. I am also responsible for our technology initiatives and investments. I am currently involved in a large project for a confidential client and also involved in multiple innovation initiatives within the company.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

I got interested in AEC technology when I was an undergrad and working for my family’s construction business in India. Over a few summers, I did shop drawing detailing in AutoCAD and also developed an Excel based application so my dad could do his estimates a lot quicker than what he was doing at that time. My undergrad thesis was on LISP application to automate the production of rebar shop drawings. I have always believed that technology has huge potential in improving our industry and have worked on this all my professional life. My current role at DPR provides me with an excellent opportunity to work with owners, subcontractors and our own employees to make real change in the way things are done in our industry.

How much of what you do today is related to AEC technology in some form?

Almost everything I do today has some form of AEC technology associated with it. My observation is that we need to connect technology with people and make it accessible to more people in our industry for it to make a real change.

From your vantage point, what do you see as some of the main technological challenges facing the AEC industry today?

I feel like our processes have not evolved to take advantage of what technology can offer us. We are still too fragmented across our industry to take advantage from a life cycle value perspective of what technology offers us today. I see new business models and project organization approaches emerging which can make significant improvement to our industry in terms of quality, safety, productivity and predictability. Technology itself is evolving and I see more automation being adopted across our industry and the continuing evolution of tools being used to predict building performance.

How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?

I see a lot more dramatic shift in terms of the use of technology for automation and better prediction of building performance. The rapid evolution and affordability in cloud computing will allow us to develop deeper insights into problems that we were not able to tackle before, such as optimization of a building structure across multiple attributes. I also see a great need for professional education in our industry so that the professionals who have deep knowledge of the building process can take advantage of what the technology already offers.

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

It is that we as a profession take pride and initiative in fixing our fragmented process to a more collaborative and integrated approach based on trust, so that we can take advantage of what technology enables today and play a meaningful role in developing high performing buildings that are sustainable and fun to work in. As Prof. John Kunz and Martin Fischer of Stanford / CIFE, who I consider to be my mentors, would say, “We in the AEC industry are responsible for the Physical Wealth in the world,” and we need to fix the way that is being achieved today.

Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology that you would like to share?

I see a lot of really smart and dedicated people who are initially attracted to our industry getting burnt out because they get frustrated with the archaic ways we do things, just because we have done it that way for a long time. If we want to continue to attract the talent we need for our industry, we are going to need to change the way we do things. Fortunately, I see a lot of good things happening in the industry: everything from entrepreneurs starting interesting startups; to technology vendors building interesting products; to owners, general contractors, designers and subcontractors thinking of different ways to bring efficiencies to the project delivery process; and finally, academia building up the resource pool of students that will be the leaders of the future. I hope that continues.

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