People Profile: Paul TeicholzAECbytes Profile (July 30, 2014)

Paul Teicholz, Professor (Research) Emeritus, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, shares his perspective on AEC technology in this Profile.
“"Even firms with the desire and ability to lead their field find it difficult to make optimal use of new technologies and appropriately modify their business practices."

What is your educational and professional background?

I was educated through high school in public schools in New York City and then went to Cornell University for a combined civil engineering and liberal arts 5 year program. I then went to Stanford University for a masters degree in construction management (1960) and decided to stay for a Ph.D. in civil engineering (1963), which allowed me to learn how early computer systems could be used to model management problems and simulate construction operations.  It was clear that this was going to be an important and expanding area of applications.

After graduation from Stanford, I joined a construction consulting firm that specialized in the analysis of complex projects, designing specialized equipment, etc.  My job was to develop, market and implement computer applications for estimating, scheduling, cost control, accounting, etc.  These used punched card and paper tape input equipment and ran on early IBM computers. This was tedious, but did allow faster and more accurate data capture and reporting (typically weekly instead of monthly) and allowed improved management.

After 3 years of this type of consulting, I joined a large global construction firm as their first IT manager (a new title at that time) and started on the development of an integrated set of programs that supported almost all of the critical activities of the company.  These included estimating, bidding, daily labor and equipment data capture, cost control, scheduling, equipment management, claims, personnel, etc.  This was an opportunity to implement a truly integrated set of systems that were all driven from common inputs derived from many sources within the company and their field locations.  Many of the projects were quite remote and required teleprocessing of inputs and outputs over telephone lines. This system was implemented on IBM mainframe computers with PCs being used at field and division locations.

After 25 years, I left this construction firm and thought I had acquired sufficient understanding of computer and management issues, to propose to Stanford University that they set up a Center in their civil and environmental engineering department. It could take advantage of their faculty and graduate students working with industry on the computer and management issues associated with a true integration of design, construction and facility management.  It had become clear to me that the design-bid-build facility acquisition approach caused many problems (delays, cost overruns, lack of quality, claims, etc.) and these could best be addressed by an integrated approach that allowed the project team and client to work together using new technology to share data from the beginning of a project.  Thus, the Center for Integrated Engineering (CIFE) was established and continues to this day (I retired in 1998).  This Center has developed a strong program of research and industry involvement in the areas of virtual design and construction.

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

Currently, I am an emeritus professor at Stanford and am using my time mainly for writing about the applications of BIM to AEC/FM.  The first book, titled the “BIM Handbook” was done with three other authors who are experts in different aspects of this domain.  The first edition was published in 2008 and a second edition was released in 2011.  More recently, I edited and partially wrote a book that covered the application of BIM for Facility Managers that was supported by IFMA and published by Wiley in 2013.  I have also studied the labor efficiency of the construction industry (mainly in the US) and written several papers on this topic. In addition to writing, I am active in some startup organizations developing new approaches to AEC practice.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

I first became interested in AEC because my father was a home builder and I worked for him during some of my summers while in high school.  Thus I learned to read plans, do quantity takeoffs, plan construction schedules, etc. When I got to Stanford, the early use of CPM (critical path method) was being developed and I was able to implement this technology on early computers and extend its use through risk simulation and links to cost estimating and cash flow.  These early applications of computers to common construction management tasks showed me the power of the computer and influenced my career choices.

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

As a writer about the use of technology and its applications over the life-cycle of facilities of all types, I actively pursue many avenues of learning to try to understand new technology and business developments and their appropriate use for AEC/FM.  This involves field visits, discussions with technology and business leaders and participation in relevant conferences, blogs, etc.

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

The rate of change in technology is generally faster than many AEC firms can adopt.  Even firms with the desire and ability to lead their field find it difficult to make optimal use of new technologies and appropriately modify their business practices.  New forms of collaboration among the project team and clients are now possible through the use of shared models, cloud storage and rapid updates from wireless computers.  Senior management needs to understand and lead these business changes and it is a difficult problem for many.

How do you see AEC technology evolving in the future?

I think it is clear that virtual design, construction and FM are a major area of change.  Building and testing performance on the computer provides a project team and an owner/client with much better understanding of the design and how it will perform.  This allows the knowledge of the team to be applied when it is most needed.  Another area of change is the increasing emphasis on sustainability as the need for energy and water efficiency become more important.  Thus, accurate and early simulation of building and project behavior are critical elements of design. A third area of change will be the increasing integration of construction and manufacturing technologies so that a greater percentage of a project can be made under factory conditions and then delivered and installed at the site.  This approach normally requires considerable planning and modeling, but can yield very significant safety, time, cost and quality advantages.

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

I think the most leveraged investment an AEC professional can make is in their education at every stage of their career.  This will provide the basis of intelligent evaluation and appropriate implementation of the rapidly changing world of technology.  Businesses that want to stay at the forefront will need to invest in education at all relevant levels within their organization.

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

As someone who has tried to develop and implement new technologies and business practices in the AEC/FM industry, I am often struck by the difficulties of making significant progress.  There are, of course, important structural reasons for this that I have addressed elsewhere. But there are also good reasons for optimism provided by the very significant benefits that are available to those firms and owners that make the requisite efforts. 

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