Merging Digital Transformation with Information Management in AEC

The AEC industry is at a turning point: Margins are shrinking, but client expectations continue to grow. Beyond that, the current pandemic has gripped the globe, forcing businesses to transform overnight into virtual organizations. As we continue into this unfamiliar territory, companies need to continue to adapt under current conditions. Combine that with the need for businesses to stay profitable and ahead of the competition, many AEC businesses are evaluating ways to pivot their approach within the industry as well as searching for new efficiencies and strategies that enable them to make more informed decisions.

Some firms have already initiated the necessary operational changes by merging digital transformation with information management. When done right, this strategy can help businesses navigate the pandemic, empower project teams to work more efficiently, and help them identify key trends that inform decision making.

Why AEC Businesses Need Information Management

Digital transformation enables a business to reduce waste and accelerate outdated processes. But as the organization begins to prioritize digitization, the amount of information teams create and store for each project may increase exponentially.

In addition to digital transformation, increasingly complex team structures, more stringent due diligence and an uptick in stakeholder involvement have contributed to a significant spike in the number of documents produced during a given project. Over the last several decades, the AEC industry has created and consumed a staggering volume of contracts, schedules, drawings, and reports, not to mention internal and external email communication and project management files.

While this high volume of documents and data can be overwhelming, it is also a goldmine of valuable insights. The business needs processes to help navigate the growing flood of information — which is where information management comes into play. Information management is the process of collecting, maintaining, and organizing information. It also includes strategies for centralized information management as well as functions for sharing information across the organization.

Beyond organizing and managing information, you can use information management in tandem with continued digital transformation, replacing manual processes to find new efficiencies and unlocking new business models to make more strategic decisions.

Using Information Management to Eliminate Manual Tasks

Every project requires several disconnected processes to create and share information. With success often hinging on the correct management of this information, solutions are needed to automate and streamline the various manual processes associated with projects.

For example, consider the number of emails project teams send and receive during any given project. The time spent on email management can be minimized using machine learning. Algorithms that rely on artificial intelligence can recognize the email habits of individual employees. As the algorithm learns, it can offer suggestions on where employees can store emails (based on project or client) or who to send emails to based on past behavior, minimizing the amount of time spent making these mundane decisions.

With productivity at risk, information management processes also have the potential to completely transform how employees find and share documents at work. In 2018, 49% of U.S. workers said they have trouble locating documents, while 43% reported difficulty sharing documents. Document Management Systems (DMS) make it easier for employees to find what they need based on a strong search system built on document metadata. DMSs quickly return search results and are more intuitive for employees to navigate compared to traditional file indexing.

When it comes to eliminating manual tasks, there is no shortage of processes that could benefit from acceleration. Here are some additional information management tools that can be used to speed up workflows:

  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA): RPA “bots” are key to automating repetitive tasks in the AEC space. RPA learns from data to identify patterns and mimic human behavior and decision making. As a result, RPA makes it easier to stay ahead of the competition by offloading repetitive tasks like invoicing, onboarding and project set up, creating efficiencies across the business.

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): AEC businesses can also benefit from technology similar to consumer digital assistants like Alexa and Siri. Fast, natural language interactions with enterprise applications make it easier for employees to complete tasks and boost productivity. When integrated with artificial intelligence software, NLP technology can recognize patterns in user speech behavior and suggest tasks, such as following up on emails or submitting a weekly report.

Just one of the information management processes mentioned above could dramatically reduce the amount of time employees spend on manual tasks. And given the increasingly intuitive nature of programs and products, employees can improve efficiency with minimal technical training. 

Using Information Management to Drive Better Business Decisions

Projects produce punch list items and observations that teams have historically recorded and stored in individual reports, generally a Microsoft Word document or Excel spreadsheet. While this is adequate for recordkeeping purposes, it doesn’t uncover trends. Without trend evaluation, it is difficult for teams to identify problem areas to improve in the process.

AEC project teams need electronic forms for data capture. Digital data capture creates powerful summary results (i.e., graphs, charts and major themes), making trend analysis passive. With insight into project patterns and weaknesses, such as material discrepancies or subpar workmanship, businesses can adjust processes and complete projects faster with higher quality outputs.

Leveraging digital data capture for better decision making requires accessible tools to harness and analyze the data. Here are two examples of data capture tools available for mainstream AEC use:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI and machine learning tools are powerful additions to the project toolbox. AI can deliver recommendations and predictive insights based on data from previous projects and other data sources. When paired with machine learning, AI data capture and analysis also reduce human intervention and bias in results and predictions.

  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR): OCR software converts typed or handwritten characters into text for data entry. This technology is especially useful if a business still relies on paper-based documentation or traditional data entry methods like Microsoft Word or Excel. For example, OCR software can scan receipts and upload the data directly into expense reports, saving time and increasing report accuracy. Even more, that data is now searchable and available for trend analysis.

The AEC industry is still adjusting to the new normal, to digital transformation and the demands of increasingly complex projects. Identifying how to pivot a business to cope with the new normal and finding efficiencies, improving business decision making, and evolving to keep up with client needs all hinge on software solutions that merge digital transformation with information management. By tapping into the tools mentioned above, AEC businesses can continue to thrive and significantly improve project intelligence — enabling them to achieve better margins, greater growth and competitive advantage.

About the Author

Nick Nieder is the Director of Product Management at Deltek. Nick has spent 20 years in the industry and previously spent 15 years within construction contracting implementing IT solutions to support their business operations. Nick brings a wealth of knowledge and experience of the construction sector, having managed a wide range of major system implementation and transformation projects. As Director of Product Management, Nick leads the Deltek Product Information Management product group.  He is passionate about working collaboratively, unlocking the potential of organizations’ unstructured data management, and utilizing mobile solutions that can support cross disciplinary teams working on site to deliver outstanding projects.


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