- As artificial intelligence (AI) picks up momentum, new AI tools will help drive better and more sustainable outcomes for architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) customers.
- Upskilling the existing workforce isn’t enough to address labor shortages – the industry needs to invest in training that enables new tech-forward careers and recruit students and professionals based on their potential.
- Technologies such as digital twins and extended reality will become increasingly useful in bridging gaps from design to operations.
With the new year comes a chance to assess the biggest trends that are set to impact the AECO industry. In conversation with Amy Bunszel, EVP, Architecture, Engineering and Construction Design Solutions and Jim Lynch, SVP and GM, Autodesk Construction Solutions, we uncover what opportunities and challenges will be top-of-mind for the industry in 2024.
Q: How will AI impact the industry in the next year?
Amy: For the past decade, we’ve been building capabilities into our portfolio that augment our customers’ creativity, automate repetitive tasks, and provide predictive insights through powerful analytics. In 2024 and beyond, these capabilities will enable design and planning to become more effective, efficient, and better informed. For example, Autodesk Forma’s Rapid Operational Energy Analysis allows designers to understand how factors such as a building’s geometry and wall construction types will affect its predicted energy use–all during early stage design. Autodesk AI technology will help deliver better and more sustainable results for all.
Jim: If 2023 was a springboard for energy around AI in the construction industry, this year it becomes a rocket ship. Industry leaders are already thinking about how to use data to drive better outcomes, and they know AI will help them get there. Take the daily tasks of a project manager for example – automation can help relieve some of their tedious workload like manual data entry of schedules and costs. Companies at the forefront of adoption understand there is a lot of information in project data that can help them improve their businesses.
Q: How does the industry need to shift in the next year to see greater adoption of AI tools?
Amy: For AI to work effectively, it first needs better data. To accomplish this, it’s critical that the AECO industry transitions to workflows that are powered by cloud-connected and granular data. This shift to a cloud platform will enable data to be more accessible and actionable across applications and amongst the teams that design, build and operate the built environment. That’s exactly what we’re building with Autodesk Forma and the AEC Data Model, and our recently announced Content Catalog for Autodesk Docs is another step towards enhanced data management.
Jim: There’s a strong connection between the growth of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in construction and future use of AI. While BIM technologies are well-established in design and engineering, they’re still gaining traction in construction and adoption will help shift the industry toward more effective AI. BIM models act as a visual database – as rich data is collected from each phase of construction for use in BIM models, this information makes customers’ data sets even stronger and helps them pull better insights from AI. Your AI doesn’t have to know the boundaries between design and construction – the more the industry can shift to bridge these gaps through technologies such as BIM, the better building outcomes we’ll start to see.
Q: What can firms do in 2024 to encourage upskilling the workforce?
Amy: Autodesk customers are having a hard time filling open roles, and 70% of AEC companies report struggling to find people with the right skills. A key part of the solution is investing in talent to meet the roles of tomorrow (today). Gen Z is coming into the workforce as digital natives, and many leading firms are taking advantage of that to upskill seasoned workers on new technology. In exchange, new graduates learn important industry nuances. It’s a win-win. One way Autodesk is helping companies achieve this vision is through Team Insights, which provides data to inform future upskilling. But upskilling isn’t enough. It’s paramount that AEC firms continue to proactively recruit students and professionals based on their skills and potential, not on pedigree or experience.
Jim: Data from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Autodesk shows that 91% of firms agree their employees need to possess digital technology skills. In 2024, firms need to invest in education and training programs that show current and future workers that a meaningful, tech-forward career in construction is possible. This can entail enhancing existing training capabilities such as apprenticeships or even increasing professional development budgets. Broadening the skillset of current workers will also expand individual capacity. For example, with the right training, architects and engineers can be major contributors to the coordination process by running their own clash tests, or project engineers can create custom BIM models to address their crew’s needs for the day.
Q: As sustainability in the built environment continues to be a priority, what technology will help the industry reduce its environmental impact?
Amy: A majority of AEC companies plan to invest more in sustainability; it’s no longer an afterthought. To support this, we anticipate that advancements in embodied carbon measurement and management technology will help firms make smarter design and material choices. This will be bolstered by government regulations on the energy performance of buildings and low embodied carbon building materials. Also, the integration of advancements in AI, reality capture, and BIM will transform how we view existing buildings as assets that can be adapted versus demolished. And we also foresee the adoption of industrialized construction–the application of manufacturing principles to the built environment–will help the industry improve certainty, productivity, and achieve its sustainability goals.
Jim: Tools like the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) and other operational carbon calculators are a start to addressing sustainability in the built environment, but we also need greater awareness of those tools across the industry. Our customers often say they’re getting increased pressure from their clients to deliver sustainable outcomes. I think the onus is partially on us and other technology vendors to educate the industry on the current tools available and how to use them.
Q: How will federal investments impact infrastructure and construction in the coming year(s)?
Amy: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a historic investment in the nation’s infrastructure and many of our customers are bringing innovation to these projects. We’re also particularly excited about the US Department of Transportation’s new Advanced Digital Construction Management System Program (ADCMS). This will be a game changer for accelerating the digital transformation of the design and development of roads, bridges and transit, as well as a model for other types of public infrastructure.
In Europe, the Green Deal included a regulation on improving the energy performance of buildings. In the years ahead, we expect this law will create a roadmap for a mass energy renovation of existing buildings.
Jim: I’ve spoken before about the importance of digital transformation within infrastructure. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, along with ADCMS, helps the industry move in the right direction by encouraging digitalization. As better data practices and BIM adoption on public projects grow, the industry will reap both short-term and long-term benefits.
Q: What are your predictions for the adoption/growth of emerging tech in 2024, such as digital twins and extended reality, across the industry?
Amy: Digital twins and virtual reality are both technologies that have been “emerging” with limited traction. That’s poised to change. We see digital twins becoming increasingly useful as a tool for owners and facility managers in remote asset management, predictive maintenance, and long-range asset planning. For virtual reality, we launched our immersive design review workspace, Autodesk Workshop XR, to support the increasing need for remote collaboration and to help teams track issues and identify errors before construction begins. Virtual reality is a fun and efficient way to work, and we think it will become the workspace of the future.
Jim: Many construction firms are exploring how they can enter the operations space and operate assets for clients after the build. Digital twins accelerate this opportunity by offering clients rich data that helps them make more informed decisions. By consolidating data from the initial design to the as-built, digital twins create a robust record. With augmented and virtual reality, design reviews can help engineers, contractors, and other stakeholders get an early experience of the architect’s intended outcome.