/ Column / Managing the Model: Getting the Lead on the Late Majority

Managing the Model: Getting the Lead on the Late Majority

Mark Scacco on April 3, 2016 - in Column

A longtime acquaintance recently started an engineering design firm, and he asked me and my staff at Engineered Efficiency to help him get their AEC technology up and running. Right now, his company is small and has a clean slate: they don’t have any bad habits to break and can take a big-picture view of how they want to integrate design and modeling technology into their business.

As we worked through a short checklist of the basics, such as software to buy, hardware for office and remote staff, CAD/BIM standards, and so on, the conversation turned to the emerging technology tools starting to make headlines in the mainstream and industry-specific media.

Drones now are commonplace, and coupling them with LiDAR and high-definition cameras brings unique capabilities to the AE industry. With backing from major companies such as Facebook, Google and Autodesk, the media attention around virtual and augmented reality is quite raucous, and with good reason. Cloud computing, with easy access to massive server farms, provides modeling and analysis tools that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

All of this and more is heaped on top of the tech already owned, but not yet fully implemented, by most AE firms. If the adoption rate of existing BIM and other modeling tools is any indication of future adoption rates, then much of these great new tools will go unpurchased, unused or underutilized.

Aiming for Integration

There’s an underlying principle of personal technology adoption: if the tool adds a benefit at a reasonable price, it will be adopted. However, this principle doesn’t transfer so easily to the corporate world, where technology doesn’t exist in the near isolation of a single user or handful of users. New technology in industry, no matter its potential for increasing profits and reducing costs, almost always is part of a much-larger design and delivery process.

The ability of AE firms to integrate new tech into their processes is the key to successful implementation and the resultant increased profits. Unfortunately, this typically isn’t our industry’s strongest trait, and examples of slow adoption abound. To use terminology from Geoffrey A. Moore’s classic best seller, Crossing the Chasm, most AE firms belong to the “late majority” group on the technology-adoption lifecycle curve. Moore characterizes the late majority by the following traits when adopting new tech:

  • Want well-established references before investing
  • Limited comfort/ability to handle new technology
  • Wait until the tech has become a well-established standard
  • Want lots of support for the tech

Embracing Automation

Although these characteristics certainly don’t apply to every individual at an AE firm, they almost universally apply to AE firms across the industry. Even the most-basic tools that have been owned for more than a decade by nearly every AE firm still are unused or underutilized.

A case in point was brought into focus during the conversation with the aforementioned colleague when we discussed making his processes as efficient as possible: every semi-modern CAD application has tools to automatically create a set of construction documents by facilitating automatic title block/border placement; auto page numbering/renumbering; one-button plotting of the entire set, etc.

Every firm already owns these tools, and almost every firm neglects to fully implement them. If the industry won’t find the time to fully embrace something so basic and intrinsic, what are the chances of successful adoption of more-advanced tools coming at an increasingly rapid pace?

Profit and Process

The following are a few steps almost all AE firms can take to prepare for and profit from the tech deluge:

  1. Review the tasks your team does most often and ask “What steps take the longest, and do we have or can we acquire the tools available to make it faster? How much faster can we make it?”
  2. If no or not much faster, move on to the next task, and repeat No. 1. If yes, continue to No. 3.
  3. Look at the larger overall process in which the tasks take place and ask “What upstream and downstream tasks impact or are impacted by any changes we might make?”
  4. Evaluate each upstream and downstream task, asking questions Nos. 1 and 3 for the entire process.
  5. Compare the cost/time savings for optimizing each task in the overall process vs. the effort involved to do so.

Many firms find that the easiest way to get started is to identify tasks which by themselves can be optimized with little need for changes to upstream or downstream activities. This allows them to take small steps with low risk and potentially high reward. It also allows them to hone the process-optimization and tech-adoption process itself.

As the firm moves on from this low-hanging fruit, it will have acquired the inhouse skills needed to tackle more-complex adoptions at a more-rapid pace or gained the knowledge to work efficiently with a consultant who can assist them. In both scenarios, the firm and industry win.

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About Mark Scacco

Mark Scacco, P.E., is a 25-year veteran of AEC technology and design consulting. He is an AEC Industry Consultant with Scacco LLC and can be reached via email at [email protected].

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