Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms are challenged to meet project deadlines, adhere to evolving regulatory and green efficiency requirements, and economize the design and construction process. Whether renovating residential homes or building skyscrapers and bridges, successful project completion depends increasingly on the use of sophisticated information technology. 3D design, building information modeling (BIM), geographic information systems (GIS), content management, and collaboration tools bring speed and efficiency to complex, multidisciplinary projects.
This reliance on technology places a requirement on IT managers to protect the company's work product and steward its means of producing it. While the final product of the AEC industry is a physical structure, the intermediate work products are digital files created, viewed, and modified by a variety of specialized professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, tradesmen, and manufacturers. In this workflow process, IT can be a source of competitive advantage and firm stability or, conversely, if done poorly, can sabotage a firm's ability to compete or bring a project to a grinding halt.
IT managers in the AEC industry must avoid four deadly pitfalls:
- fail to protect the digital assets of the company;
- fail to innovate technology for competitive advantage and enhanced productivity;
- fail to use IT resources efficiently and economically; and
- fail to respond to end user needs.
IT managers who navigate around these pitfalls will be considered valuable assets who contribute to the success of their companies. Those who are ensnared will not be viewed so highly. Read on for insight into these pitfalls and how to avoid them.
Fail to protect digital assets
Companies now operate based on digital information as much as on land, labor, and materials. For example, if engineers and architects cannot access design or project files because the system is down, productivity ceases until the system is restored. Worse, imagine losing critical files and the cost of having to re-create them while putting an entire construction crew on hold. Or imagine not being able to submit a multi-million dollar bid because IT systems went down and took days beyond the bid deadline to recover.
Protecting a firm's digital assets is actually protecting the business itself. While natural disasters are infrequent events, one-third of servers crash per year. According to the Aberdeen Group, it can cost companies an average of $138,000 per hour of downtime, which represents a total of $880,600 per year in costs related to downtime for mid-sized businesses.
For IT managers, the task of protecting against data loss, disasters, and downtime is sometimes underappreciated, but certainly vital. No one may call to say "thank you" after averting a server crash or recovering quickly from a natural disaster, but they certainly call if not. IT managers are responsible for establishing backup and replication and redundancy for automatically switching to a standby system (failover) and recovery. They set and enforce policies and procedures for data protection and security. Another important element is to create and routinely test disaster recovery plans, which should be performed without disrupting production operations.
Fail to innovate technology
IT is an excellent tool for innovation in the AEC industry. 3D design, BIM, GIS, content, and project management tools are improving speed and quality and facilitating multidisciplinary, multi-party collaboration in the design and construction process. These IT applications have enabled companies to complete more projects on time and at lower costs, improving revenues and profits. Those who reaped the greatest reward were forward-looking companies that installed systems ahead of others to achieve a competitive advantage.
Innovation continues to offer opportunities for companies to set themselves apart from the pack and for IT professionals to demonstrate initiative and value. Virtualization and cloud computing are two significant and promising technology trends. Even incremental or tactical innovation is valuable, such as keeping applications up to date (e.g., the latest version of a CAD program that ensures compatibility with files sent by contracting companies) as well as updating the backup and disaster recovery infrastructure so the new applications can be protected. For instance, does the backup software protect applications in a virtualized environment?
The time for innovation is always now. It is the nature of competitive markets to either stretch, adapt and evolve, or fall behind. So think big and take the long view of success. Be willing to take risks and don't fail to innovate!
Fail to use IT resources efficiently and economically
Efficient IT means maximizing the use of resources and minimizing total cost of ownership. For typical small and midsize companies in the AEC industry, turnkey solutions are more sensible than complex, multivendor systems that require customized integration. IT professionals, particularly in smaller firms, have to be generalists who address a broad range of responsibilities. They simply do not have time for unnecessary complexity and management overhead. A single unified, purpose-built solution with a single point of management can save dramatically on total cost of ownership.
However, more than 59 percent of businesses cobble together four or more products to address business continuity and disaster recovery. This is complex, expensive, error-prone, and inefficient. It becomes even more costly when firms deploy replicated datacenters offsite in response to customer demands or compliance requirements. In contrast, virtual, on-demand datacenters represent a much lower cost of replicating the entire IT infrastructure in the cloud with a budget-friendly, pay-as-you-go model.
Fail to respond to end user needs
With the advent of cloud platforms such as SalesForce.com, Webex, and SuccessFactors, lines of business have started to bypass IT departments that don't meet their application needs or that don't provide user-friendly interfaces. Similarly, individuals are bringing their devices to the work environment. These bring your own application (BYOA) and device (BYOD) models represent special challenges in ensuring security, data protection, and application uptime.
Responsiveness also means enabling the business to grow rapidly; the IT infrastructure should never be the reason for turning down new business. Flexible cloud and software as a service (SaaS) models enable firms to take on new projects quickly by instantly expanding disaster recovery capacity. An IT team that does not address these needs runs the risk of an end-around. Conversely, an IT team that provides a solution to protect the firm's vital asset – professional time – makes itself invaluable.
AEC firms are poised to reap the benefits of an integrated and enabling IT infrastructure in the form of faster communication, better collaboration, and improved productivity. In an industry where electronic information is at the core of the business, protecting the vast amounts of data stored within the myriad of applications in use is paramount.
The IT manager therefore becomes a central figure in enabling operations and ensuring that all the data, applications, and overall IT infrastructure will support the business. For this to work, the four common mistakes must be avoided. If you are an IT manager in the AEC industry, reviewing how you protect the company's data and applications should be on the top of your priorities. For senior executives, your role is to make sure your IT leadership is on par with current technologies and has disaster recovery plans in place that are routinely tested and supported by the latest technology available.
Eric Weiss leads Axcient's (www.axcient.com) marketing strategy. He has more than 15 years of experience in marketing and working in the small and medium business space, with a proven track record of launching, branding, and expanding businesses. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a master's degree in public policy, science, and technology from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Axcient's cloud platform replaces legacy backup, business continuity, and disaster recovery software and hardware.