Digital delivery in architecture, engineering and construction.

Digital delivery is nothing new. Put simply, it means using models, information, and supporting tools to help complete a project, as Claire Rutkowski explains.

For the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, digital delivery means using 3D models and data contained in a digital twin for a paperless, streamlined process, enabling collaboration across the supply chain.

While the AEC industry has traditionally lagged behind other industries, such as consumer electronics and retail, in digital adoption, we are catching up. Resource shortages, accelerating climate change, population growth, aging infrastructure, and rapid urbanisation are just a handful of global macro trends driving the industry to change more quickly. And the pandemic proved that we can adapt and thrive when a big change is thrust upon us. 

What does digital delivery mean in the AEC context? For some organisations, digital delivery means converting paper files to electronic PDFs. However, this is simply digitisation, as the data is still locked in file formats, which has limited value. Digital delivery means so much more than that. 

It involves reimagining how you do business and taking a customer-driven approach to apply digital processes and create digital outputs, resulting in more efficient work. With digital delivery, projects are delivered using digital models, data, and supporting field applications. For the AEC industry, this can include anything from using photogrammetry and drones for surveying, inspecting, and reality capture, to artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced analytics, recommendation engines, and generative and component-based design, to name just a few. Because 3D models can be more easily understood over paper, they can improve project team collaboration from design through construction. Digital twins can also be used during the operations and maintenance phase to better inform teams of critical engineering information and how it changes over time, enabling team members to make better decisions.

How do you know where you are from a digital perspective? Many maturity models are available from McKinsey, Gartner, and other analyst firms. But those models can get very complicated very quickly. For simplicity’s sake, here is a three-tiered model to help you easily evaluate your organisation.

Tier One

The least digitally mature organisations are currently working in either 2D only or a hybrid 2D/3D environment to deliver projects, with ambitions to move to 3D across all workflows to improve efficiency, enhance skills sets, and increase ROI. These organisations either just have not done it yet or only apply 3D when a client requires it.  

Tier Two

The mid-range maturity organisations are already using 3D models and regularly delivering digital twins and integrated IoT sensor plans with actual assets for their customers. These organisations are focused on digital delivery to improve their effectiveness, the quality of their deliverables, and the outcomes for their clients. They are also gathering reusable data to improve competitiveness at the same time.  

Tier Three 

The most digitally mature organisations not only create, but also maintain digital twins so that they are up-to-date virtual representations of specific assets or systems of assets. They focus on improving the quality of their deliverables while reducing time, cost, risk, and meeting sustainability goals. These digitally mature organisations are also tapping into the enormous amounts of data produced by the digital twin, remote monitoring and inspection tools, and other sensing devices to highlight areas for improvement or repair to reduce risk and increase safety. 

How do you know where you need to be?  It really depends on your organisation’s current starting point, appetite for and ability to absorb change, and resource availability. As with any maturity model, you cannot go from the lowest level of digital maturity to the highest without moving through the mid-range; there is no easy button on this journey. However, true digital delivery is a process that can be planned and implemented with careful consideration. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

First, if you are currently at a lower level of digital maturity, you can begin your digital transformation by doing simple things like moving from 2D to 3D design all the time. You can use tools to design with real-time engineering work in progress. You can manage your supply chain collaboration electronically with applications that facilitate easy and safe sharing of information rather than sending things back and forth over email. You can also begin to curate component libraries, which will democratise institutional knowledge and help enforce best practices across your portfolio. The goal should be to improve efficiency across the work you do by reducing document versions, leveraging component-based design, applying automation, and creating consistency for processes. 

Another idea is that once the foundational elements discussed above are in place, you are ready to move into the mid-range level of digital maturity. At this level, you will already be realising the gains in efficiency garnered as you moved from 2D to 3D. Now, you will be able to focus on increasing your effectiveness and generating more reusable data to improve your competitiveness. You might even consider extracting insights from across your portfolio. For instance, if you are consistently using components in your designs, now is a good time to look at how effective each of those components performs in physical assets. You may also be able to create recommendations and actions based on remote inspections and remote monitoring.

And lastly, with efficiency and effectiveness well in hand, the most mature organisations have the funding they need to truly make transformational changes. They will be able to offer new business models with IoT-ready digital deliverables. Some firms are already acting as digital integrators, using their experience to bring together multiple vendors and suppliers into single platforms that generate full lifecycle digital twins for their clients. They are also able to create new immersive metaverse experiences and sustainability reporting.  In some cases, mature firms are also hosting and maintaining digital twins for their clients and providing dynamic common operating pictures with dashboards and sensor monitoring capabilities that can determine when action needs to be taken or suggest ways to increase energy efficiency and improve sustainability.

Digital delivery is a necessary journey that we are experiencing collectively and individually. Regardless of how digitally mature your organisation is, I encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep your destination in your sights, and keep pushing forward.

About Claire Rutkowski

Claire Rutkowski joined Bentley in 2016 from MWH where she served as CIO, responsible for delivering IT strategy, services, and support to 7,000 engineering professionals globally. At Bentley, Claire led the global IT organisation, shaping and delivering a technology agenda across Bentley’s business. By collaborating with executive leadership, she ensured that Bentley leverages the most advanced solutions to achieve the goals of the company and its users. Claire recently augmented her role to serve as the company’s CIO Champion, leveraging her extensive engineering background to advocate for CxOs at engineering firms and serve as a bridge between Bentley and its engineering accounts. Claire is a project management professional and has received numerous awards, most recently the Top 80 CIOs You Should Know in 2020, and one of the Top 10 Most Inspiring Women Leaders in 2022.   

If you would like to contact Sarah Walker about this, or any other story, please email sarah@infrastructure-intelligence.com.