In his 2016 Autodesk University Keynote, Jeff Kowalski spent considerable time explaining Autodesk's vision for the intersection of how the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry currently works and its future interface with artificial intelligence (AI). Kowalski, CTO of Autodesk, outlined recent significant advancements in AI, like the once inconceivable win by AlphaGo playing the pinnacle of strategy games, Go. But advancements in AI are coming faster than one would imagine. A recent Wired article listed the many large technology firms pushing hard into AI, and we already know that Google is using AI for its AEC operations. In addition, the work of BuildingSP is based on heuristic algorithms, which is a field of study within AI. The influence of AI is already being felt in our industry and it is expanding rapidly.
The inevitable question becomes this: What is your firm's strategy for artificial intelligence? We came up with three strategies that can prepare your mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) firm for AI.
1. Compete on the Creative
You can think of artificial intelligence tools as amazing pieces of automation – automation that is better than people at doing certain tasks. However, there is no doubt that humans have the creative edge over any AI currently in use. In engineering, we don't use the word "creative" as often as we use terms that are very similar, such as "innovative approaches," "hybrid systems," and "ingenuity." A MEP firm should focus on telling the creative story because AI tools will only increase your capacity to leverage this type of thinking. Then you can use the creative narrative as part of how you compete for work so it becomes part of your company culture.
2. Relationships Are Critical
Relationships are going to continue to be critical. If you work for a successful MEP firm, either on the subcontracting or design side, you already know that relationships are a key component of success. This won't change with the addition of artificial intelligence in MEP. However, if modeling and drawing production become more automated, relationships are likely to become a more critical component for success. If you're with a large firm, you may consider implementing practices that formalize your industry outreach and relationship building. Track outreach expenses as a separate cost center so you can observe long-term return on investment. Implement a customer relationship manager to map your engagement with key decision makers and potential clients. And, above all else, make the effort to engage your current and future project stakeholders.
3. Implement New Tools
Great firms are constantly evaluating and testing new tools. By practicing continuous improvement in technology, firms can more quickly evaluate the hype curve and decide to implement or skip tech improvements. AI will include new and different technology tools and the firms with an ethos of improvement and optimization will be better positioned to leverage the advantage.
Autodesk is a major player in the AEC industry and the Autodesk University Keynote is one of the most important opportunities for the company to convey future approaches. Based on the 2016 keynote, this certainly means that AI will be part of the future toolset of MEP firms.
As you may have noticed, we've been doing a lot of writing about the impact of computational BIM, generative design, and the future of how we work. One thing we haven't done is turn some of this thinking into more rigorous analysis. But now we're ready to do that!
If you work for a general contractor, subcontractor, or design firm and want to collaborate on whitepapers that quantify how computational methods of working will change our industry, reach out to us and let’s talk about what we can do. We're open to collaborations worldwide and have lots of ways of measuring performance indicators to gain insight into change in our industry. Contact Brett Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.