Autodesk University 2019

On November 18th, 2019, Burger Consulting Group’s Ausrine Rakauskaite, Senior Business Analyst, and Brandon Hanacik, Senior Project Manager, attended the Autodesk University (AU) conference in Las Vegas.

Autodesk University first started in 1993 and gathers over 10,000 professionals from construction, manufacturing, architecture, engineering, and media creation for a week of best practice education, networking, and technology.  Autodesk University kicks off the Monday before the conference with the Connect and Construct Summit, which started about three years ago and is a separate day dedicated to construction managers and fabricators.

Over the past year or so, Autodesk made waves as they expanded their footprint into the construction industry by acquiring Assemble Systems, BuildingConnected, and PlanGrid. “We are investing in digitizing and automating construction workflows. Autodesk’s goal is to connect construction processes across design, build, and operations. BuildingConnected has proven to customers the tremendous value in moving from traditional Rolodexes, whiteboards, emails, and spreadsheets to an easy-to-use digital bidding platform,” quoted CEO Andrew Anagnost when Autodesk acquired BuildingConnected in January 2019. With the moves Autodesk has been making, this year’s Summit was going to be more exciting than ever!

There are now hundreds, if not thousands of technology solutions in construction, all promising results at a particular step of the process. Contractors are feeling overwhelmed by the breadth of options available.

One of the classes held at AU was an Executive Panel called “The Business Case for Technology”. Two General Contractors, a Subcontractor, and an Owner talked through their current struggles with the technology boom in construction and how they deal with it within their companies, as well as between each other. During the Executive Panel, Daniel Smolino, Director of Process & Innovation with Walsh, noted the company has over 800 solutions, and they’re having the field test out these solutions.

Construction companies, now more than ever, are challenged to think of ways to efficiently evaluate all the new solutions. Hensel Phelps developed its own methodology to vet considered solutions for their company. Siavash Mohseni, VDC Manager at Hensel Phelps, shared how dedicated members of the company assess and chart the need for a given solution then follow a dedicated process to review the solution with the executive board.

Choosing a direction does not always resolve the issue either. Subcontractor EMCOR on the Executive Panel noted the technology they adopt could make or break the relationship with their Owner or GC on a given project. Although it was encouraging to hear Ownership suggest the Subcontractor step up and make a case for a certain solution, they are typically at the mercy of the Owner and GC to conform to the systems established, and a Subcontractor’s system does not always integrate with the Owner/GC dictated system.

Integration is a big deal right now and technology vendors quickly realized that to be successful, they have to play nice with other vendors. But with so many solutions out there, not every integration is immediately available.

Fittingly, Autodesk announced the Autodesk Construction Cloud at this year’s Connect and Construct Summit Keynote. The Construction Cloud bridges design software and data with its construction solutions – Assemble, BIM 360, BuildingConnected, and PlanGrid. The Construction Cloud promises to unite the headquarters, regional offices, and field teams through design, construction, and operations and analyze previously siloed data to provide insights on project outcomes and possible risk.

The Construction Cloud is a major move by Autodesk – finally, a major player is unifying the whole building process and studying the data! Autodesk is on the right track. However, it will not be an easy road, and it will require Autodesk’s focus and diligence to make the Construction Cloud a success for the construction industry. Effort and time will be required to work out the overlaps and current workflows, as well as the gaps between BIM 360, Assemble Systems, and PlanGrid.

For all the excitement, there is quite a bit of uncertainty in the industry. On the expo floor and between classes, there was uncertainty about which solution is best for one’s company, even within the Autodesk suite of solutions and particularly between BIM 360 and PlanGrid. Contractors are being pushed to make a choice – invest big in overhead to obtain technology that helps manage the large construction demand or stay small and rely on existing relationships to procure work that doesn’t require elevated technology requirements. Brian Helm, President of MCAA and CEO of Mechanical, Inc. in Chicago, led the Fabrication keynote and noted that a lot of companies are caught in the middle and are unsure which direction to take.

With global construction demand expected to grow another $8 trillion by 2030, companies are under pressure to expand as well as build better and smarter. New generations are becoming more technology savvy yet not necessarily fully understanding the workflow they’re applying the solution to. In all this uncertainty, companies have an opportunity to take a long hard look at their workflows and processes. Are we collaborating? How are we sharing our best practices? Does everyone know what they need to check for before submitting an idea, and is there a platform and process to do so?

Autodesk University 2019 was a great event to attend. We saw cool robots, ran a 5k through the Vegas strip with people all over the industry and collected lots of swag!

AU is making construction “cool” in the same way tech companies first gained their traction, and that will play a part in getting the next generation to partake in an industry that needs a makeover. However, as seen with those tech companies, the new look and perks are not the only thing that will need to change to attract and retain the next generation. AU encourages people to network, talk and share ideas, and that sharing of ideas and best practices is what will move the industry forward. These are the elements that will need to be embraced to make headway as a whole industry.

As new technologies and software options become available (along with the inevitable consolidation along the way), companies will need to continue to take a hard look at themselves, their processes, and their values. We at Burger Consulting Group have been providing trusted consulting services for over 20 years and are here to help our clients focus on these objectives along with assisting in narrowing down the myriad of software options available.

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