Nearly every industry was disrupted in 2020 and the architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) industry was no exception. Prior to the global pandemic outbreak, a shift toward digitalisation was underway but adoption was moving slowly. However, 2020 was the year that changed. Digitalisation went from being a luxury to a necessity for many project planners in the AECO sector. This shift is likely to continue throughout 2021 as solution providers further innovate to meet the needs of the ‘new normal’ in the construction industry.
Impact of COVID-19 in AECO
Various anti-epidemic measures taken throughout the world in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic caused some unexpected challenges for the AECO industry – though, this depended heavily on the market country and segment. Many projects were paused, stalled, or delayed due to social distancing measures and budget cuts. For those that did continue, project management teams had to quickly come up with new ways to communicate and collaborate safely to keep projects underway. As budgets tightened, it also became more important than ever to be cost-efficient.
The dawn of the digital twin
Digital twins are something everyone will be hearing a lot about this year. These digital clones of physical assets bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds, making it possible to use valuable data from across the project lifecycle to learn from the past, analyse the present, and predict the future. This ‘data worth knowing’ empowers project management teams with the information they need to provide transparency and make informed decisions. As 2021 progresses, there will likely be more emphasis on technology that makes developing and using digital twins more affordable and accessible — leading to wider adoption.
Collaboration from anywhere
2021 is also likely to see a continuation of the shift toward mobile technologies that let project teams easily and effectively collaborate from anywhere – onsite, offsite and working remotely. While some mobile programs are already available for onsite use, those that offer real-time data will continue to grow in popularity as increased remote work has led to a greater need for interactive collaboration tools. The introduction of 5G will also make it possible to access more complex software and cloud-based environments on mobile devices. Remote monitoring tools such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and onsite scanning with supporting AI are also expected to become more prominent, making it possible to monitor sites and assets without onsite inspections.
Not only has the COVID pandemic impacted how project teams operate, but it has also changed how people think about space and assets. After a year in and out of lockdowns, residential and commercial construction project design is expected to have a stronger emphasis on open-spaces, natural lighting, and interior setups that allow for natural distancing without feeling intrusive. The desire for these types of projects will also trickle down into other aspects of project planning, with a stronger emphasis on sustainability and building energy modelling (BEM).
Stronger emphasis on sustainability
Employee health and safety has long been an important sustainability consideration in the AECO industry, but greenhouse gases, emissions, material, and waste are growing in relevancy. Software functionalities that meaningfully address these concerns will continue to grow in popularity as almost all stakeholders are affected by sustainability issues, and investors and employees are supportive of sustainable practices. Public policy and sustainability-related regulations are also gaining momentum, making it imperative to start implementing sustainable practices sooner rather than later.
Be prepared for the next crisis
While 2020 caught many off guard, 2021 is sure to be a year of getting prepared for whatever comes next. By investing in digitalisation, collaborative tools, and mobile technologies, project managers can ensure that they have everything required to quickly adapt if the need arises and continue running their construction projects with minimal disruption. Not only will this help project timelines stay on track, but it can also make AECO players more competitive by adding an extra layer of assurance for project stakeholders.