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Exploring AI

3 ways AI can benefit your AEC firm

The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is on the verge of a transformative shift. As the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution continues to penetrate every sector, the AEC industry is not immune.

9 minute read

The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is on the verge of a transformative shift. As the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution continues to penetrate every sector, the AEC industry is not immune. According to findings from Unanet’s AEC Inspire Report – an annual benchmarking survey of top AEC executives – there's an increasing connection between technology adoption and firm performance. But how exactly does AI fit into this scenario, and more importantly, how can it bolster the prospects of your AEC firm?  

Let’s dive deeper into uncovering how your firm can adopt a tech-forward approach and take advantage of what AI has to offer your business.  

Defining the different types of AI 

To start, AI is classified into various types based on capabilities, functionality, and learning styles.  

  • Generative AI is the most commonly referred to version used in programs such as ChatGPT, Bing AI, and Microsoft Copilot. As the name suggests, it generates content or data.  
  • Cognitive AI is the AI you most likely see in movies, which is AI that mimics humans. Think of the robot that develops feelings and turns on its creator. Scary – but we are not there yet. 
  • Neural AI is designed to recognize patterns and can be used to generate predictive analytics, suggested course corrections, etc. 
  • Conversational AI is most easily seen in the chat-bots we have all become accustom too when ordering takeout online, interacting with website chats, etc. 

These are all different, yet they have similarities as well. But the AI that is impacting us the most right now is generative and neural AI.  

So, let’s look at three ways that your AEC firm can benefit from AI.  

  1. Generative AI: automating tasks and content generation

AI excels at tasks that are repetitive and that are data heavy. Whether it’s data analysis, material take-off, or estimating, AI can simplify these tasks, liberating project delivery professionals to channel their expertise into more strategic tasks and increase utilization.  

Unanet’s AEC Inspire Report discusses the direct correlation between a firm's embrace of technology and its present-day performance. By leveraging Artificial Intelligence, AEC firms can streamline operations and position themselves ahead of the curve. 

Furthermore, AI's potential in content generation will have the biggest impact on your AEC firm – if you haven’t experienced these impacts already. It can be employed to develop social media and thought leadership content, draft reports, create project summaries, and even generate visual content like graphs and charts based on data, which can help improve proposal responses.  

This content generation not only speeds up the content creation process but ensures consistency and efficiency – it helps solve the blank page problem.  

  1. Neural AI: project management

The power of neural AI can help project leaders move from real-time to ahead-of-time data and insights empowering them to take corrective action before a negative trend realizes its impact. In this way, AI’s capabilities provide you with a crystal ball that can forecast key project and resource related challenges so you can course correct and hit delivery and budget related milestones.  

For this to happen, however, you need a place for your data to live. This is where ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) tools can help. By ensuring data is entered correctly at the source and maintained throughout the project lifecycle you can give your firm or studio the foundation it needs for accurate, secure, and AI-ready reporting and analytics.  

In addition to these capabilities, AI introduces advanced tools for collaboration, risk assessment, and stakeholder communication. By analyzing vast amounts of project data, AI can identify potential bottlenecks, suggest optimal workflows, and even predict client needs or feedback. This level of proactive management means fewer surprises and more proactive solutions, leading to increased client satisfaction and more successful project outcomes. 

  1. Neural and generative AI: revolutionizing design and visualization

Using data and technology to support and complement core AEC processes is another area discussed at length in the AEC Inspire Report. AI can assist architects and engineers in creating intricate designs and visualizing building models. This not only reduces design time but also allows for multiple iterations, facilitating quicker and more informed decision-making. 

As AI starts to integrate with advanced modeling tools, you will be able to create dynamic and interactive 3D models. These models can simulate real-world scenarios, from natural light patterns to potential structural stresses, enabling architects and engineers to test and refine their designs in a virtual environment before any physical construction begins. You are starting to see the power of this with Adobe Photoshop and other rendering applications. This "digital twin" approach not only ensures better design accuracy, but it will speed up the time to develop concepts in addition to potentially mitigating costly errors and rework during the construction phase. 

But go beyond the design and visualization impacts on project delivery and think about the impact these technologies could have on your operations. AI powered dashboards that go beyond the question of “how did we do?” to “how will we perform?” The power of AI won’t be limited to just project deliverables. You’ll see an impact to accounting and billing reports as well as timesheets and utilization reports. AI will be able to visualize and analyze any data in your ERP, enabling you to be proactive.  

So, what does this mean and where does it go? 

As technology continues to progress, so will the possibilities for AI in the AEC industry. These benefits are just a glimpse of the potential that AI holds for the AEC industry. As Unanet’s AEC Inspire Report suggests, the embrace of technology, including AI, can be a pivotal factor in determining an AEC firm's success in today's tech-forward landscape. 

To drive home that point, a recent Harvard Business School working paper titled “Navigating the Jagged Technological Frontier: Field Experimental Evidence of the Effects of AI on Knowledge Work Productivity and Quality” showed a 43% increase in performance for bottom-half performers that used generative AI versus those that did not use generative AI for their daily tasks. AI enabled a low performer to turn into a high performer.  

AI helps free up time your team would spend on tasks that can be automated. Instead, they can dedicate their time and energy to focus on more high-level, strategic tasks that add more value to your business. There are lots of possibilities for how AI can help empower the people within your organization.  

Just keep in mind, it is not a matter of “if” but “when and how” AI will impact your firm. Embracing AI can be the key differentiator for the success of your business, positioning you at the forefront of innovation and enabling long-term success.