The Rise of the Tech-Forward AEC firm, Part 2: Using Tech for a Competitive Advantage

Benchmarking shows that technology helps firms outperform their peers. Here’s a step-by-step guide to gaining that edge.

6 minute read

One of the biggest eye-openers among the findings from Unanet’s AEC Inspire Report 2022-2023 is the undeniable connection between an architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firm’s use of technology and its bottom-line performance. Simply put, firms that lean heavily on technology to run their business are likely to outperform firms that don’t in several critical areas, including project-specific and overall firm profitability, project win rate, project-management maturity, and attracting and retaining talent. 

Today, tech-forward firms represent a minority in the AEC industry, with about one-third of the roughly 400 firms that provided data for the current AEC Inspire Report (download a free copy here) qualifying as tech-forward based on how data-driven, cloud-enabled, digitally integrated and mobile-enabled they are. As much as tech-forward AEC firms benefit from being tech-forward (detailed in the first blog in this series), wouldn’t it be worth exploring how to put your own firm in this high-performing minority? 

If you answered that question in the affirmative, we’re here to help. Drawing from the benchmarking report, here’s a step-by-step guide to becoming a tech-forward AEC firm. First, a few foundational elements to put in place: 

Systems (ERP, CRM, etc.) that give you mastery over your data. Inside tech-forward firms, data and the insight it yields flow unimpeded and multi-directionally. This enables a firm to:

  • Allocate resources more effectively 
  • Manage projects more efficiently 
  • Maintain a better handle on the KPIs that fuel project and firm profitability 
  • More closely monitor and manage the client and employee experience                               
  • Strategically plan more effectively over various time horizons  

Integrated systems. Your digital infrastructure should be fully integrated so your organizational “nervous system” runs on integrated apps, and your people are empowered in their work by automation, information and streamlined processes. 

Cloud-centricity. Having key business applications and tools in the cloud offers scalability, efficiency and security advantages relative to on-premise solutions.  

From-anywhere access to digital tools and data. With hybrid work environments likely here to stay in a business where employees often work in the field, it’s essential that your people have ready remote and mobile access to the same digital tools, systems and data they have access to in the office.  

With these fundamentals in place, let’s look more closely at the steps to make specific parts of the business more tech-forward: 

In accounting and finance: 

  1. Implement stronger digital project accounting controls to avoid errors and delays in billing.
  2. Streamline invoicing and payments by automating AR and AP processes using integrated online payments, approval workflows, etc.
  3. Adopt digital accounting/finance solutions and ensure they are simple to use.
  4. Provide interactive analytic tools that make it easy for people to drill into and draw insight from data, and measure progress relative to KPIs (key performance indicators).

In project execution: 

  1. Adopt digital tools that enable your firm to be more agile and proactive in managing projects, prioritizing a more flexible approach.
  2. Strive for collaborative solutions that enable people to work together to create positive outcomes.
  3. Automate processes wherever possible.
  4. Adopt analytics tools that provide live project insights so the right people understand exactly where things stand with a given project.

In capturing your market: 

  1. Become more efficient and effective at developing proposals. An integrated CRM system with strong proposal-generation capabilities can help in this regard.
  2. Identify the client relationships that bring your firm the most value and, supported by digital relationship-management capabilities, work to strengthen them.
  3. Cultivate a collaborative knowledge hive, where institutional knowledge is actively captured and readily available to people across the business.
  4. Develop digital capabilities to better predict your pipeline to inform forecasting, decisions about resources, etc. 

Whether you consider your AEC firm tech-forward or not, you’ll want to stay tuned to this page for the next installment in our series detailing findings in the AEC Inspire Report 2022-2023 

Next up: Inside the mindset of AEC executives — why they’re optimistic about their business and which issues keep them awake at night.