How To Overcome Common IT Challenges In The AECO Industry
Companies in the AEC industry often feel the burden of having to manage too many disjointed systems, tight budgets, and rigid security requirements. Because IT plays a pivotal role in shaping the technological infrastructure of their organizations, managing these challenges falls onto IT’s shoulders.
In this episode of the ProjectReady Podcast, Joe Giegerich and Shaili Modi-Oza explore the role of IT in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, including how it has evolved to emphasize critical function promoting efficiency, collaboration, and interoperability of the firm’s systems and project team members.
Over the next 20 minutes, listeners will:
- Gain a better understanding of the current challenges IT teams are facing and how an integrated data environment can ease the burden.
- Uncover and unravel the intricacies of managing project security and governance.
- Understand the importance of automation and where it can be applied when choosing a software solution and easing the burden on IT Pro.
Join us on this transformative journey through the challenges faced by IT professionals in the AEC industry and learn how cutting-edge construction management tools are revolutionizing efficiency and empowering IT initiatives.
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Hi everybody, this is Joe Giegerich and Shaili Modi kicking off the 2024 ProjectReady podcast series.
Previous podcasts we had were the 2023 Year in Review. It was probably released after 2023, but we did it in 2023. Other previous podcasts, “Little Things, Big Results.” This seems to be pretty popular one we released. And it’s all about how these constant inefficiencies in your workforce days add up to very, very high overhead, and solving them really has big results in terms of ROI.
Upcoming podcasts, “How to Optimize Search in the AEC.” And another one is, “What is a Data Warehouse? Why Does it Matter? What does it mean to the AECO?”
And my contention on the data warehouse is it’s much like AI, data warehouse can take on a lot of flavors. There’s a lot of use for one, but there’s also a lot of claims one way or the other. Anyway, we’re going to seek to define that in a meaningful way. And your data warehouse is what feeds your ability to have AI, which ties back into Garbage in Garbage Out, one of our previous podcasts.
Today, what we want to do is we want to discuss a little bit about the challenges of IT pros in the AEC.
IT professionals have their own day-to-day challenges, everything from making sure the servers are up and running and emails going. But the AEC has some particular challenges as it relates to the IT professional.
For one, historically very lean budgets within IT departments in the AEC typically, although we’ve seen a lot of the rise of the digital innovation officer, if you will. This is a title that we’ve seen really grow in the last five years. But nonetheless, IT, in the classic sense of keeping the lights on if you will, they have a lot more light bulbs they have to screw in every day. So in other words, there are just way too many platforms. It’s the drum we beat, but it’s something the industry knows very well is that every project’s going to have a half a dozen different systems, either your own or somebody else’s. And the combination will constantly change depending on the project, depending on the sponsor, depending on who your partner is or vendor is.
So with that, all those platforms present a series of cascading challenges. One is the setup and the setup time around it. Not only the we’re going to provision and set up something, but also the time to value for your customers to get to these really powerful tools that you’ve invested in quickly so they can do their job. And then with that setup is the setup of security, the maintenance of security, and then the integration of all that data, which goes into a data warehouse. And again, all this on lean budgets and tight timelines.
It’s been the nature of IT, as long as I’ve been in it, which is… I’ll date myself. Was it 1976? I was 14, I started on mainframes, became a web developer in the nineties. I’ve been through the industry quite a bit. When I got to the early two thousands, I was a systems engineer. So the moral of that story is IT changes constantly and with that the skillset and disposition, if you will, of it pros changes as well. And there’s this really requisite need to constantly stay current. I can continue to go on, I’m infamous for that capability.
But let’s start, Shaili, let me turn this over to you. I rattled off some high level, but I think rather persisting challenges out there. Why don’t you pick one and give us your feedback and take on the whole thing.
Taking on the too many platforms. I think that’s definitely something we’ve been talking about consistently and looking from the perspective of IT. There’s a lot that goes with managing all of these platforms, so that is something that is anyways on IT to begin with managing the settings and the platforms and making sure the users are all having access to all of these.
But the biggest challenge is the interoperability between all of these, because end users are constantly in and out of multiple systems. And we’ve seen that happen so much lately where IT is now facing the issue where they need to have something where end users have that single location to interact with all of these different platforms and not just bringing them all together, but also, as you mentioned, Joe, that at the project level we need to set up a project in all of these different systems, make sure they’re all consistent. There are different teams working on different platforms and it’s very difficult to just bring that all together thinking of all the different things that IT has to do in setting up all of these different systems.
Yeah, and it begs the question and is a bit counter to our podcast on It’s a Modular World. Because you would think on that basis that, if I have all these systems, shouldn’t I narrow how many systems I’m running. Challenge with that is you never will get down to one platform. None of your partners and owners will all be using the same platform, and now you’re forcing end users to adopt to a product to support their job rather than in the context of a project. So with that having been said, you’re still better off looking at things as modules, but I’ll throw a leading question out there, so with all these platforms and all those challenges, what is the solution, Shaili?
Yeah, well definitely something like ProjectReady. But I would say that-
Yeah, but ProjectReady, which does a lot of automation. And that’s really where I was going was it’s not about settling for one monolithic platform or another and brute force is just always a bad idea. I just think it’s all about automation.
Yeah, automation of the setup and everything that is required to have users working on projects in a multitude of different systems. But the challenge of bringing all of these different platforms together as well because be it Autodesk or Microsoft, Procore, they all have a rich set of APIs. However out of the box, they don’t really interact with each other in a very functional way.
Yeah, minimally actually.
So, it comes to the IT department. Then when the end users have these ad hoc requests where they’re trying to just build something which is a very specific use case that may not be basically a long-term solution because they’re working as a small team, they’re thinking of one solution, whereas a product like ProjectReady, we’ve architected it in a way at a high level brings all of these different systems together. And then as an add-on, of course there can be additional use cases and workflows that we support as well that interact between different systems.
But it just I think it’s important that, at that architectural level in a simple way, it brings basically all these different platforms together, which would really help the IT team to just have that off their plates essentially.
Yeah, from the get-go, right? This is something that we do emphasize. Don’t figure out how to integrate once it’s in flight, have a plan to integrate, or a tool like ours, to integrate out of the gate. And this is something that is reminiscent of one of the things that Salla Eckhardt had mentioned on a previous podcast was the idea of having a data plan upfront. Now, there are systems involved in here as well that IT pros have to deal with, uptime and all the rest of it. But having that plan out of the gate, I think, is also a key part of that strategy.
I’ll throw some factoids out here as well, so just some stuff that marketing was kind enough to present to me. In the last three years, the volume of available project data has doubled, hence the data warehouse podcast that we have coming up. 35% of construction firms, which includes design firms, cite a lack of staff to support the technology. And this is the other thing, too, that I am very bullish on having run a consultancy and now a SaaS product and company is I personally think that, it’s a discretion I have for IT pros, is staff where it makes sense, hire consultants for those more rare pieces if that makes sense. Just a friendly tip.
This one’s great, up to 30% of initial data created during design and construction phases is lost by project closeout. And that data can make or break you in litigation. It can make and break you in terms of legislation, not legislation, in terms of compliance. And certainly things like ISO 19650. So going back to that, let’s say people were not using ProjectReady, although obviously we’re here today hoping that you will, because we have solved a lot of this, some tips or suggestions or other observations, Shaili.
Yeah, definitely. And I think to add on to the stat that you just mentioned on data being lost, I think we’ve seen that happen so many times because there’s no interoperability between these systems, so people end up emailing attachments and files, because users are always looking for easy ways to just make sure that the documents are sent or received. And then anything that just goes out through emails, there’s no place to track that. Basically if you delete that email, you’ve lost that whole communication that these documents were sent. So things like these where then whenever there’s no process in place of how when somebody has no access to a project that is being run in Autodesk, how would you send the content to these users? And for a project when there’s an involvement of Procore, of SharePoint, of Microsoft Teams, of Autodesk, how to make sure that all of the documents in these are basically tracked. There’s metadata on all of this, which is really important. That needs to be tracked as well. So, just that-
Yeah, and the metadata helps you track it as well, right? It’s a chicken and egg kind of situation.
Yeah, definitely. And on what point people are setting the metadata, that just helps with all of that at the end of the project and project closeout. You can just go back even across systems and there’s a need to see what went on in each phase of the project for sure.
Two things I would pick up on that as well. So email is always a challenge. It even go into these baseline platforms. To your point, if email’s flowing from now 3, 4, 5 systems, some of which are yours and some of which are not, that really compounds the issue quite a bit. The other thing that I think is a challenge for IT pros is getting their end users, and I would argue even some IT pros, out of the belief that… I’m going to put it. So the industry spent a long time writing paragraph length titles to documents and folders, nested ad infinitum, well like 256 layers. So that I think is one of the challenges for IT as well.
It is no longer on-prem. If it is on-prem, it is not on-prem much longer. There’s just no reason for it. The manufacturers aren’t supporting it. And I think that’s a real central challenge for the IT pro is getting their customers, their constituents, to buy into better interoperability, better automation, consistent meta descriptors as part of the journey and the continued challenges for IT pros. Do you have any thoughts or stories on that, Shaili, where we’ve witnessed these kind of challenges?
Yeah, in a lot of places and companies, we’ve seen that everybody is used to file folders and that’s how people have been working for years. And there’s basically a whole folder for a project with then innumerable subfolders under it, just making it so hard to even find documents. It doesn’t matter what system they’re using, but just the whole concept of using file folders. And it’s hard for IT pros to communicate that to end users that, okay, this in the longer run it’s going to be very difficult and moving away from that old system where they’re very used to putting everything in file folders. The file is buried under 10 levels of folders, and then there are so many clicks to even get to a document. And making sure people name these folders correctly, name the documents correctly, and not having any other metadata to find contents, it’s all of it I think it’s a big problem. And then we’ve seen organizations with so much data that has already existed in this way and it’s a big problem for the IT department to now help them get out of it, basically.
Yeah, the transitioning can cost you way too much money. I’m very big on net new and current. As people move to better practices, just leave the old stuff in place, let it obsolesce, but just start with something better. And if you have projects that have been around longer are going to be going for a long time, those I would retrofit. But it goes back to, again, this breaking of the mindset. You mentioned how IT pros have to go to their users and convince them not to stuff so many things in folders or email as much.
Likewise, there’s a tendency to jam everything in one place. We’ve seen folks who are attempting to use SharePoint, and what do they do? They just literally moved over their file for a folder system into a SharePoint site. You now have paid for expensive cloud storage. That is my view of that. And so that mind shift has to be broken all over the place, both from the end user and the IT pro to go, “Look, there’s a better way to orchestrate taxonomy.” Taxonomy, metadata, means you have meaningful data that AI can chew on that won’t be garbage, that will provide for a meaningful data warehouse. It all connects together in that regard.
Yeah, definitely. And I think that’s where the automation is then really necessary. Because as you mentioned, putting everything in one single SharePoint site is not the solution, but then it’s-
It’s a problem.
Yeah, it’s a lot of overhead on it to set up different sites, make sure they have that consistent library structure and metadata and security. So it’s a lot of overhead on IT if they’re manually setting all of that up, which is where-
And the maintaining it.
… and the metadata-
People come and go on projects constantly. Yeah, automation is pretty much everything. And that was one of the comments I had had in observations, both on our Procore and Autodesk roundups and the end of year one. Was it was really great to see though, how many companies have now recognized this and have started their own internal initiatives either to solve for or to commission products like our own or somewhere in between those challenges. I saw personally a great thaw in moving in a new direction that is just better for the industry.
But topic is about challenges for IT pro. So those are a couple of the big ones. Let me think what else there is out there. Another challenge for IT pros, we talked about it briefly, was the management of permissions and security. And again, with all the various platforms in play, this is exponential. So Shaili, we automate the security and governance of the M365 component, that ProjectReady applies process. Question for you, is that even possible currently, programmatically, with Procore and Autodesk?
Yeah, it’s definitely possible programmatically. Both Autodesk and Procore do have APIs, but their permissioning is a little bit different than what we do with M365 where we can have library level permissions. In both Procore and Autodesk, it’s more at the level of what workflows they have access to, what licenses they have in the two system, so there are different implications based on what they have access to. We do however, support templates with both Procore and ACC, so that would be our solution with managing the members in those systems where, if you can create templates and apply those template permissions, then we would be able to take care of that as well.
Gotcha. It’s like the challenge we have with submittals. So with submittals folks, we are waiting for work bridge for ACC to release the appropriate APIs. We say this often because we’re waiting. But the challenge with submittals is there’s so many nuances in terms and where things relate to at what stage of that workflow. Somewhat in kind, like you had showed me the user setup screen in ACC, to your point, which module, what can they do? There’s a lot of switches over there. It’s not just read, write, access, right?
Yep. Definitely. There are a lot of different subtle permissions and things that need to be set up for each platform. But definitely they’re in ACC as well as Procore, they’re incorporating all of these in the templatization of projects, which then just makes that easier to implement as well.
Yeah, the trick is, for the IT pro, is to stop getting caught up in minutiae and be freed up to do the high value stuff that IT pros do. And so designing the correct templates, maintaining the templates, this is much better than going in and just hand tooling everything. And to your point, the manufacturer’s already there trying to help the IT professional.
I guess the long and short of it, everyone, is that not only do IT professionals have this constant challenge of working with lean budgets and quick timelines, with the AEC it’s all multiplicative for all these different platforms. And so, when you’re trying to run that kind of efficiency and trying to get value from the high value employees that you have in IT, simplifying ongoing maintenance, automating whatever and wherever you can, means that the IT professional has more bandwidth to contribute their unique skillsets to help the company be more profitable and better run. All right, that’s a quick wrap up on the IT pro. As always, any thoughts on future podcasts firstname.lastname@example.org, please do let us know. And we’ll see you next time.