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6. Adoption of (new) technologies

Return to July 2020 Update

Length: 11 min read; 2273 words. Includes the following 6 subcategories:


Note: The following paragraphs summarize the category of Adoption of new technologies observed in July. More information about the specific category from June (and previous months) can be found in the downloaded report(s). The number in square brackets (e.g., [30]) refers to a reference where the reader can find more infomation about a specific statement.  The references can be found in the References list below, Systematized References page or in the dowloaded report.


The interest in Adoption of (new) technologies has slightly decreased in July from June (11%). Consequently, all subcategories are experiencing decline in published volume. Although this decline is related with the overall communication decline, digitalization remains a mandatory long-term strategy.

The pandemic sped up digital transformation strategies at 97% of companies, with a special focus on digital communications. [192] For example, the US e-commerce just had a 10-year growth in three months; opening a tremendous business opportunity. [188] Digital transformation is not a new trend: pre- COVID 57% of companies were increasing spending on digital transformation; going forward 70% of executives said digital transformation spending is likely is to accelerate. [239] The Big Four tech companies, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, are accelerating their pursuit of the healthcare market Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are gunning to carve out spaces within the healthcare market, and each is targeting its own set of sectors to transform or disrupt; Microsoft is focused on its race with Amazon and Google to lay claim to the healthcare cloud market, Apple is knuckling down on clinical research initiatives via its wearables, Alphabet is focusing on its AI expertise to drive precision medicine, and Amazon is shaping up to disrupt the pharmacy, virtual care, and telehealth realms. [189]

Drivers for digital spending in real estate include 51% business growth opportunity, and 41% increased competitive pressures; while the focus for digital spending include 54% modernizing customer touchpoints, and 45% enabling infrastructures. IT experts have become connectors, consultants, teachers and influencers (but they cannot stop being operationally excellent). 85% expects an acceleration of technology adoption now that employees seem to be more comfortable with using technology; even technology change opponents became proponents.[239]

April’s implementation of Virtual communication & collaboration tools was in record time, showing that the industry can go digital and virtual very fast when pressed with circumstances. In May specialized publications and webinars provided deeper dive into the specifics of (new) technologies - the industry started learning more about the technologies and their application. The trend continues in June (51.9% reported digitalization increase) and the trend continues in July. For example, the new-project creation rate in Autodesk BIM 360 Design jumped approximately 350% globally since working conditions shifted from office to home in mid-February 2020. [220]

The focus in digital tech in AEC in July continues to be on smart “healthy” buildings, AI, social distancing tech, and cybersecurity. Investments in technologies continue to increase; such as tech startup competitions seeking solutions to jobsite problems [306]. How will the digital technologies transform our fragmented, complex and multilevel industry?

6.a) Virtual communication & collaboration (Zoom, BIM360, Virtual site inspections, AR/VR, etc.)

The reported trend in June of ubiquitous on-demand webinars with “recycled” pre-pandemic content continues in July, and it will probably stay with us indefinitely. The practitioners can find online information on absolutely any topic of interest.

COVID-19 has accelerated the use of existing technologies that were already enabling practitioners to innovate and reimagine the way they use technology and data. For example, the new-project creation rate in Autodesk BIM 360 Design jumped approximately 350% globally since mid-February 2020 [220] with global collaboration option features [322].

Also, many tools and technologies across all industries are being used in new or unexpected ways. Creativity and innovation are flourishing. For example, virtual inspections with 360-degree cameras [323] and video walk-throughs are keeping projects on schedule. Site-monitoring cameras, drones, and even Boston Dynamics’s robot dog called Spot [324], are helping to keep every member up to date on a project, even if they’re not physically on-site. Integrations between Zoom video conferencing and BIM 360 can streamline [325] the meeting-minutes process and keep teams organized. A combination of streaming presentations, prerecorded video, and 4D animation are enabling social-distancing-friendly ceremonies. [220] Future workplace visions consider hybrid workspace reality integrated digital collaboration tools, next-level conferencing, sensors, AR/VR and other smart technologies. [216][312]

6.b) Robotics, Automation, Mobile Unmanned Systems (MUS); 3D printing (additive manufacturing); etc.

In this subcategory we would like to highlight 5 recent innovations in construction robotics with the potential to speed up jobsite work [326]: 1) Husky A200 [327], a 4-wheeled robot for carrying tools and materials around the site is being developed at the Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center (IEC) in Bolzano, Italy (the goal is to connect the robot’s software with BIM and provide other functions for it to be able to navigate the jobsite, such as a “follow me” function to trail behind workers while carrying a load); 2) GE Tunneling Earthworm [328] a small tunneling robot that mimics an earthworm’s manner of moving underground is being developed at a GE Research team in Niskayuna, New York (the goal is for the robot to successfully dig a tunnel over 540 yards long at nearly 4 inches a second (500 meters at 10 centimeters a second) ; 3) Coffee Feet Robot [329] has a newly discovered technology (at the University of California San Diego) of coffee-filled feet (along with a system designed to suck air out from between the coffee grounds) that can help commercially available robots move up to 40% faster on uneven terrain; 4) Boston Dynamics' robot dog Spot [330], is outfitted with image-capturing devices and laser scanners, and can patrol predetermined pathways through a jobsite and navigate difficult terrain (the machine is designed to reduce worker hours spent doing the same tasks repeatedly, while also providing frequent, up- to-date images of the as-built site - now commercially available at a cost of $74,5000); 5) Hadrian X bricklaying robot [331] has surpassed its personal record and is now capable of laying 200 bricks in an hour, using scanners, the machine can tell exactly where the bricks should be placed, via a 3D rendering of the completed building (the robot is still slower than a human bricklayer). [326]

Drones are used for construction site inspections (capture for documenting jobsites and scanning the site for 3D drawings) [332] and other supply chain inspections, for e.g., warehouse management system procurement ("I've droned on into a webcam for three hours at a time - we've had to find ways to creatively have fun and break that up." Jeremy Hudson Director of Consulting Services, Open Sky Group). [333] The application of drones is enormous (Figure 1). As reported in previous months, prefabrication and off-site manufacturing continue to be encouraged to address H&S protocols onsite. [334][335] Evaluate lead times and start early in the design process to assess potential benefits of modular construction and prefabrication. [335]

6.c) Smart buildings: IT+OT; IoT, digital twin, big data – analytics & processing, sensors, AI, proptech, etc.

Smart “healthy” buildings continue to be the focus of discussion in the community. It seems that the topic of energy efficiency in buildings have been temporarily shifted to the second place as the COVID-related guidance prioritizes H&S of occupants and recommends 24/7 365 ventilation and filtration (“Energy efficiency was the topic to discuss before the pandemic, but now we are using more energy to make building as safe as possible. We made operational changes that consume more energy than before. All our assets are open non-stop though in some only essential workers are working. Ideally in a year or so we will go back to what was before the pandemic.” Common goal before COVID was to reduce energy spent while maintaining tenant comfort – due to COVID, comfort starts to take a new meaning – maintaining comfort not only through the air temperature and the space, but through the air quality as well.”) Such measures make sense in the short term but not in the long run. [305]

The community agrees that we should work on both topics of H&S and sustainability / energy efficiency in parallel and use the AI-driven tech to deliver autonomous building operations optimization, improve occupant comfort, H&S, lower energy consumption and decrease the building's carbon footprint [270]. AI can change operations from preventative to predictive and proactive. AI can give you 20%-40% annual building operations cost reduction. Facets of energy optimized building5 and smart building infrastructure6 could be extended with smart H&S technologies. An example is Enlighted’s contact tracing app called Safe linked to existing IoT OT building system. [336]

The IT Maturity Ladder denotes the different levels of maturity for an Organization’s IT department [337] showing the vast potential of IT transformation (from lowest to highest level): 1) Firefighter – struggles (inability to provide reliable business services); 2) Reliable Operator (reliable infrastructure and IT service desk); 3) Trusted Operator – Optimizes (effective fulfillment of work orders, functional business applications, and reliable service management); 4) Evolutionary Innovator – expands (effective execution on business projects, strategic use of analytics and customer technology); 5) Transformative Innovator – transforms (reliable technology innovation)[239].

Future hybrid workspace will integrate digital collaboration tools, next-level conferencing, sensors, AR/VR and other smart technologies. [216][312] It is expected that “office buildings will have 152% more IoT devices by 2022.” [305] Since the occupant behavior is the main reason for energy use, tenants can be engaged to partner with owners to make “better” buildings and leverage smart building technologies.

6.d) Other concepts (VDC, management, blockchain, smart contracts)

Digitalization continues to be the most important business strategy. From July publicized management digital platforms we would like to highlight Salesforce’s strategy : Stabilize → repoen → renew that embraces business digitization to solve immediate operational challenges and improve supply chain resiliency [304]; and AI-driven building operation platforms for data management.[270][305]

Autodesk and Barton Malow’s VDC experts suggest that construction data management platforms can harness the power of construction data (as currently 95% of the data goes to waste) with general strategies: 1) digitize and standardize; 2) manage data in unified platform; 3) integrate construction project data; 4) leverage AI solutions; and 5) prioritize unique problems to solve. [338]

Impact Sourcing is the “next IPD”, a business practice where companies prioritize suppliers that intentionally hire and provide career development opportunities to people who otherwise have limited prospects for formal employment. Besides the societal shift, purpose-driven companies outperform their competition by 175%. [221][222][223]

6.e) COVID-19 related innovations (for public); contact tracing, etc.

From the tremendous global efforts to fight COVID-19, in July we highlight wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) research method that analyzes substances in raw wastewater to obtain information on community health. It is not a new and usually underfunded research area, but in the COVID-19 case it showed that it is possible to detect COVID-19 in sewer at least 7 days faster as compared to testing individuals (“Is it safe to get out of lockdown? Check the sewer.”) Benefits of WBE approach for COVID- 19: save money and time by providing an early warning; taking strategic action; focusing resources for clinical testing; minimizing lockdown areas; preventing disease and economic loss; and equity. “Digital wastewater” to observer in real time the wastewater has the potential to be applied for future pandemics. [339][340]

New contact tracing technologies are being regularly developed and offered to customers/ building owners (more info in the June report – sections above); such as Enlighted’s new workplace digital contact tracing app Safe connected to Enlighted’s existing IoT technology already installed in 320 million square feet of buildings globally. Existing customers can add the Safe app to their IoT platform for building operations. New customers can install the Enlighted IoT system through sensors in LED lighting or through the new USB-powered surface sensor, which can be applied under desks or in conference rooms. [336]

6.f) Cybersecurity / Privacy

Concerns for data privacy and cybersecurity continue to be heightened in July. Data ownership is discussed; data generated and gathered by building systems and sensors often passes through several different layers, from device provider, to facility service firm to the building owner/operator. As more and more devices are connected to a building network and the amount of building data collected increases exponentially, the question of data ownership becomes more complex, but in the vast majority of the cases “the property owner or corporate tenant owns your data.” [305]

Data privacy issues follow new contact tracing technologies. An example of successful solutions is Enlighted’s new contact tracing tech that prioritizes data privacy without the need for storing personal information. Employees are assigned alphanumeric ID badges while entering the workplace. When an employee self-reports their badge ID and a positive test result, administrators query the Safe application, identify other IDs this badge came in contact with and share the anonymous IDs. Employees carrying those badge IDs can self-identify their exposure. [336]

Before the pandemic cybersecurity has been elevated from a mere operational consideration to become an issue of international concern and cooperation; global business and political leaders at the highest levels make clear public commitments to greater openness, transparency and collaboration in the fight against cybercrime. With playing catch-up to attackers fast becoming the new norm, it has become abundantly clear that a reactive approach to cybersecurity will no longer be sufficient to protect businesses moving beyond 2020.

Experts suggest 4 developments that will define how organizations prepare as we navigate the 2020s: 1) The mistakes of 4G may carry over to 5G; 2) The Internet of Things will become a minefield; 3) Embracing AI to get ahead; and 4) Security will influence the next generation of tech products. [341]

Cybersecurity suffers when fear infects the population; as social engineering cyberhacks prey on pandemic anxieties. Social distancing deepens cybersecurity vulnerabilities but experts suggest robotics, postperimeter, and AI are key cyberdefenses against social engineering tactics. [342]

Law firms for cybersecurity, data protection, and privacy have substantially more work since the pandemic started. [343] For large organizations, experts suggest Role Based Access Control (RBAC) that provides a framework to help manage user access in the context of a rapidly changing and more complex risk profile (it distinguishes a range of user access problems from initial provisioning (joiners), least privileges (movers), to revocation of access (leavers). [344]

Four ways that HR teams can use Identity and Access Management (IAM) for secure remote working [345]: 1) Signing into your systems once; 2) If proof is not satisfactory, use another factor; 3) Go passwordless!; 4) Onboard, promote, transfer.

Previous June Category Summary


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Monthly Summary: 
AEC and Pandemic: Response and Impact - July 2020 Update