The pandemic has revealed the importance of technological infrastructure. Choosing the tools your practice needs demands a strategic approach to digitisation
Making the infrastructure we live and work in ready for the demands of today requires new ways of thinking.
This means the architects behind the infrastructure of the planet - the schools, hospitals, offices and homes of tomorrow - have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is also a huge challenge, as the events of 2020 have demonstrated.
'Most businesses didn’t have the infrastructure to support remote working and they didn't have a digital-first approach,' says Je’Nen Chastain, founder of US architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) business consultancy Apostrophe and co-host of the Practice Disrupted podcast. 'As a result, there was a correlation with productivity going down.'
What we have learned through the pandemic, she says, is that the AEC industry is heavily dependent on technology. 'It’s really important that firms continuously invest in technology that supports and improves infrastructure.'
But while leaders may have a new-found appreciation for digital infrastructure, there are questions.
With so much technology on the market, what do practices need?
For Evelyn Lee, who runs California-based AEC innovation consultancy Practice of Architecture and is Chastain’s podcast co-host, the answer is less about product than process.
'It goes back to redefining your values and your organisation and understanding how you want to work together,' she says. Do business leaders want employees to complete most of their work in the office between 8am and 5pm or would a different arrangement serve their needs better? What are the firm's top priorities: growth, design, social impact, profit - or something else entirely?
After articulating their larger vision, says Lee, leaders can approach digitalisation strategically - and with a greater chance of success.
How to engineer a better quality of life
Boston, Massachusetts-based Saam Architecture followed this path when establishing its practice in 2014. From the outset, the founders knew that work/life balance would take priority in all their decisions.
Saam’s technology choices grew directly from this vision. The firm gives all employees laptops equipped with a webcam and VPN connection. Teams and Slack facilitate communication between staff and external contacts and web conferencing and online meeting software GoToMeeting provides a digital whiteboard for collaborative drawing sessions. A local IT consultant looks after issues of connectivity and security.
Assess what's working, what's not, then improve
Not every firm has the resources to build a team of software developers. But, as Lee points out, all have access to free or low-cost tools such as Google Drive that can help with common challenges like capturing information gleaned during site visits and client phone calls.
But when used in a haphazard manner, these and other digital tools might not add much value: hence the importance of starting with an overall vision and shaping an holistic plan from there.
'Firms that embrace a regular process of looking at operations, processes, the tools, how they approach projects, how they approach business, how they do business development: those are the firms that are going to be most successful in the long term,' she says.
Because architects are responsible for the biggest challenge on the planet - redesigning the schools, offices, public spaces and houses so they’re more sustainable and equitable - they need the tools to get there.
HP large format printers give architects a way to collaborate with colleagues seamlessly, securely and with sustainability in mind. This makes HP’s DesignJet printer and PageWide XL printer range an essential tool for the ultimate task ahead: to achieve a just, inclusive and diverse living and working environment.
Jason Bishop, DesignJet & PW category manager at HP UK&I
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