Every spring, as the BD+C editors connect with hundreds of architecture, engineering, and construction firms for our annual Giants 300 report, we get a compelling snapshot of the business and project innovations—and obstacles—at the nation’s largest AEC firms.
A record number of firms (483) participated in our 43rd annual Giants survey. Collectively, this group represents well more than half of all nonresidential and multifamily building sector design and construction work completed in the U.S. in a given year. Based on feedback from the 2019 Giant firms, we pinpointed three emerging trends and themes for 2019-2020:
1. AEC Firms Aim to Incubate Innovation
From innovation competitions to grant programs to seed funding for startups, a growing number of firms are encouraging their employees to invent or reinvent AEC tools, services, processes, and business models. An April 2019 survey of 130 AEC Giant firms by BD+C showed that nearly half of responding firms (49%) have either implemented or are planning to implement an innovation grant/seed money program.
Last year, Burns & McDonnell launched a “Shark Tank”-style innovation incubator, called Ignite. Just a few months in and the firm already has funding earmarked for projects related to AI, machine learning, advanced analytics, business intelligence, and robotics.
2. Data Wealth Spurs Research Initiatives
The AEC industry isn’t exactly known for its research prowess—big r or little r—especially concerning occupant performance and preferences in the built environment. But we’re starting to see a shift toward research, thanks in part to the influx of data, data tools, and analytics expertise in the market.
Clayco, HOK, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Perkins Eastman, and SOM are among the firms to partner with university teams to conduct custom research—in some cases, peer-reviewed initiatives—in recent years. As firms continue to gather and explore data on their projects and business operations, we expect to see a research rush among the AEC Giants.
3. LEAN Moves Beyond Construction
Twenty-two years ago, the Lean Construction Institute ushered the concepts of Lean manufacturing—last planner system, 5S, 3P, TPM—into the U.S. construction market. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a large GC or CM that isn’t using some form of Lean planning on projects.
In recent years, we’ve seen traditional architectural and engineering design firms and owners/developers adopt Lean—whether for efficiencies in internal/external project teaming or for space/operations planning for clients.
Barge Design Solutions, Harvard Jolly, Integrated Project Services, and Trinity all implemented or expanded internal Lean programs last year. Trinity conducts two-day Lean 3P sessions with clients, while Barge Design is using a pull vs. push schedule method to streamline internal scheduling, reduce rework, and provide clear deadlines and impacts to the team’s efforts.