Peter Beck, a managing director with contracting firm Beck Group, is on a mission to improve our understanding of buildings. In his view, designers and contractors have no shortage of software tools to help them design and build buildings. But tools that analyze a building's performance? Not so much, he says. But that is changing with technologies such as IP-enabled sensors (the "internet of things") and Big Data tools to analyze building data.
One could argue that Beck Group is helping drive that change. The firm's DProfiler software, which allows users to calculate construction costs against a BIM and build detailed budgets, is licensed by about 50% of ENR Top 400 Contractors, he says. He recently sat down with ENR to give his take on other ways tech is driving changes in the AEC sectors. The discussion is excerpted below.
ENR: What's your take on Big Data?
Peter Beck: If you look at where we are today, you see data used to record physical things, and BIM is a great example of that. It's primarily used to build the building, generally speaking, with some minor exceptions. What we might see over the next 10 years is that, as Big Data becomes more understandable, we're going to use it to analyze buildings, which is a different function. We're going to be able to analyze behavior, not only due to design changes before the project is built, which is really critical, but in understanding how it's going to operate—that is, how much energy it's going to use—and how much energy it's going to use based on thousands of different design changes in very short periods of time.
I think that's where Big Data is going to have a significant impact and where I think it will translate into greater efficiency in the disciplines. It will probably require fewer man-hours in the design, engineering and construction of buildings.
Aren't we already seeing that happen in the design sectors?
There are certainly fewer [architects and engineers], but that's partly a function of the economy and demand for our services. But that's now changed. So as pressure increases for more design and construction services, we may not have the [right] talent out there to serve that demand. Innovations may have to make up the slack, which I welcome. I think it's only through pressure of this sort that will motivate us and our customers.
Is that what you mean when you say you welcome this "wonderful pressure"?
The reason I call it "wonderful" is that this kind of pressure drives innovation. The innovation is the process change [that tech enables]. For instance, complex algorithms will be used to define the behavior of a building, and we will work together from Day One to help the customer understand what the processes are. Mathematicians are going to play a major role in their development.
Doing an integrated design build puts far more pressure on your people than a conventional approach. It also requires more input from the customer. It increases their involvement.