We’ve seen dramatic changes in the construction industry over the last year. Although the challenges are immense, the evolution is incredible. In 2020, we saw a renaissance of new workflows, partnerships, and mindsets – all making the industry stronger together.
Still, we have a long road ahead. According to FMI, construction traditionally lags 12 to 18 months behind general recessions. “Resiliency” will be an operative word for the industry to continue moving and excelling in the year ahead and beyond. The year 2021 has the potential to be transformative for the industry — but only if firms and workers continue to build their resiliency muscles to future-proof their businesses and strengthen the industry overall.
For our annual construction trends report, we asked business and thought leaders to share their top trends and predictions that will be key to building industry resiliency in 2021 and beyond. We’ve curated their powerful insights below, organized by the categories that matter most in the industry today:
- Amy Marks, Autodesk
- Ryan Salvas, Suffolk
- Matthew Steere, Autodesk
- Olivier Lepinoy, Autodesk
- Salla Eckhardt, Microsoft
- Bryce Raleigh, Dempsey Construction
- Angela Battle, Sellen Construction
- Tony Taylor, Engineering Design Technologies, Inc. (EDT)
- George A. Pontikes, Jr., Satterfield & Pontikes Construction
- Tauhira Ali, Milwaukee Tool
- Geoffrey Bean, W.M. Jordan Company
- Nathan Wood, SpectrumAEC
- Matt Keen, Autodesk
- Ruhi Thakur, Webcor Builders
- Sumit Oberoi, Autodesk
- Robert Bray, Autodesk Tandem
- Samiha Shakil, Skanska
- Britton Lawson, Veit & Company
In the coming years, we will see project investments shift in construction. For instance, with the new administration in the U.S., there will be a renewed focus on environmental resiliency, focusing on how energy sources, infrastructure, and the built environment play a part in combating climate change. Being creative in our approach to these challenges is an AEC industry call-to-action. Firms that are already exploring next-generation net-zero construction, creative material use/re-use, intelligent infrastructure projects, and renewable energy projects will be well-positioned to take advantage of the rise of “resilient” projects that encourage sustainability. Similarly, digital infrastructure projects are also poised to grow as the rise of digitization has accelerated due to remote working brought on by the pandemic.
Here’s what other leaders have to say about economic trends for construction in 2021:
“The pandemic has shown how quickly the economy and the work environment can be upended. Nonresidential construction spending and employment are likely to remain below their early-2020 peak until well into 2022 or beyond. To maintain or grow market share in a shrinking market, contractors will have to be alert to evolving demands for office space, remote education and health care, and local distribution facilities compatible with residential neighborhoods. Firms that relied on restaurant, retail or lodging construction will have to adapt or die. GCs and subs will have to adjust to permanent changes in how many workers can be on a site and how physically close they can work. Greater use of offsite or near-site production may help but can add to supply-chain complexities. In short, 2021 will be another year with plenty of challenges–but more opportunities than in 2020.” – Ken Simonson, Chief Economist, The Associated General Contractors of America
“As I steadily add years to my experience in this industry, resiliency increasingly reflects the discipline to not overreact to any situation and maintain perspective over a long time horizon. Simply put, it is a measured indifference to an exaggerated short-term economic cycle. The degree of post-pandemic recovery will largely be determined by location and end-market. And although this may be more punctuated in 2021 due to varying state and local government response, industry composition, and the like, this is not a new phenomenon. Over the last 30-plus years, on average, roughly one-in-three metropolitan markets and construction segments have trended in an opposite or counter pattern than the other two thirds. Resilient organizations recognize this and understand that things are never as good or bad as they seem. This mentality is, therefore, constant. They are evaluating potential pivots at all times, not just when there are macro-corrections.” – Jay Bowman, Principal, FMI Corporation
Most construction firms’ business models have not provided the right amount of resources and flexibility to support true innovation that will create exponential growth. Simply adding new tools to the stack doesn’t solve the root challenge of stagnant or out-of-date workflows, nor does it create lasting differentiation. As construction firms take on the challenge of future proofing beyond 2021, leaders have an opportunity to drive an innovation mindset and rethink their technology investment and adoption strategy. Examples may include formalizing an internal cross-functional innovation council within their companies that are also responsible for change management and program management; exploring innovation R&D tax incentives; and applying a culture-driven approach to technology adoption that balances performance incentives with behavior change.
With insights on industrialized construction and process automation, read experts’ insights on the business model trends that will shape our future:
We are entering a new era of convergence—with industries, processes, and multidisciplinary teams blending together. Convergence enables and requires our customers to embrace new ways of making–workflow coordination, on-demand customization, virtual creation, and continuous reshaping. To enable these new ways of making, we need to move data into the cloud and enable partners to move from project-centric thinking to product-led within our Autodesk platform. Industrialized Construction is the epitome of convergence through design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA) and prefabrication – moving make and operate information up into design. This is creating new business models and enables new value propositions.
Productization Results in Powerful Certainty
Productization requires makers to think like manufacturers. Makers need to define and capture what they build, including acceptable variation, as “digital products.” They need to design with fabrication and assembly in mind, defined manufacturing processes, and systems integration information. This detailed representation should be captured using powerful methods like computational design, which can automate the conversion from design thinking to execution optimization and eliminate designing, building, and operating snowflakes (custom one-offs).
“Productization will revolutionize how we build.”
Scaling and standardizing these digital products will transform how the ecosystem works – think headwalls, MEP risers and racks, and central utility plants. Architects will design with real elements proven to meet their requirements and have known cost and real-time availability. They will better and more easily understand the tradeoffs between functionality, cost, carbon, energy, aesthetics, and any other known data and generate optimal solutions using generative building design. Using “products” like these within a connected platform provides more certain outcomes.
DfMA and Prefabrication – Drives Platform Optimization
The path forward for the new possible requires productization in tandem with an Autodesk enabled, connected data platform for the ecosystem. Connecting designers and makers using proven industrialized construction workflows improves coordination and certainty–convergence of the design and make processes–will incentivize innovators to do new things. Prefabrication will maximize the benefits of capabilities like digital twin and generative design and will enable the AEC-O and Manufacturing value chain to leverage technology in a consistent and connected way across the full lifecycle of the built environment, with the overall process optimization in mind.” – Amy Marks, Head of Industrialized Construction Strategy and Evangelism, Autodesk
“Construction companies need to invest more in change and program management practices as they relate to new technology implementations, roll-outs, and ongoing adoption. The construction industry has been late catching the “technology wave,” and companies are in the process of benefitting from an aggressive digitization cycle without understanding that a tool cannot solve for a faulty or out-of-date process or workflow.
Change management and program management, heavily used in product-centric organizations, look to marry process with people to ensure there is a healthy relationship between a new value-add tool, the underlying processes (which may or may not need to evolve), and the human factors in adoption and training (too many tools, too much pressure to deliver, not enough time). This is the challenging work of any digitization initiative.
I am also excited about two areas as they pertain to Suffolk’s holistic view of digitization: event processing engines and robotic process automation. Process-based bots will continue to promote Suffolk’s aim to digitize and revolutionize our business system processes, test modifications to inputs/outputs and workflows, and automate highly manual tasks. This will empower employees from our project sites to the back office to spend their valuable time on more meaningful, thoughtful, and synthetic activities while allowing the bots to handle the rest. From there, with a clean data lake and well-documented and efficient workflows, we will be able to capture the full potential of AI and ML to begin to properly automate and empower our entire workforce, from our functional teams such as Legal and People and Culture to our operations teams in the field and on our jobsites.” – Ryan Salvas, Director of Technology Transformation, Suffolk
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for change in all industries, in particular the construction industry. The safety guidelines for public health with the reality of projects needing to be completed have collided at the same intersection. To overcome these two driving forces, construction companies are currently and or need to employ these strategies:
- Resource Evaluation – The need to evaluate current resources and the tasks they are doing. Tasks will be classified as essential off-site, essential on-site, and non-essential. Efficiencies will be achieved by trimming non-essential activities. Re-tooling staff to conduct more off-site virtual tasks will increase.
- Manufacturing/ Industrialized Construction – we will see an increase in both areas. Companies will take advantage of offsite created components and systems to reduce onsite essential activities.
- Automation – Robots and automation strategies will continue to emerge. We will witness more examples on jobsites.
- Data Analytics – Data will continue to be collected, assembled, and sorted to influence future decision making. Workflows and tasks will be driven by analysis of the data.”
– Matthew Steere, Construction Industry Strategy, Autodesk
“To build resiliency and future proof their businesses, leading construction firms need to take their destiny into their hands. They play offense, collect data, build their own digital platforms, operate them with new business models, and offer new services to their ecosystem. In this context, looking beyond 2021, what is essential is a sharp and well-balanced execution: ‘Doing the right thing, at the right time”:
- Build the right Platform because a platform is the modern way to run a business.
- Expand your Portfolio of Business Models because a digital platform cannot be run like a traditional business.
- Build the right Ecosystem because what matters in the digital economy is the readiness and maturity of your ecosystem.
- Nurture the right Culture because corporate culture, as much as technology, is a competitive advantage.”
– Olivier Lepinoy, Senior Global Business Development Executive – Platform Subject Matter Expert, Autodesk
“Strategy: AEC teams will adapt to the digital building lifecycle mindset, putting reliable data into the center of total performance and total cost delivery. Teams will co-create the digital virtual buildings first, followed by assembling the physical artifact and finally commissioning the digital physical building as a new tool for digital real estate management.
Technology: Digital twins with BIM integration will start to pull together other traditionally siloed components and support integrated data environments on cloud platforms.
Mindset: Collaborative project delivery will start to transform how people work together as long-term integrated project teams rather than one-off phased project teams.
Process: People will demand more cloud-agnostic solutions and technology integration, empowering the end-users with more automated data flow between systems and less manual data management.” – Salla Eckhardt, Director of Transformation Services, Microsoft
“We need to have a plan and stay focused on executing that plan. Every company is faced with different circumstances, but we need to follow that plan. We have to systemize the 80 percent of our business that is predictable and humanize the 20 percent or so that is exceptional. By systemizing the majority of our business, we have the capacity and opportunity to really set ourselves apart when focusing on the exceptional parts of our business.” – Bryce Raleigh, Vice President of Operations, Principal, Dempsey Construction
Construction firms will continue to increase their focus on building a resilient workforce. As the pandemic showed, firms that readied teams with connected technology, remote working solutions, and cultivated a culture of empathy, trust, and flexibility have been able to weather the ups and downs of the last year. However, this roller coaster ride also stretched teams to their limits. We’ve all been dealing with the blurred lines of home and work life. The ability to adjust strategy and process has been impressive, but culture ultimately trumps strategy in the long term. Leading construction firms will take the challenges of the last year as an opportunity to revisit a number of their human resources and culture initiatives such as improving training of construction technology to include a broader set of roles both on and off the site; widening the talent pool by developing new roles for digital natives and a more diverse population; developing unique and fast-growth career paths that encourage folks to stay in the industry; increasing health and wellness benefits to include things like mental health, stress management and family-friendly care options; and increasing employee engagement tactics to improve a sense of community and build a culture of trust among distributed teams.
Read more about top 2021 construction trends related to people and culture:
“Looking beyond 2021, I think the top strategy and mindset that construction firms will need in order to build resiliency and future proof their businesses is diversity. Not only will construction companies need to focus on subcontractor and material supplier diversity, they will have to take a look internally at the company’s diversity. The construction industry has long been a white male-dominated industry.
To be competitive, stay at the forefront of innovation, and attract superior talent, they must foster a culture of inclusion.
A diverse workforce offers a wider range of experiences and skills leading to improved decision making, enhanced employee engagement and retention, as well as increased profitability.” – Angela Battle, Director of Subcontractor Diversity & Development, Sellen Construction
“Strategy designed to diversify clients and project pipelines, to exceed client expectations, and to incentivize, train and retain employees will be the key. I believe construction companies that follow this strategy and implement the supporting tactics/initiatives will increase their business resiliency in 2021 and beyond. I expect more ideas and innovations, especially in fully integrated design-build environments, that drive safety, sustainability, productivity, and cost-effective construction. As a result, I anticipate an increase in green design, the use of digital technology tools and modular construction among the major trends.” – Tony Taylor, President, Engineering Design Technologies, Inc. (EDT)
“As we look to the future, we realize that innovation in how we use technology will drive a resilient, sustainable industry. That requires an investment in a smart, educated, and diverse workforce and strategic leaders who work collaboratively with clients and partners for mutual success. To that end, S&P is constantly rethinking its business and leadership model so that we continue to be on the forefront of an increasingly competitive marketplace. We never forget that quality and excellence comes from people working together to make the impossible possible.” – George A. Pontikes, Jr., Chief Executive Officer, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction
“Construction firms looking to create long-term resilience and increase market share for their business must first look within and strengthen the culture of their organization. No amount of strategy, technology, or executive vision will succeed unless employees are unified in their company mission and are all driven towards achieving mutual success. The companies that will build the future beyond 2021 are the ones who empower people and culture to produce results.” – Tauhira Ali, Construction Technology Group Manager, Milwaukee Tool
“One of the things they need to do is continue to work with their industry organizations and legislators to ensure that construction stays essential and that it’s known that this particular industry cannot be shut down. Everyone within the built environment also needs to continue to come up with innovative ways to maintain schedules when manpower is running low. We’re already facing workforce shortages as it is. It’s important to be creative and think outside of the box when dealing with such issues, especially in light of a pandemic where people aren’t necessarily excited to get out in the field.” – Geoffrey Bean, Virtual Construction Coordinator, W.M. Jordan Company
Over the last few years, many leading construction firms have taken on new technology and increased their attention towards things like digitization as central to their work. COVID-19 has only accelerated the use of technology and digital workflows in the industry. For 2021 and beyond, this opens the doors to even more opportunities for businesses to reimagine how they utilize technology and data to build resiliency, including virtual collaboration, AI, and machine learning. Businesses have more data than ever before; we will see a significant increase in firms taking advantage of this new information and creating more core competencies around data, analytics, and business intelligence. Examples include standardizing and formalizing data plans and strategies company-wide, expanding the use of connected and integrated technology solutions to reduce data silos and disconnects, and the growing utilization of dashboarding and analytics tools to inform project and business decisions.
Construction thought leaders share their thoughts about the top technology and data trends for construction in 2021 below:
“Data interoperability will be key to building business resiliency in 2021 and beyond. Interoperability means the ability for different project delivery stakeholders to effectively communicate and streamline information flow between one another, which is essential in the digital age of construction. A common data exchange (CDX) framework allows project teams to define the interoperability requirements that will unlock machine learning, and AI. Data insights will be hard to come by if you don’t first solve the interoperability dilemma. It’s about bearing down and investing the time necessary to build common language and optimize workflow, allowing teams to break down data silos and build them back better with the appropriate integrations and security protocols. The only thing left to do then is test, learn, iterate, and evolve!” – Nathan Wood, Chief Enabling Officer, SpectrumAEC
“2020 has taught us that making predictions isn’t an easy task. It’s been a unique year, with the pandemic forcing the construction industry to re-evaluate how it understands performance and mitigates risk.
For a long time, we’ve talked about the importance of industry leaders getting visibility into the performance of projects and having access to real-time data to facilitate understanding.
Looking beyond 2021, I think visibility of performance will now move outside of board rooms, with middle management and project teams wanting to understand more about their project and individual performance and their exposure to risk.
I can see a growing demand for data that doesn’t just focus on monitoring progress but data that allows teams to take action and avoid errors and poor performance before it materialises. I can therefore see teams across the industry becoming much more strategic about defining and deploying data strategies to react quicker to changing circumstances and more actively leveraging AI and Machine Learning to interrogate data to identify errors earlier.” – Matt Keen, Sr. Industry Strategist, Strategy & Operations, Autodesk
“There’s a whole world where you don’t have to physically be present for every single task. Taking advantage of what 2020 has taught us- construction professionals and firms, should invest more in R&D of integration of new technologies. There is a lot of tech available but integrations are very weak. Implementation of new tech is occurring in small pockets within small groups. For example various project teams within a firm are sometimes not aware of the great work their firm is doing. It’s just not about one single company; it’s an industry-wide thing. It’s something that everyone should try to adopt together and make it more a seamless process.“ – Ruhi Thakur, Assistant Project Manager, Webcor Builders
“Construction companies are significant employers of people and are critical to the future prosperity of the economy. Business leaders are continually faced with challenges of cost and risk management while focusing on ways to differentiate in the industry. The requirement for construction companies to adopt modern digital technologies can come from many factors, including industry demand to drive business outcome improvements, a desire to increase efficiency and mitigate risk, and the need to standardise and win more work. In 2021, to rebound from COVID-19, we can expect APAC businesses to leverage technology connecting their most important assets to their people quicker and strategically respond to positioning their business.
In 2021, the opportunity exists for the APAC construction industry to rebound from COVID-19 to:
- better integrate the different phases of the construction model towards a “new operating model” for safer productive workplaces, more resilient sector, and upskilling the workforce;
- efficiently using any Government investment made in COVID-19 stimulus funds to invest in and catalyse innovation;
- unearthing cutting-edge supply chains in APAC; and
- prioritising high-performance, low-carbon buildings.”
– Sumit Oberoi, Industry Strategy Manager – ACS, APAC, Autodesk
“Over the past 20 years in the AEC industry, the amount of information created and captured has increased significantly. However, at handover, that information is passed on to the owner in an analog form – paper or digital paper. A significant opportunity exists for project teams to capitalize on that information by delivering a holistic and useable view of design and construction data as a digital twin of the built asset. This, in turn, will enable owners/operators to have a single source of truth for operations that reduce the total cost of ownership, achieve greater operational efficiency, and realize the value of BIM long after handover.” – Robert Bray, Senior Director & General Manager, Autodesk Tandem
The process of evaluating and investing in the right technology starts with getting constant feedback from your employees. What’s slowing them down? What areas do they feel are inefficient? When you focus on what they need to solve their problems, you’ll be able to help them with the right technology.
You should also find out who the power users are in your company and develop an inviting and collaborative network where they can thrive. Skanska has done an excellent job with this. We have a Technology Portal where we centralize information for the technologies we are using – both pilot and enterprise solutions – highlighting best practices, case studies, and rollout support. We have a Microsoft Teams channel where we share various case studies, questions, and ideas all the time. My colleagues have been my greatest resource for figuring things out.” – Samiha Shakil, Senior VDC Engineer, Skanska USA
“I think some of the greatest keys to the success of a business technology strategy is integration amongst systems. If the data is siloed, it can’t be used with or against the rest of the business data easily. When looking into the future of your business, making sure that your systems can grow with the business as it evolves. Processes change, and should, as the company matures. Having scalable systems will ensure the efficiencies continue through the growth of the company. Encourage innovation, don’t settle with a process, engage the people that perform the work and they will be your champion.” – Britton Lawson, Director of Construction Technology, Veit & Company
Share Your 2021 Construction Trends
Are there any 2021 construction trends that you think will be critical to building industry resiliency? Share your thoughts in our comments thread below!