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How The Rise of Artificial Intelligence is Affecting the AEC Industy’s Project Management Approach

Sourced from Mann Report
by MGAC’s Nate Larmore – May 2024

AI is poised to significantly alter many of the scopes, processes, and tools that are foundational to the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry. AI will change the way our industry estimates cost and develops construction schedules. We will see improvements in the development of cost- and schedule-informed design options, increased accuracy of cost models, enhanced project risk management, informed decision-making, and efficient project delivery. AI will transform activities ranging from the development of design options, optimization of engineering models, BIM population and coordination, real-time quality review and controls, and close-to-real-time pricing takeoffs. AI stands to automate and accelerate many of today’s labor-intensive, repetitive tasks. Project leaders utilizing AI will have more impactful information earlier, resulting in better decision-making with a wider variety of intelligent options.

With machine learning already altering many of our coordination processes and implementation tools, AI will assist the development of higher-level project controls, including resource allocation, cost analysis, risk management, productivity assessment, and generative design. Historically, these core tasks relied on intuition through experience, situational awareness of project conditions, cerebral acumen, as well as time-consuming data collection, analysis, and interpretation. AI can shoulder the time and accuracy burdens, keeping a watchful digital eye on the hundreds of thousands of project and market performance data points.

Rather than replace human insight and wisdom, AI will declutter our dashboards and allow for earlier and faster decision-making. These new tools and add-ons will scour, collate, consolidate, and populate, presenting more accurate and pertinent data. Delegating these time-intensive tasks to an AI yeoman will free project leaders to focus on the most high-value tasks – accurate and timely forecasting, interpretation of trends, well-informed decision-making, management of partner-vendor relationships, and curating effective strategy.

Estimating and Cost Tracking

The convergence of 3 and 4D BIM modeling for projects, with intelligent objects now embedded in modern design practices, allows AI tools to immediately read and interpret project designs in ways unthought of only five years ago.  The integration of intelligent object-based CAD design, coupled with AI’s ability to rationalize large data sets for benchmarking of project cost and risk data, will allow faster and more in-depth analysis of project costs and risks.

AI-based tools will begin to actively track and analyze impacts of material and labor pricing on project budgets. This capability will incorporate BIM-integrated links to distribution channels auto-updating material prices, detecting competitive pricing from alternative vendors. It will auto-test and track variations in lead times, regional cost variations, logistics, and shipping. The integration web will have capability to incorporate weather predictions, manufacturing schedules, labor availability, and costs –alerting project managers and owners to advantageous shifts and probabilities of interruptions.  

Schedule Development and Management

AI-based tools will begin to prepopulate and manage design and construction schedules based again on intelligent 4D design practices. Program-level parameters, such as project type, location, and space program will inform detailed schedules for design phases, construction, technology implementation, and commissioning. Milestones and progress-to-target data sets actively update schedule status. During construction, progress is updated via photos, field crew updates, and other real-time status assessment tools. Some of these assessment tools will be automated robotic assistants, while others will be mobile tools carried by professionals in the field.

Enhancing Productivity Through Automation

One of AI’s most broadly effective characteristics, automation is ushering in a new era of systematized administrative operations, documentation, and archival management. Within our industry, AI brings much needed efficiency to low-value, transactional tasks that consistently sap time and human resources. AI tools will dramatically improve accuracy of documentation processes and will—to a far greater benefit—integrate the hundreds of thousands of requests, decisions, identification of issues, task assignments, meeting requests, and a host of other activities that are noted during meetings.

Presently, these meetings are taking place in board rooms, virtually, at architectural offices, in engineering charrettes, field huddles, construction swarms, and the list goes on. By accurately integrating these conversations in real-time, AI will align decisions and alert teams to misalignments. AI will enable the monumental alignment of resources, leapfrogging us away from today’s time-intensive and conjecture-biased processes, into a whole new league of collaboration.

Project Management

Project managers will have formidable tools that work at greater speeds, in real time. Much of the work of a project manager is to evaluate project data, make judgments on that data as they assess project health, risks, and strategy, and enact necessary changes in approach or strategy.  AI-based tools will provide real-time status and forecast of scope, cost, and schedule, allowing project managers to focus on higher value activities, such as cost-saving opportunities, lagging construction sequences, impacts of seasonal weather on construction pace, scope conflicts and gaps, as well as budget challenges or opportunities. This, in turn, better equips program and project managers with data analysis and project intelligence that drives better informed decision-making.

AI tools will quickly analyze vast amounts of project data and, more importantly, ancillary regional and global data. Project managers will benefit from a global view with regional implications. In a sense, the predictions and intuitions of today’s best prognosticators will be replicated and upgraded by our software savants. This will result in faster, better, and more effective market delivery of the built environment.

Optimizing Generative Design and Visual Communication

The AEC industry can be described as physically manifesting the outcome of visual data sets. AI-based generative design tools are already delivering vision-based renderings that not only allow stakeholders to virtually see finished product, but to experience and test the finished product. Alternative analysis using iterative mockup-test designs, beta testing of viable options, and measurement of client user experience and project performance is now possible.

In luxury residential, for example, our clients currently experience a multisensory virtual experience of design alternatives, including views throughout seasons, weather phenomenon, walking distances, sound and light variations—each with preferences and requirements automatically registered into the simulation. Now, renderings are visual and multi-sensory experiences. Moving into the new spaces will create a new sense of déjà vu since the clients have already experienced the project in a variety of seasons, occasions, and special events. All of these reactions, preferences, and requirements will feed into the final design, delivering a result synthesized with the client’s expectations.

AI is remarkably adept at receiving, compiling, analyzing and interpreting large data sets.  Construction project management is awash in massive amounts of data, generated at all levels of a large project.  Compiling that data and presenting it concisely and effectively improves business intelligence and decision making.  What has historically been more intuitive, experience-driven decision-making, can be replaced by informed, data-driven decisions with quantitative analysis of alternatives seen through the lens of meeting client project objectives.  Waiting weeks or months for an update on construction changes can now be replaced by real-time alternative analysis and consideration—all before the change is enacted.

Future Use

With potential to revolutionize the A/E/C industry at record speed, AI’s adoption and intentional use within firms will likely deliver significant competitive advantages over organizations that stay-the-course with more traditional tools and methods. As with any disruptive technological advancement, understanding AI’s opportunities and near-horizon limitations will provide direction and resolve in achieving new optimizations. In more than a century of innovation, AI will be as disruptive and advantageous as any innovation of the industrial revolution.

Click here to read the May 2024 issue of the Mann Report.

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