Technology & Architecture

Technology, Culture, & the Future of the Architectural Firm

by Matt Tinder, Director of Public Affairs, The American Institute of Architects

Understanding the trends of technology adoption in architecture firms requires an end-to-end view into the business of design.  Firm leaders can no longer assume that technology in practice refers to CAD, BIM, AR, VR, XR, drones, and project management/ERP systems.  There’s more to the story that must be considered for many firms to grow and thrive.

         Sales and marketing are often missed as opportunities for leaders to embrace technology.  Further, there is a general acceptance that the tried and true technology available to manage projects is good enough or can’t be improved.  Yet the time of the architect in practice is at a premium, they lack the time to devote to areas of practice that could change the trajectory of a project, or even that of the firm itself.

         The firm’s pace of technology adoption also affects the rest of the design and construction ecosystem.  When firms lag in the use of modern, efficient technology, resources and tools, information flow suffers, collaboration becomes a struggle, and clients may choose to work with firms that are taking the lead in modernization through technology.

         Most, if not all, large firms in the United States have the resources dedicated to ongoing development of technological capability.  They also employ a large percentage of architects, so the perception may be that the have-nots will continue to lag and fail to gain market share over bigger competitors.  Technology, though, is the great leveler in terms of making small and mid-sized businesses in any industry take on the giants in their space.  Finding a path to adoption of leading technologies that serve all aspects of the firm’s business is something all architects should be seriously exploring.

         In a report recently done by the American Institute of Architects, they analyzed how technology and culture interact and impact architectural firms.  Technology has a significant role to play in helping firms realize their strategic goals over the next three years.  In a lot of cases, digital maturity, or how much a business uses technology, correlates with firm size.  A smaller firm, with ten people or less, might handle all of their technology on their own because they need to keep their technological spending low, whereas a larger firm with 50 to 90 employees will probably have a dedicated IT department or will have a third party handle the maintenance on their technology.

         One of the bigger focuses for technology within firms is digitizing marketing.  This is where the relationship between technology and culture comes in.  Many firms believe that their business marketing should focus on previous clients and word of mouth referrals and ignore many of the benefits of using digital and social marketing through social media or websites.  This reluctance is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does prevent many firms, particularly smaller architecture firms, from taking advantage of digital marketing.

         While marketing is likely the largest focus for technology in the architectural industry, it is far from the only reason why anyone should want to bring more technology to their firm.  Advanced technology can help streamline many of the steps in finalizing a project, such as reviewing and approving changes, making accurate and up to date estimates into project costs and budgets, and completing designs quickly and efficiently.  Additionally, technology can be an extra help in sharing files and project documents with clients, external sources, or manufacturers. 

         It is easy to take comfort in old habits and the ways that we were taught to do things.  Architecture, however, is an industry that should always be moving forward and striving to make things that are even better than the last project.  It would be impossible to achieve that kind of mobility and progress without adapting and keeping up with the times.  Technology is an important part of society, and the ways in which it can help advance the abilities of an architectural firm are potentially limitless. 

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