What Is Digitalization? Here Comes the Fourth Transformation in Building Design


How does a building take its place in a city’s skyline? In the Hollywood version of the story, owners commission a building, define basic requirements, and stand aside as architects work their magic with pencils and drafting tools.

Picture the 1949 movie The Fountainhead, about an innovative yet self-absorbed architect named Howard Roark (allegedly modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright) who refuses to compromise his ideals. Controversial though it is, the film (and the novel before it) has inspired generations of people to become architects.

A lot has changed in the 70-plus years since then. About 40 years ago, the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry began an accelerating digital transformation. It started with digitization—the transition from paper drawing and analog processes to digital tools and computer-assisted design.

In parallel to digitization, architects encountered increasingly complex design problems such as growing global populations, urbanization, and climate change. Given the planet’s finite resources, designers were asked to do more with less, with demands for more efficient and sustainable buildings.

Digitization vs. Digitalization

Over time, digitization stepped up to become something bigger: digitalization. What is digitalization? It’s the process of empowering technology and data digitization to impact how work gets done, transform how customers and companies engage and interact, and create new revenue streams.

The introduction of BIM (Building Information Modeling) roughly 19 years ago was the foundation and catalyst for a second digital transformation. By uniting all project data into an integrated platform, BIM spans the entire lifecycle of building projects—from design to build to operations—and helps teams deliver projects with more certainty.

But in the past decade, as large projects required more companies and stakeholders to work together across time zones around the world, new ways of working demanded more seamless connections and faster access to real-time information and insights. This ushered in the next significant transformation: BIM in the cloud.

COVID-19 accelerated the transformation, because people have had no choice but to collaborate virtually. Chief information officers have articulated the need to move to the cloud, often on a four- or five-year roadmap, but the pandemic sped up their plans by several years.

What’s coming next is a fourth transformational shift that will again change the way people work—an era in which data will be more centralized and flow more fluidly among project stakeholders.

Insights will be driven from that data to automate tasks such as analyzing building codes or tracking maintenance schedules. And the time that saves will help AEC practitioners design, engineer, build, and operate buildings better and faster—with less waste in materials and cost.

Enter the Digital Twin

The ultimate enabler of this fourth wave is BIM plus enriched data, which is represented in a digital twin: a dynamic replica of a physical asset that brings together design, construction, and operational data. Continue reading >>

About the Author

Nicolas Mangon, vice president of AEC, Business Strategy and Marketing for Autodesk, is a leader of the global advancement of Building Information Modeling (BIM) across the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries. Mangon’s mission is to lead the industry transformation to BIM and the cloud. Educated at the world-renowned Ecole Spéciale des Travaux Public’s Institution for Civil and Structural Engineering, Mangon brings deep industry expertise to the continued development of innovative solutions that address the AEC industry.

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